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Financial Education for Everyone

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The rental market is increasingly competitive in many metropolitan areas. Fortunately, there are many resources to help you find the right place. Various rental market forums now allow apartment hunters to compare rental properties, filter their search by location, price and other criteria, and connect with landlords and property managers directly.

Searching for the Right Place

It's helpful to create a list of which apartment features matter to you most before you begin apartment hunting. Organize your list by priority to determine what you really want in an apartment. The timing of when you want to move in is an important factor of your search. Most move-in dates are on the first of the month.

Typically, you should start searching for your apartment at least one month in advance of your desired move-in date to allow enough time for unexpected delays. Talk to your potential landlord to confirm the exact move-in date.

A real estate agent or broker can find you places that are unlisted and negotiate on your behalf, but you'll pay a fee or commission for that, often up to a full month's rent or 15 percent of an entire year's rent. Many people prefer to rent directly from a landlord, so independent online searches have become an increasingly common way to find an apartment. Be mindful that rentals you find on the Internet may not be all that they appear. Here are some red flags to look out for.

  • An apartment listed in a great neighborhood with high square footage, lots of amenities and an unusually cheap rent may be too good to be true. Compare it with similar apartments in the area to see how realistic the offer is — don't fall for deceptive descriptions. If you're asked to pay everything — including the security deposit and finder's fee — up front before you have signed a lease or even seen the apartment, then it's most likely a scam. You should always see the apartment before signing and certainly sign a lease before paying anything.
  • Every landlord will want to verify that you're financially trustworthy and reliable. If not asked to provide a credit score and other background materials, then you may be getting yourself into an unlawful rental arrangement. A legitimate landlord will want the supporting documents, and if a landlord never asks for documentation that can be a red flag that they may be conducting their business under the table.
  • If a landlord is rushing the process, pressuring you to quickly sign the lease and pay, that might be a signal this is not the right rental for you. If you feel that the landlord is attempting to coerce you into signing quickly, consider why he might be doing so — is he trying to scam you? Don't sign a lease if you feel uncomfortable or forced to do so.