The potential roommate: a conversation guide

At work the other day, one of my colleagues told us that she is looking for a roommate. She gave us some basic details about the apartment and I started thinking about the times when I used to share a rental with a roommate. I’ve had quite a few of them, so I decided to put down some important aspects I would want to discuss with any possible roommate, based on my previous experiences.

When referred to marriage, people often call it “taking the plunge”, but if you come to think of it, moving in with someone you know and love is somewhat less scary than moving in with a stranger. Whether you are the one looking for a roommate in your space or the one looking to get into a new place, there are important things that need to be discussed before taking your own plunge. Some might call it an “interview,” others a conversation, you choose.

1.   Does his/her occupation or financial situation allow them to pay the lease & utility bills?

Even though it might seem indiscrete, this is probably the most important thing you need to hear to have peace of mind. Knowing if they are unemployed, part-time or full-time employees will make it clear to you if you can rely on them that they will be able to pay for the monthly rent amount and utility bills on time. Furthermore, the ideal roommate will be willing to co-sign on your lease, thus making them hold responsibility for anything that happens in the apartment throughout your cohabitation. 

2.   Pets or plans of adopting one (two)?

A pet can be seen as another family member, and even though the community or landlord might be pet-friendly, chances are that you or your future roommate have allergies that don’t cope with the pet. It might as well be the case that one of you doesn’t see the pet as someone to share the apartment with.

3.   Night owl or morning bird kind of person?

Compatibility regarding the time spent sleeping is highly important as sleep takes up to one third of our lives. Sleep invigorates not only the body, but also the mind, thus the quality of sleep is highly essential. Ask your future roommate what they need to sleep. Some people need a completely silent, dark, and chilly room to sleep soundly; others have no trouble sleeping in less sleep-organized rooms. It is good information to know.

4.   Any allergies? Peanuts, perfume, milk, flowers, mold…

The best cure for allergies is prevention. A person who suffers of allergies will have to take some extra measures to ensure a friendly environment for their sickness. Dust, perfume, flowers, or foods, if allergic to them, can be harmless by simply avoiding them. Moreover, in case of emergency it’s good to know what to expect and how to react to an allergic reaction. If your future roommate is allergic to some kind of ingredients, you’ll be careful not to offer food that contains them and won’t be offended if they ask more than one time what it that you’re offering is. And vice versa.

5.   What is your definition of clean?

Here too the key to a happy cohabitation is compatibility. Some wash their dishes right after use, others leave the scrubbing part for when the sink is overflowing or there aren’t any more dishes to use. Some sweep the floors daily while others have never used a vacuum. Even more so, there are those who clean the house with bleach and there are those who make their own eco-friendly cleansers out of vinegar and baking soda.

6.   Social habits?

It is important that you know if your potential roommate will have frequent game nights that will turn into overnight guests. Furthermore, knowing if there’s a girlfriend/boyfriend in the picture is also something you want to know beforehand.

7.   Lifestyle habits?

Find out if they smoke, drink, or like to listen to loud music; decide which of those you are OK with.

8.   Extra sweaters or extra money on utility bills?

Ask about energy and water habits because here, too, people are different: some consider it madness to turn the light on during daylight hours, while others prefer to keep the climate at a nice, reasonable temperature all year round.

9.   Home décor and furniture items?

It’s true, in a rental it is a bit more difficult to express your artistic self as you’re restricted by the lease. However, there are various things you can do to make your rental feel like a home. But when sharing the space with someone else, there has to be collaboration in the common areas: kitchen, hallway, living room, and balcony/patio. Discuss and see whether there is room for compromise or if your tastes are completely opposite. Also, consider compiling a furniture inventory so you can see if you’ve got too many of one item or not enough of another.

10.                Renter’s Insurance?

Knowing the benefits of the protection plan offered by renter’s insurance, and having your future roommate share your belief in its value, will bring you both the much needed serenity at home. Theft or vandalism, fire and personal liability protection in case of slip and fall liability claims, as well as medical payments, which provides coverage for medical expenses, which ever happens your belongings will be protected by renter’s insurance.

Things to consider when looking for your next apartment

Most people look mostly at the big picture when searching for an apartment, especially first-time renters. Things like cost, safe surroundings, accessibility to transportation, and getting the best for that amount of money, are the highest up on the priority list. However, there are little things that mean a whole lot more than we’d imagine, which reveal their importance only when we notice we lack them.

