In the span of our first few years in Silicon Valley, my husband and I ended up living in five different rentals. They were all in the same city and most of them in the same general neighborhood. Our problem clearly was not in finding the right spot. For us it was a matter of finding the right place in that spot, at the right price at the right time – that was easier said than done. And so for the better part of three years we found ourselves moving every six months or so, for one reason or another. Good thing we didn’t own much more than a futon-sofa-bed and a table with some chairs…
The biggest shock to me at the beginning of our rental odyssey was how little we could get for our money — not just in terms of size but also in terms of standard. The majority of the places we looked at were very dated, with old appliances, worn carpets and sad looking paint on the walls. It was depressing and not at all what I was used to from home. Not that I had grown up in anything fancy, I just think what I considered basic standard of living was different from here. As you can imagine we ended up in some pretty miserable rentals.
There was the ‘squirrel house’, which had squirrels running inside the walls at night, up and down, back and forth – noisy and creepy and really loud in our thin walls. I was wondering if one day they wouldn’t just come popping out of the walls while I was watching TV. This house also had a major ant-problem and regardless of how much we sprayed, scrubbed and wiped, they kept coming back. There was the house across from a Walgreens delivery entrance – hello daily 4am deliveries and trash pick-ups! There was the house with asbestos in the attic and another with a dishwasher so noisy we could not run it while at home – it drowned out everything, conversations, TV, thoughts!
It turns out that you can get used to quirks and oddities in a home – most things you just learn to deal with. It is in the nature of renting that many of these kinds of issues, little things that may end up bugging you, are hard to discover before having lived there for a while. There is a leap of faith when saying yes to a place you have only seen once or twice for a few minutes.
Some due diligence is always in order however and there are a few steps you can take to find out as much as possible before signing a rental contract. If you are renting from a professional property management company, find out how they take care of their properties and their tenants. If you are renting in an apartment complex, speak to some neighbors and get their take on what it’s like living in the building. What works well, what doesn’t? If you are renting a house can you speak to the previous tenant?
Make sure you know what is included in your rental contract — who pays for the gardener/water/utilities/trash? Schedule a walk-through with the owner/manager before moving in and make a list of existing defects so that you are not liable for damages you did not cause. Also, agree on what (if anything at all) should be fixed before moving in, ahead of signing the contract. Make sure you know what your lease terms are, how much notice you need to give the landlord and vice versa, and understand at what intervals rent can be increased. What is the procedure if you need to have something fixed during your tenancy and whom do you call in an emergency situation such as a water leak? Last but not least, don’t forget to get a renters insurance.
On a personal level I suggest you think about what you really have to have vs. what you want when searching for a home. For example, I always thought I had to have a washer/dryer, so I focused on places that had that while missing out on rentals that were probably better overall but that were without this one ‘must of mine’. Turns out that going to a Laundromat once a week was not a big deal at all. I eventually developed a nice routine involving a good book and coffee while waiting for my laundry to get done. I started enjoying my Laundromat time! It wasn’t until I had a kid that a washer/dryer of my own became a necessity and by then it was time to move again!
By: Felicia Shermis