and Elly Leavitt

Published on August 2, 2019

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Photo by Aaron Bengochea

The prospect of renting an apartment can be just as exciting and nerve-racking as buying a house. When should you look? How much should you budget? Should you use a broker? How do you know what you’re really getting? Then, once you finally settle on a place, how do you go about furnishing it and personalizing it—without losing your security deposit? There are so many questions and so few reliable answers. 

The good news is: Renting doesn’t equal throwing your money away. It’s an excellent option for those living with roommates or young families. That being said, we’ve all heard our fair share of rental horror stories, from difficult landlords to impossible moving situations. We know firsthand how important it is to be well-informed before signing the lease. Here are some tips and tricks we’ve picked up that will make the whole process a bit smoother—plus, the myths to watch out for.

Myth: For the cheapest prices, rent during the off-season

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The typical peak for renting is from May to August, when school is out of session, and the weather is more conducive to a smooth move. It’s not uncommon to see prices on the higher side during these months, which is why sometimes experts will advise looking earlier or later in the year. But life doesn’t always work based on the best seasons—sometimes you just need a place ASAP.

“Prices may be lower in the off-season, but there is also less inventory,” notes Warburg Realty agent Rebecca Brooksher. With pros and cons to both times of year, don’t sweat it too much. 

Tip: Make sure you know exactly what you want

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Good news for organization fanatics: Your list-making tendencies are about to come in handy. Our social media editor, Alyssa Clough, swears by ranking her wish list. “Make a list ahead of the things that you must have, the things that would be nice to have, and the things that aren’t a priority,” she says. “If you’re working with an agent or coordinating with a roommate, this will make the process much easier and waste a lot less time.”

Myth: An agent or broker isn’t important

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A pro’s guidance can definitely be helpful, but is the extra fee worth it? Our experts would argue yes, mostly because an agent will take the majority of the guesswork out of the equation for you and can navigate what may seem like uncharted waters for first-time renters.

“If you already have a full workday, find someone you trust to weed out the duds, schedule the appointments, help organize the complicated paperwork, and make it an enjoyable experience,” says Brooksher.

This way, you can focus on the places you’re seeing, rather than finding them. “An experienced agent has a good understanding of each landlord’s reputation,” adds Warburg Realty agent Eric Mendelsohn. “For example, if you are a renter with bad credit or none at all, if you have a large dog, if your income doesn’t equal 40 times the monthly rent in NYC and/or you need an out-of-state guarantor, a knowledgeable agent will only show you apartments that you’ll have a chance to rent.” 

Tip: Don’t be afraid to negotiate

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This is definitely something that’s best done by a well-trained agent, but you can (and should!) read up on things like comparable appraisal characteristics (aka comps), number of days on the market, and competition of similar spaces in demand to help you get a sense of what a counter price would look like, says Kemdi Anosike, another Warburg Realty agent. 

Myth: Location is worth more than square-footage

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If your rental search is an extensive one, you’ll quickly become familiar with phrases like, “This apartment has no closets, but it’s in a great location!” It’s inevitable: The neighborhood matters. But so does size, and if you’re planning to stay put in your rental for longer than a year, it might outweigh a snazzy zip code. 

If you are considering a smaller place, though, be sure to chat with your roommate and calculate your rent based on room size. That way, you can determine whether or not the apartment is actually worth the square footage sacrifice.

Tip: Make your mark on your space

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The biggest myth of all (and probably the most-repeated) is that rentals are hard to personalize. We would like to go on record here and say, once and for all, that this is false. The options for fixing up a temporary place are practically endless: Try removable wallpaper, swapping out your light fixtures, bringing in curtains, or disguising ugly floors with stick-on tiles.   

You might even be able to finagle a few more permanent updates. “I have seen renters who have been willing to upgrade the apartment with new floors or a new kitchen at their own expense,” says Mendelsohn. “They need to notify the owner of the changes that will be made, but owners generally agree to improvements, especially when they aren’t paying for them.” All you have to do is ask. 

See more ways to upgrade your rental:
The Simple Swap That Will Instantly Upgrade Your Decor
Easy, Affordable Swaps That Will Upgrade Your Rental
Found: The Easiest Way to Bring Charm to Your Rental

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