Dear prospective tenants,
What a crazy world you venture into when you rent. You’ll have about 10-15 days to find a place... that’s it. So you hop on Zillow (or whatever site) and start searching. You quickly discover listings that are clearly scams, some listed by agents, some listed by owner, but the majority are listed by property management. All the applications are different, the fees seem exorbitant, and the lease (if you get that far) is chock-full of confusing clauses and you realize they’re taking your left kidney and your first born child in exchange for living quarters.
But wait!!! What if you’re not comfortable with the lease? They’ve already taken your earnest money, and you are just about out of time to move, right? Here’s 8 pro tips to protect yourself when renting (if you choose not to use a realtor.)
1- Make sure you know who you’re working with. If it’s an owner, make sure you see the property before you send any money... ANY money. You can also check ownership on tax records. If it’s an agent, make sure it’s a good one and check reviews. If it’s a property management company, keep reading this, and check reviews.
2- Know your fees up front. Application fees shouldn’t be more than $50 per person, ask a lot of questions if you’re being charged more.
3- DO NOT, ever, give them earnest money without a lease. The lease is the document that protects your money and ensures if something goes wonky that you get your money back.
4- DO NOT, ever, sign a lease if you don’t know what things mean, there are unexpected items, or are generally uncomfortable with the terms. Real estate 101 tells us that EVERYTHING is negotiable. If you want something, ask. If you don’t agree with policies of that owner, agent, or manager, don’t sign.
5- Make sure you know your rights. Read the landlord tenant act. Real estate transactions are intended (by law) to be ethical, honest, and fair. Licensed individuals are also bound to the code of ethics. Violators should be reported to the department of real estate.
6- Know what you’re being charged for. You are allowed, and should ask what all the fees are. You’ll be charged a security deposit (your earnest money will be applied to your security deposit,) rent, likely a cleaning fee, pet fee, taxes (1.8%.) If you’re dealing with property management, you may be charged a “processing fee” either initially, or monthly. It is my personal opinion that the landlord should be charged that fee, as the landlord chose that representation, but understand it’s relatively common for management to offset their fees to landlord by charging it to you.
7- Know what's in your lease. The Arizona Association of Realtors’ attorney’s have composed the standard lease agreement. Not everyone uses it, but may compare it to whatever lease you’re given
8- Most importantly, trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand or agree with simply because you don’t think you have a choice. It is better to be scrambling for a better option than to be screwed in a bad one.