1.   Storage space

People have more stuff than they think they do, me and you included. If you don’t believe me, check your closets or count your boxes next time you move. You will be surprised. Otherwise think a bit about this not-so-very-new anymore business with self-storage spaces, it has a valid reason behind it that makes it successful. More storage space is critical when searching for an apartment.

2.   Washer & Dryer

Think this is a luxury, when in fact, it is a necessity. Not to mention comfortable to do laundry whenever and without the grossing feeling that you’re washing your clothes where many other have, without really knowing how clean the laundromat is. Or that you spend a certain amount of money every time and the units don’t always work the first time.

 

3.   Less carpet

Carpet is very difficult to live with, especially if you have a dog, or allergies, or both. Furthermore, at the end of your lease you might discover that the people you hired to clean the carpet didn’t rise to the expectations of the landlord and you’ll be charged again for the job. Not really worth it.

4.   Outdoor space

A porch, a balcony, a terrace, a garden – anything out in the open is fantastic. A place to grow some plants, taste a relaxing tea, read a good book, enjoy the sun in the comfort of your own home.

5.   Hosting events

It’s all fun and games now to go out and socialize, but at some point you start appreciating more small personal gatherings. If, due to the size and shape of the living room, your apartment lacks the ability to host events like Thanksgiving or cocktail evenings, you will start feeling jealous of your friends’ space and will even feel the need to move into a new space that has this amenity.

6.   Receiving packages

If you’re into online shopping and live in an apartment that doesn’t have a doorman, you know what I mean. It’s much more complicated to receive packages from other than the United States Post Office and it has nothing to do with the other mailing services but with the fact that you’re not always there to pick them up.

7.   Renter’s insurance

This goes for any apartment you lease, be it the first, the second, or your last (because you’re hopefully moving into the ownership status). Renter’s insurance is the key to a peaceful life when living in a rental, protecting your belongings from different perils and your visitors from suing you in case of injury on your perimeter. Worth every cent.

Lease is up – should I stay or should I go?

When your apartment lease is almost up, you might find yourself not knowing what to do: renew for another glorious twelve months or explore other options. In some cases it is easy – the place is exactly what you want and you’ll sign the renewal without any doubt; in other cases it is also easy as the place is so far from what you wish to call home that you’ll count the days until your move-out date. And then are those cases when you’re just not sure about what to do: your current place is decent, but you don’t love it. How do you organize your thoughts?

I’ve always started with the thing closest to me: the building itself and the location. Answer honestly why you don’t like your current place – is it a bit too small, or a third-floor walk-up? Does it lack the in-unit washer and dryer you so much desire, or the workout facility?

With apartment vacancy rates decreasing, finding that ONE apartment is becoming more and more challenging. If you are willing to pay more, your options multiply; if not… you might have to continue living without these amenities. However, if your problems are with an untrustworthy landlord or with neighbors who party three times a week, moving is the only solution that can solve them.

When vacancy rates are dropping, availability is scarce. In other words, it might not be very easy to find a suitable replacement; the great apartments are taken quickly. On the other hand, when vacancy is high and there are new places for you to choose from, moving and upgrading sounds like the thing to do.

Compare your lease amount with what’s available on the market. You will either find that you’re getting a deal on your modest one-bedroom or that you can save money by moving to a comparable place further down the street.

Analyze the roommate-situation. Do you have them? Do you like them? Would you rather live alone? Or is it the opposite, you’re tired of living alone and you’d rather share the living space with three other people? If the roommate situation is what troubles you the most – having more or less of them, moving to a larger or smaller space is the right choice. Remember the general rule of the thumb: the more people living in a house, the less each pays per month.

Check your finances. Know that on the short-term, moving means spending more. Moving itself means expense, while staying put implies none.

Review your income – if you’ve been promoted in the past year and received a raise (or improved your financial situation somehow else), perhaps you don’t want to renew and go for a real upgrade. For example, if you can ditch the studio and pay for a one-bedroom, do it!

Review your spare time as moving means apartment hunting, planning and then the move itself – and that means some serious dedication and amount of time. If one of your constant thoughts revolves around a new place, then you should probably find the time to move.

