It’s easy to get tempted by a lovely apartment—but before you sign a lease, don’t forget these practical considerations from blogger Meagan McGinnes.
After a long day, curling up on the couch with a glass of wine is my ideal way to unwind. When I imagined doing that in my very own apartment, it seemed like a dream too good to be true.
But sometimes during my apartment search, I was so blinded by my daydreaming and the glimmer of independence that I ignored important questions—those practical considerations any Grownup should ask before signing a lease.
(P.S. I’m writing this in my lovely apartment, curled up on my couch with a glass of wine, so everything worked out just fine.)
Don’t panic—it’ll be fine for you, too. Here are seven important questions to ask during your apartment hunt.
- Which utilities are my responsibility?
This isn’t standard across apartments; each landlord expects something different— and that will definitely affect your budget. When my roommate and I were apartment hunting, we found a beautiful single family home that seemed perfect, but then learned we’d be responsible for the water bill, an expense we didn’t anticipate. It hurt, but we had to step away.
- What’s the the average budget for monthly utilities?
When creating a budget before beginning our apartment search, I based most of my utility bill estimates off my mom’s bills. This provided a good baseline, but my childhood home is also more updated than many of the rentals we considered. Older homes are less insulated and have older windows, so it may take more energy to heat the home. We also ended up finding an apartment with oil heat, which changed our estimates. Ask your landlord or call the previous energy providers to get a history of the house to more accurately estimate your monthly additional costs.
- Is there an AC unit in your bedroom? If not, can you install one?
It won’t be cold forever, so you need to think about your summer expenses as well. If you’re looking at an older home or a building with many tenants, are you allowed to install AC? If yes, double check to make sure the electrical wiring can handle that type of surge. The last thing you want is to blow a fuse each time you turn it on.
- Is renter’s insurance required?
I’m a big advocate for renter’s insurance, and some landlords may require it . So it’s another added expense if you haven’t figured it in. (Don’t sweat it, though; most insurances cost about $15 per month.)
- What happens when there’s a maintenance problem?
Don’t wait until there is an issue in the apartment to ask this question. You want to clarify and spell out in the lease what happens if an appliance breaks because those unexpected mishaps can get costly quickly. To make sure everyone was on the same page and manage expectations, we asked our landlord to write into the lease who was responsible for landscaping and snow removal.
- What happens if a roommate needs to leave?
Life happens, and you or your roommate may need to move out before the lease is up. However, my landlord specifically stated in the lease that he did not want us to sublet the apartment. While that did not deter us, it may be a major issue for others. Talk to your roommates to determine their comfort level with subletters, then talk to your landlord about the best way to proceed in that scenario.
- How’s your cell phone signal?
This is the one question none of us thought to ask about our new place, and now I sometimes feel like I’m living in an early 2000s Verizon commercial gone wrong. I can still get phone calls, but the service, especially in my room, is not ideal. I don’t think this would have been a deal breaker, but it could have potentially been disastrous if our Wi-Fi signal wasn’t strong.
Meagan McGinnes is a freelance writer with interests in New England culture, locally sourced food, the environment, fitness, and storytelling. She’s a foodie who shares her love of snacks as a senior reporter at Project Nosh—a trade publication by BevNET that covers natural, organic, healthy, or sustainable packaged food companies and products. Follow her @meaganmcginnes.