3 Common Mistakes Renters Make

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Couple across the table from realtor getting ready to sign paperwork

Post from MilitaryByOwner

Military renters don't have it easy. Rental competition is fierce, and budgets are small. Add in a mad scramble to find a last-minute housing solution, the unknowns of searching for a home strictly online, and the unfamiliarity of the new location, and it's simple to see there is plenty of room for error.

Preemptively arming yourself with strategies for successful renting is the best way to avoid common renter mistakes. Prepare for these pitfalls to avoid permanent change-of-station move stress.

Renter Mistake No. 1: You Don't Know Your Budget

It's common for renters to have an exciting wish list in mind (especially first-time renters) when shopping for a new home. Must-haves usually include a prime location, a set amount of square footage, and high-end furnishing and amenities. But these qualities frequently preclude financial realities.

Most military members start calculating what is affordable rent from their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) each month, which is a decent place to start. But this amount doesn't reflect all of the concerns a housing budget entails. An overall view of your other debts and savings plans should factor into how much rent you can afford each month.

There are multiple ways to calculate how much money you should pay for rent, but the 30% rule (meaning spending up to 30% of your gross salary) is a traditional budget standard. However, it's not always feasible in a military town.

Lifestyle specifics will come into play during your budget calculations. For example, although you earn $2,000 per month in BAH, this could be a low number in a high cost-of-living city. Or it's possible an apartment at this price point is over the top, especially if work travel is expected and you won't be present often enough to enjoy the shiny new gym or common area.

More Budget Factors to Consider

  • Renters' insurance is a nominal annual purchase, about several hundred dollars per year. The coverage is important since your homeowner or property management company likely has coverage only for the building, not your personal belongings, in the event of a flood, fire or the presence of mold.
  • If you have bad credit, a rental home search can be difficult. Not only will property owners be hesitant to take a chance on the likelihood you'll pay on time each month, but they may also require higher rent rates and deposits to alleviate the risk they're taking. A correct and improved credit report helps your chances of finding an affordable rental home you love.

Renter Mistake No. 2: You Don't Read the Lease

It's true: Rental agreements are tedious and jargon-laden, and the language can vary from state to state. These are just a few of the reasons why renters don't want to pore over the details. But, an unread and unexplained rental agreement is one of the leading causes of a strained landlord/tenant relationship. Clear communication between both signers alleviates the chances of a stressful lease term.

Here are a few situations beyond typical lease questions to discuss and clearly identify within the rental agreement before signing.

  • Will you need a military clause? Both parties are required by law to abide by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, but a military clause defines scenarios beyond the SCRA, including the unforeseen availability of military housing, unexpected orders to a nearby installation (out of the protection of the SCRA), or a reverse military clause that states the owner may break the lease terms and return home early.
  • If not delivered, ask for a detailed move-in and move-out walkthrough list that documents the condition and damages of the home before moving in to protect your security deposits. Define what your property manager thinks is "normal wear and tear." Keep copies of pictures and signed off statements about the conditions of the move-in and -out.
  • Verbal agreements that discuss future improvements, such as a fenced yard or new appliances, should be notated in the lease with agreed-upon due dates.
  • Are you paying a pet fee, pet rent or a pet deposit? They are different. Pet fees and rent will not be returned after the lease ends, but some or all of the pet deposit could be returned. Talk with your homeowner as to which circumstances allow for a full refund.
  • Outline the parameters of when and how a landlord will visit. Is it monthly, without notice? Or is it random, when the owner decides to come to town? What happens when the property is advertised before you depart? Are you in charge of the showings for future renters? The variations depend on what the landlord and tenant agree to document in the lease.

Renter Mistake No. 3: You Don't Research the Location

After finding the perfect, affordable rental, especially if the search has been difficult, it's easy to forget the importance of the physical location of the property. Crime statistics and noisy neighbors are a couple of big factors, but there are others.

Families who prefer public schools are often surprised to find out the school their home is zoned for is different than expected. Your landlord may have been unaware of recent district changes and misinformed you. Start directly with the district's zoning or boundary locator tool to avoid disappointment.

Driving by the house at different times during the day shares insight into various traffic patterns from commuters, school buses and other unknowns. For instance, will your driveway be blocked by parents picking up kids from school each day from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m.?

Each neighborhood has a personality. A little online and in-person research details how the community functions. Do they take care of their pets? Is it a street where kids play freely? Are most neighbors older or younger? Are they quiet or boisterous? Is walkability important? Determine which lifestyle factors are deal breakers before signing the lease.

A rental home search is stressful and requires plenty of planning and preparation to avoid common mistakes. Although the perfect combination of price, amenities and location is hard to find in a rental home, learning to avoid painful tenant agreements will protect you from disappointment and financial loss.

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