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Renting an apartment: The basics

Buying or renting an apartment is a difficult decision that requires knowing the benefits and challenges associated with each option.. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking at apartments.

Video Transcript

- To rent or to own is a perennial question with no clear answer. There are lots of good reasons for renting instead of buying because it's often cheaper than owning. Renters aren't responsible for paying property taxes or condo fees or homeowner association dues either. Sometimes some or all of your utilities are paid by the landlord, so there's extra savings.

As a rule, renters have more predictable housing costs because renters aren't responsible for major maintenance repair costs. Homeowners can't say the same thing. However, rents can and do increase over the years. When the housing market tanks and home prices drop over the course of years, renting becomes more attractive, and landlords may increase their rents accordingly. But you can always leave your apartment behind because you're not on the hook to make sure your unit gets re-rented, and there's no fear of losing your investment.

Here's what to look for when renting an apartment. You might find that a more expensive apartment saves you extra money in other ways. For example, if you choose an apartment farther away from your work or friends, think about the costs of commuting. Think about how much things like proximity to grocery stores and parks mean to you, and ask yourself what you're willing to pay to have them. Onsite amenities, like a gym or party room, or flashy perks but only if you plan to use them.

Most renters simply accept the going price on an apartment. However, you may have room to negotiate. You could consider asking for a lease longer than 12 months in return for a lower rent or offer to make some repairs or repaint the place yourself. Be sure to see the actual apartment and make sure that it's clean and maintained. Read the fine print on your lease so you know what you are and what you aren't responsible for.

Many landlords, especially corporations running large apartment complexes, do credit checks on renters and refuse will those with bad credit. If this is you, go to an individual landlord, someone who rents one-off apartments or homes. They may be more interested in your references from past landlords than your credit history.

And be honest. If your credit is poor, explain your situation and detail how you've cleaned up your finances and how you will pay the rent. You might get a cosigner, a person with good credit who agrees to guarantee your rent. The cosigner is on the hook for any rent you don't pay, which makes the landlord more willing to rent to you. Stay financially fit, friends.