House Proud: Things to Look for When Renting for the First Time

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

Moving out for the first time is overwhelming. You want to find a place that is not only the right size, but also location and budget. Fortunately, if you start a search online today, you can learn more about what first time renters should look for.

We’re talking about the process of renting for the first time, including helpful hints that you likely didn’t know. The rental market has changed a lot in recent years, but if you follow these simple steps, you’ll be ready to strike out on your own.

Make a budget

The most important thing when it comes to renting a place on your own is coming up with a budget. Not only will you need to look at what you’re willing to pay monthly in rent, you should also do some research into the average costs for hydro, electricity, gas, Internet, and other necessities.

Once you’ve gathered all these figures together, look at your income and see how much rent you can afford. Most experts recommend spending about 30-40 percent of your monthly take home pay on rent, and no more. Even the most gorgeous house in the world isn’t worth going into debt over.

Get a sense of what’s out there

Once you’ve determined what amount of your monthly income you can allocate to rent, do some preliminary searches online to find out what type of housing your income will provide. Independent dwellings range from a full house, to a single floor apartment, to a room in a shared home. This is also an ideal time to try and determine where in your neighborhood or city you want to live. Spend a little bit of time looking on rental listing websites like PadMapper, Craigslist, or Zillow, to see what neighborhoods have houses within your price range.

Ask your friends and coworkers for references

Before you need to start intensely searching for an apartment, spend some time getting your references together. Most landlords ask for at least one past roommate or landlord reference, as well as employment references. Some places will ask for a separate letter of employment, while others are content with a phone number. Take some time before your search really begins to contact some of your coworkers or past employers and ask their permission to put them as a reference on any of your future rental applications.

Collect all your past rental and credit information

When you go to rental viewings, it’s a good idea to have all of your information already together to make filling out applications easy. Before you go see your first apartment, take an hour and write down all your past addresses — most rental applications will ask for your housing history going back five years — and get your important paperwork together. Make sure you have your social security number handy and order some checks from your bank. It can often take several weeks to receive printed checks, and you don’t want to be caught without them.

Scour the online listings

Once you’ve gotten all your paperwork together, have plenty of checks on hand, and have a good sense of what kind of house you’re looking for, the next thing you need to do is get looking!

Craigslist, Zillow, PadMapper, Zumper, and are just a few of the most popular listing websites. Many of these sites allow you to set up an alert, which will email you immediately when a place within your location range and budget is posted. This is an excellent feature, especially if you’re living in a hot housing market, because places can get snapped up fast.

Get your email spiel down

When you’re first emailing potential landlords about their posted viewings, it’s tempting to send out quick initial emails without giving many details. While it’s great to jump on apartment listings as soon as possible, it’s important not to send anything that could be construed as being brusque or rude.

Emails that are brief but considerate are always appreciated. Don’t hesitate to give a few details about yourself in your initial message. The more the landlord knows about you, the more likely it is that they’ll consider you as a potential tenant.

Go out for viewings

Once you’ve found a few listings that you’re interested in, the next step is to book some viewings. Most viewings take place during the evenings or on weekends, so make sure to book off lots of time if you’re on the hunt for an apartment.

When you go to a viewing, make sure you put your best foot forward. Put on a tidy outfit, bring all the required paperwork with you, and arrive on time. It’s generally a good idea to ask before you take photos, especially if there’s currently a tenant living in the space.

Know what to ask a landlord

A viewing is the best time to ask questions of your potential landlord. You should make sure that you know what amenities are included in the lease. These could add hundreds of dollars on to the cost of rent if you have to pay things like hydro, gas, and electricity yourself.

Some good questions to ask at this point would be the history of the building, what the neighbors are like, and whether or not there’s ever been any problems with pests like moths or rodents. You can also ask the landlord whether or not they’re open to you painting the space or making minor modifications.

Know some telltale warning signs

When you’re seeing a rental unit for the first time, it’s essential to check out all the features because most of the time, you won’t be able to come back in before you move. There are certain signs of trouble that you should be aware of.

Always check the water pressure by turning on a tap, and letting it run for a few moments. Check the ceiling to see whether there’s any water damage or mold present. Check the security of the latches on the doors and windows and keep an eye out for any silvery moths — these are either pantry or clothing moths, and both are extremely difficult to exterminate.

Express interest and fill out an application

If you’ve seen a place you like, the next step is to express interest and fill out an application. You’ll be asked for all the information that you’ve previously collected, and you may have to pay an application fee. This fee, which usually ranges from $20-$50, is used by the rental company to pay for your background check. You may also be asked to leave a deposit check, usually either first, or first and last month’s rent.

Google the address

Once you’ve filled out an application, usually there’s a period of a few days to a few weeks where the rental company is vetting your application and checking out your credit history and references. This is a great time to do some more in-depth sleuthing on the potential house and see if there are any red flags.

A quick Google search of the address will usually turn up anything fishy. If you live in a city, a quick search on Bed Bug Registry will let you know if there’s a history of bed bugs or other pests in the building. Looking on Landlord Tenant Ratings will also tell you if your landlord has a good reputation.

Give notice at your current place

Once you’ve confirmed that your deposit has been accepted on your new rental, the last thing to do is give notice on your current place. Even if you’re living at home with family or friends, it’s courteous to give them as much advance notice as possible of your moving date, so they can start planning for your absence. If you’re already living in a rental, most places require at least 30 days’ notice, and some require 60 days’ notice. This notice will need to be in the form of an official letter, either mailed or attached to an email. Now you’re ready to move into your new place!

Jordana Weiss