Searching for an apartment can be overwhelming. You want one that fits your budget, offers decent value, has a good reputation, is in a convenient location and provides a lifestyle that’ll make you happy. With so much to consider, it’s not surprising that renters fall into these common pitfalls.

Apples to apples financial comparison

Renters want to compare the rent of one apartment to that of another and make a decision based on those two numbers. However, what many renters fail to realize is that comparing rent to rent, does not necessarily equal an apples to apples comparison.

First, the size of the unit could be very different (you could have a 1BR/1BA at 1,000 square feet or 700 square feet). Those 300 square feet can make a huge difference.

Second, landlords treat utilities in various ways, such as including all utilities, no utilities, or only some.

The easiest way to compare the value of apartments, therefore, is to determine the true base rent of each. To make this exercise easier, check out this easy to follow rental comparison equation [infographic]. When applying this formula, as seen in the fictitious yet realistic example, The Lofts (listed at $1,400) is actually more cost effective per square foot than West Mill Apartments (listed at $1,000).

One word of caution when assessing utility costs — some rentals are less energy efficient than others. That’s because the buildings are not as tightly constructed, walls have less insulation and appliances may have a large appetite for energy consumption.

Extra costs

There is another factor that makes value comparisons tricky. Additional charges for items such as: parking, community social fees, amenity fees, pet fees, and pest management fees. These are commonly known as non-utility extras. Ask and make sure you understand all the extra fees so you can factor that into your apples to apples comparison.

Notification requirements when moving out

Your lease will come with terms and conditions that outline your responsibilities when you want to terminate it. The amount of notice you have to give your landlord may make a difference to you if you anticipate a future move.

Even if you have a month-to-month lease, you may find you have to give 60 days notice before vacating the apartment. You most likely will have a lease with a definite term, perhaps a year. In that case, even if you move out early, you are responsible for the rent until the end of date on the lease. The good news, however, is that an annual lease may transition to a month-to-month one after the first year. Whatever the terms, make sure you read and fully understand them to make the best decision for your needs. You could have to pay a large sum if you move out early and breach your lease.

Signs of neglect

When you visit a prospective apartment complex, look beyond the big-picture aesthetics to the details to ensure there are no signs of neglect. If you notice any of them, recognize they could be warning signs of future problems.

So consider the condition of walls and ceilings, light fixtures, bathtubs, appliances, smoke detectors and more. If something doesn’t look right, ask about it. If you don’t get a straight answer, it might be an indication that it’s time to move on. You want your landlord to take pride in their apartments and care about their renters. He or she should make maintenance a high priority.

Location, location, location

When it comes to location, there are some aspects that you’re likely to consider. Is it close to where you work? Do you like the neighborhood? Is it convenient to shops, restaurants, parks, schools and anything else that’s important to you?

There are, however, other characteristics of a location that are important. For instance, you may find you’re close to work, but traffic patterns are bad and commuting in rush hour is a nightmare. On the other hand, another apartment may be further away, but because it’s close to a train station, you can get to your workplace easily. Another consideration is safety. Ask people who live there about whether they feel safe. Ask management what safety measures are in place.  As a side note, while thinking about safety, when you visit the apartment, make sure the front door has a dead bolt and any other doors or windows are well secured.

So before you sign a lease to rent an apartment, assess all the associated costs, understand your lease termination notification requirements, and make sure the apartment is well maintained and the location fits your needs.

Carolyn Frith, a content consultant who owns Carolyn Frith Marketing, aims to rid the world of snore-and-bore writing on the web. Topics she covers range from Philadelphia events and real estate options to a range of other content. Website: Phillyaptrentals.com

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