Monday, October 3, 2011

What to know before renting a home

As a result of the tough housing market, more Americans are renting homes. While the costs may be considerably lower, there still may be some factors to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Read the lease carefully so you know what is expected of you as a tenant. Are you responsible for your own utilities and what about the trash? Is the rent a set price for the year or could it increase? If there's an increase how much is it expected to be in one year?

How are maintenance requests handled? Do you need to make your own repairs, and if you do, are you reimbursed for materials?

One of the problems with renting is having the cash to cover a security deposit plus first month's rent. Ask the landlord about alternative security deposit programs such as SureDeposit.

"The service enables you to avoid more expensive traditional security deposits by paying a one-time bond premium at a fraction of the cost," according to a report by Assurant Specialty Property, a Fortune 500 company that specializes in rental fees and insurances. "In the event of damage at the end of the lease, SureDeposit reimburses the apartment owner or manager, and the renter reimburses the bond company."

Seriously consider renters' insurance. While the building might be insured against fire under the landlord's insurance, your personal belongings are not likely to be covered in the event of theft or disaster. Would you be able to replace your TV, computer, furniture, clothing and household items, such as towels and linens? The cost of replacing these items can add up to thousands of dollars - in addition to the cost of finding another place to live. Fire is not the only disaster that can happen. What if you left the water running and it damaged your furniture and carpeting, even the floor?

A good renters insurance policy is one that not only covers your personal belongings but can even pay part of your rent should you lose your job. Ask about a policy that provides personal liability coverage. This would cover you against liabilities should someone get hurt in your apartment and require medical attention. What if a fire started in your apartment? There's a chance you would be liable for damages to your unit and any others damaged in the fire.

"'A residential fire occurs, every 80 seconds,' according to the U.S. Fire Administration. You should ask yourself how expensive it would be to get your life back after such an event or a burglary, if you weren't insured," said Kathy McDonald, senior vice president of Assurant Specialty Property. "In these types of situations, renters quickly realize the value of their renters insurance. For a minimal financial investment, renters insurance provides peace of mind for the unexpected."

Finally, before you sign off on your new home, inspect the property and assess any damages that might exist prior to moving in, so that you're not responsible for repairs afterwards. A thorough inspection should include walls, floors, windows, electricity, plumbing and even closets and appliances. Make sure everything is in running order. Does it have a fireplace? When was the last time the chimney was inspected? How about the furnace? If you're renting a home you might ask the landlord about a fall inspection.

"Being properly prepared can make the complicated task of renting easier and speed you on your way to that housewarming party," McDonald said.

Send your comments or home and garden tips to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com.

If we could sell our experiences for what they cost we'd be millionaires -- Abigail Van Buren

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