Community Spotlight: A Real Estate Agent Creates a Rookie Rental Guide with

Deanna Lawley Kane
September 20, 2019
 min read
Community Spotlight: A Real Estate Agent Creates a Rookie Rental Guide with Beautiful.aiCommunity Spotlight: A Real Estate Agent Creates a Rookie Rental Guide with
Table of Contents

For this post, we are putting the spotlight on our community. After all, our users have come up with some genius ways to use our tool to present their unique stories, and we want to start highlighting them in hopes you'll find inspiration to tell your own in a different or better way.

This Community Spotlight features a Chicago-based real estate agent, who uses to create marketing materials for both current and potential clients on her email list. These marketing materials include whitepapers, PDF guides, resources and "How To" slideshows — all of which help her retain past clients as well as acquire new ones.

This "Rookie Rental Guide" explores all the "adulting" involved in moving into a rental home or apartment.

Apartment hunting—aka your first step to freedom, independence and establishing yourself—can be quite a thrill. But, before you move into the dream digs, order the latest small space collection and pop that bottle, it’s extremely important to familiarize yourself with the rental process and the not-so-fun details that go into securing your first apartment. The rental process can be tedious, so consider this your guide to a seamless experience of moving into your own place.

Step #1: Pre-Search

Set your budget. More important than location and size, establishing a realistic budget is the most crucial step of the rental process. The max you should spend on rent is 30% of your pre-tax monthly income. Remember, this is the highest amount—you still want money left over to save to buy a place, decorate your rental, pay monthly expenses, cover your first month's rent and security deposit (usually both are due at time of signing)... And enjoy the perks of freedom of course. City living is not fun without the funds to enjoy it.

Breakdown needs vs. wants. Whether you are conducting your own Craigslist search or have enlisted a rental agent, it’s important to start the search process knowing what you need vs. what you want. If you’re living solo and safety is a concern, a doorman might be a need. If you love running along the lake, but would be ok with running a few extra blocks to get there, lakeside access might be moved to the want list.

Decide on location. Think through your lifestyle before narrowing in on an area. Do you prefer to live close to work for a shorter commute time? Or would you rather live further away and have more access to outdoor space. Additionally, where are the nearest grocery stores, restaurants, shopping areas, and studios you can access with your ClassPass? If you rely on public transportation, make sure these places are easily accessible to you.

Be aware of rental scams. Unfortunately, rental scams are real, and many first time renters fall victim to scammers. The best way to protect yourself is to use common sense. Never submit any form of payment until you have seen the space in person, and have signed a lease. No legitimate landlord will collect payment until the paperwork is complete.

Have a basic knowledge of the application process. To sign the lease, you need to authorize a background and credit check. The process will consist of paying a fee—sometimes $100 or more—and running your credit score (know this number in advance to avoid any unpleasant surprises). More on this below...

Step #2: Signing the Line

Review the lease thoroughly. Once you’re ready to sign the dotted line, review the lease in great detail. Avoid any surprise fees by paying special attention to:

  • Security deposit. Is it required up front, or will you be charged for any damages at the end of the lease term?
  • Co-signer. If you don't have good credit or an established credit history, does your lease agreement require a backer?
  • Move-in fees. Is the tenant or landlord responsible?
  • Elevator rental. What is the cost, and what are the reservation rules? Who is responsible for this - the tenant or landlord?
  • Rent increase. Is this mentioned? (Negotiation tip: Add a clause that the monthly rent will stay the same if you sign on for a second year)
  • Subletting rules. Can you sublease the apartment if you need to move out prior to the end of the lease?
  • Lease termination/lease renewal notice. How many days in advance to you have to notify the landlord if you plan to move out after your last month or renew for another year
  • Proof of pay stubs. Your landlord may require bank statements or other income verification (and a minimum income level as well) in order to approve your rental application
  • Pet deposit. Is there an upfront deposit, and are there monthly fees to have a pet?
  • References. In the hottest rental markets, landlords require professional references, and maybe even a landlord referral to inquire about your personal rental history
  • Are there additional application fees related to utilities, cleaning fees, etc

Other questions to consider include storage unit availability, parking spot costs, laundry facility access, the point-person on the management company to call if something in your unit breaks, and how to make your rental payment every month.

