It wasn’t until my first apartment flooded after an overnight storm (resulting in water damage and forcing me to move) that I found out the hard way that I was living in a floodplain – an area of low ground adjacent to a river and subject to flooding. I hadn’t been able to ask if proximity to a small body of water affected the unit’s risk of flooding.
“Asking these questions, I think, is extremely important for renters, but also for future landlords,” said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the National Association of Realtors.
Your home’s potential vulnerability to the elements is just one factor to assess during your research process. No matter what type of living situation you’re looking for, here are some other key points to consider.
Financial bases to be covered
Once you know how much you can afford to pay, there are other financial issues to consider, whether you’re looking to rent or buy. Ordering a credit report ahead of time can help ensure your score is good and there are no unforeseen defects that could deter a potential landlord or lender from accepting your application, Lautz said. .
If you want to rent, know that these monthly payments are not your only financial concerns.
Upfront costs typically include application fees, first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, a pet deposit if needed, and sometimes money for the landlord to check your credit, Christopher Bloom said. , communications and marketing manager for the National Center for Healthy Housing. .
And besides the initial and monthly costs of securing a home, you will of course also need to budget for utilities and services.
“There are, in many communities, programs or low-down payment programs that help and target first-time home buyers and help them become homeowners,” Lautz said.
Everyone has “their own personal preferences and what’s important to them for the neighborhood,” Lautz said. Driving around the neighborhood during the day and night can give you a good idea of what’s going on at those times and how well the property is lit at night.
Whether you’re looking for an apartment or a house, researching neighborhood groups on social media to find out what an area typically looks like when you’re not there can be really helpful, Lautz said.
To assess the safety of an apartment complex, there are some things you can ask a landlord and other things you should check yourself, Bloom said. Ask if the doors have deadbolts and peepholes. Assess if the complex looks well-maintained, if the doors close properly and have no gaps underneath, and if there are emergency exits that would allow someone to enter your unit from the ground, he added.
You can check an area’s crime rates by talking to the local police or by looking at an online map provided by the local government.
Age of property
If you’re looking for a house, a building inspector could tell you the year the house was built and, based on that, what problems you might have, Lautz said. “Building standards over time have changed. For an older home, of course, there could be things like asbestos inside the house. That was commonly used up until a certain period. ”
Sometimes apartment listings or tours (including virtual tours) show a model or remodeled unit instead of the unit you would rent. A model is a good way to show off build quality or features, but it’s probably at least a step above anything else, Bloom said. “Ask if you can see the unit you’ll be moving into before you do so,” he added.
Take the time to thoroughly inspect each part of the unit and be sure to check for less visible areas or anything a manager might want to hide, such as inside cabinets, tops of shelves, if outlets are working and the water is clear. Take photos so you have documentation of what the unit looked like when you moved in. And bring a tape measure to know how your belongings will fit.
“There’s a lot of focus right now on really having a nice kitchen and having a nice bathroom or outdoor space,” Lautz said. “But understanding the bones of the house can be very important, and I think that can be overlooked. So the age of the HVAC or the water heater, the heating and cooling systems, the roof – all of that is incredibly important .”
Problems with these systems or structures can be both annoying and expensive to fix, she added.
Homebuyers have the benefit of hiring professional home inspectors who can “tell you everything you need to know about the bones of that house, to let you know what you’re buying so you don’t have a unforeseen surprises in your freshman year,” Lautz said.