You know you want to rent. The question is: should you rent a house or an apartment? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Consider the following:
- In an apartment, you have neighbors -- above, below, or beside you (or even all three). A house is self-contained, providing more privacy.
- In a house, you may be responsible for taking care of basic upkeep, including lawn maintenance, shoveling the sidewalk, and pest service. Apartment renters have less to worry about.
- Apartments have little storage space. A house will have plenty -- a garage, an attic, or even a basement.
- If you decide to rent a house, you'll have an individual landlord who may not understand or respect your rights as a tenant. Apartment buildings are typically professionally operated by a property management company.
- A house will have a yard, an apartment will not (you might get a small balcony or patio).
- Apartments typically offer a variety of amenities, such as a clubhouse, swimming pool, fitness center, laundry facilities, play areas for kids, and even on-site dog parks.
- Apartments provide fast maintenance -- even on-site maintenance. If you have a pipe burst or your garbage disposal stops working, you can usually get it repaired quickly. A landlord may require more time to address an issue.
- If you have a pet -- especially a larger dog -- a house could be a much better option. Many apartment communities only allow small pets or they have breed restrictions. If you have a pet over 20 pounds or a breed that is often on the restricted list, you may want to consider renting a house instead of an apartment.
If you decide that a house is best for your family, there are a few things to consider before starting your search. First, make sure you protect yourself from scams. A legitimate landlord won't ask for money before you've even seen the property, and they shouldn't demand cash. You should never pay in cash -- the payment is untraceable and too easy to disappear with. Always pay by check.
A landlord shouldn't be anonymous -- if they refuse to meet with you, move on. You and the landlord should sign the lease together -- don't sign it and then mail it to the landlord. Also, make sure you each have a copy of the lease showing both signatures. Never, ever rent a place unseen -- if the landlord refuses to show you the house, it's likely a scam. Another common scam is for the landlord to claim to be out of the country, typically with a request that you wire cash. Protect yourself by requesting a face-to-face meeting at the property, and talk to the current tenant if possible.
Beware of the landlord who doesn't ask you any questions! If it's too easy, it could be a scam. Your potential landlord should be very concerned about who is living at his property. If he doesn't at least run a credit check or ask about your rental history, that's a major red flag.
Finally, know what you're signing! There are different options when renting a home: a short-term lease (six months to a year), lease-to-own (where you rent a house and agree to purchase it after the rental period expires), and lease-option (renting a home with the option to purchase at the end of the lease). (To learn more about these options, check out this blog.)