Know your rental rights. As a renter, you are protected by law against factors such as discrimination, the right to a habitable home, and privacy. These rights vary by state and city, so look into your area-specific rights to ensure they are being met. If you're an immigrant with no credit history, there are also resources available for you, including companies like NovaCredit that import your international credit history, or others that will help you obtain a credit card without a credit report.

Step #3: Post-Signing

Conduct a walk-through. Thoroughly inspect the unit for pre-existing damage to avoid  deductions from your security deposit. Inspect the floors, walls, ceilings, appliances, outlets, windows and shower rods. Take photos to document damage, sign, date and submit to your landlord.

Schedule a meeting with the property manager. Introduce yourself and establish a healthy rapport because this person could make or break your rental experience.

Buy renter’s insurance. Many landlords require renter’s insurance, but even if it is not required in your lease, it’s important to sign up. The average renter’s insurance policy costs between $13-25 per month, according to Progressive Insurance. Talk to your insurance agent to find the best policy for you, and to explore options such as bundling it with your car insurance.

Real-life example: A husband and wife returned home to their apartment in a Chicago high-rise, to find the hallway carpet look soaked through. They went into their unit, and found several inches of water spanning from the front door, all through the kitchen and living area. They discovered that the family in the unit above them left the sink running, and managed to flood their own unit, and the three floors below them. If this family didn’t have renter’s insurance, they would be responsible for repairing the damage of FOUR commercial building floors and many apartment units.

Step #4: Moving In

Hiring movers vs. DIY.  Depending on the amount of belongings you’re bringing, you will be faced with the decision of hiring movers or renting a U-Haul. Consider these pros and cons before making a decision.

Setting up the utilities. If you didn’t InstaStory it, did it even happen? Schedule an appointment to have the cable and Internet provider set up your services -- sometimes this can take several days for a tech to come out. Once you’re clear on the additional utilities (aka gas, electric, water) you are responsible for setting up, call the providers immediately to avoid any service disruptions. Ask your landlord (or potential landlord during the application stage, if you're really Type A) for a range of what the utility bills should cost, to be sure your next statement aligns. If you see any major cost increases month-to-month, contact the provider to determine the cause.

Stocking up on the basics. When you’re living with mom and dad, pretty much every essential to get through the day is available. Now that you’re officially out on your own, it’s up to you to make sure you have those items you took for granted. Other than the larger items like furniture, dinnerware and the obvious kitchen must-haves, the checklist below includes smaller items you may not think of, until you really need them.

  • Bedroom: A spare set of sheets
  • Bathroom: Shower curtain, waste basket, toilet brush, toilet plunger, bathroom rug, cleaning supplies
  • Kitchen: Dish soap, sponges, dish towels, can opener, toaster, garbage bags, oven mitt
  • Miscellaneous: Toolkit, scissors, vacuum, flashlight

Decorating Short-Term. Just because you don’t own your new place, doesn’t mean you can’t make your rental apartment or house feel like home. If filling your apartment with new furniture isn’t feasible, look into renting it. Feather, a furniture subscription service, lets you select how long you need the furniture and choose pieces from brands like West Elm, Pottery Barn and Casper. Feather will deliver the items to you and set them up. When your plan is up, you have the option to renew, swap, buy, or return.

Step #5: From House to Home

Rental Decorating DIY Hacks:

  • Install curtains to your windows to make the space feel more personal, and to cover up the standard blinds many apartments have.
  • Splurge on removable wallpaper that you can easily peel off once your rental term is up.
  • Add a bar cart to gain additional storage space and as a statement piece.

Read more customer success stories and case studies here.

Deanna Lawley Kane

Deanna Lawley Kane

Deanna is a freelance writer, editor and strategist with over 10 years of experience. She is based in Chicago, IL.