If you decide that a new place would make your life better, you should call your renter’s insurance provider and announce the change of address as soon as possible. Otherwise, review and renew not only your lease, but also your renter’s insurance.

14 tips for moving with pets

You’ve written list upon list, made calls, got boxes, tape and bubble wrap, prepping everything you can in advance for your move. Regardless how much prep-work you’ve done moving day is going to pack a pretty big stress punch. And while your pet won’t have to label, pack and oversee movers, your furry (or feathery) little friend might very well go through his own stressful rollercoaster. Here are a few tips to make moving as easy on your pet as possible.

Dog and woman playing on a sofa

  1. This one might seem obvious, but make sure your new apartment community is pet-friendly. You really don’t want to show up on moving day only to find out Fido isn’t welcome.
  2. Even if your community is pet-friendly check if they have any breed restrictions. It would also be wise to check with local government, especially if you’re moving to a different city or county.
  3. Make sure your renters insurance policy is up to date. Consider adding Pet Damage Coverage. It not only adds and extra safety layer, it will also make you look like a super responsible pet owner to your new landlord/property manager.
  4. If you’re moving far enough to need new animal health care services, ask your current vet for your pet’s medical records, especially vaccination records. Shot records might also be essential for your new apartment community to allow you to move in with your pet.
  5. Ask your current vet to recommend a new doctor, veterinary clinic and emergency pet hospital in your future location. If you current vet is unable to assist you request information from the state veterinary medical association. Tour your pet’s new clinic before committing and check how clean the kennels are, the staff’s knowledge and training, business hours, whether or not they offer emergency or boarding services.
  6. When you found a new veterinarian, ask if there are any health risks in your new area, such as heartworm.  Follow the doctor’s recommendations regarding preemptive medication, shots or avoiding specific areas in your new neighborhood.
  7. If your pet isn’t familiar with crate travelling or has a new crate, slowly train him up to get used to it. Forcing him inside a new, restrictive environment such as a crate, on moving day could skyrocket his stress levels. Make sure you get a comfortable, well ventilated, sturdy crate to keep your pet safe.
  8. Pack food and medications for about a week to have on hand. If your pet has special dietary needs, buy extra food, in case your pets’ specialty food isn’t readily available in your new location. If he’s taking life-saving medication, considering asking for an extra prescription from your current vet. Vets are forbidden to write medication prescriptions without a pre-existing doctor-patient relationship.
  9. On moving day, confine you pet in a quiet, safe, well-ventilated space, clearly marked as such – you can post a sign on a door or even lock it.  This way your pet will be separated from all the unusual activity, won’t feel (as) threatened by strangers and will have no occasion to slip away through a carelessly open door or window. Surround your pet with favorite toys, blankets, food and water.
  10. Update your dog’s collar with your new address and new phone number.
  11. Leave your contact information (new address, phone number, even vet contact info) with a few of your neighbors and your landlord. Should your pet get loose and make his way back to your old home, you’ll get word of it asap.
  12. If you trip takes more than a quick one-hour drive, regularly check on how your pet is handling travelling, if he’s got enough water and food, or if he needs a walk.
  13. As soon as you arrive to your new location put him in a similarly clearly marked safe area, surrounding him with the same comforts as right before the move. As soon as the strangers have left (movers, landlord, friendly neighbors) let him out of his seclusion to roam and explore his new home at will. If you own a dog, take him out for a quick walk as soon as he seems to be a little less apprehensive of his new surroundings. Make the walk quick, se he doesn’t get overexcited. Slowly increase the duration of outside walks every day, so your dog has time to readjust.
  14. Enjoy your new home!

Get your decorating game on with Marsala

Reigning supreme as the color of the year, Marsala is the hue you want in your home. Whether you’re simply looking to update to your apartment, have recently moved, or you want to stay on trend, Marsala is the color you need to bring into your apartment, ASAP! Here are a few suggestions on how you can accomplish that.

  • If you’re only looking to add a fresh touch to your rental, start off with a vase or two and some throw pillows. These aren’t really big ticket items and are easy to switch out of you decide this bold color isn’t for you
  • If you’re looking for a bigger impact, or end up falling in love with the rich warmth of Marsala (how could you not?) add several small items, such as bookends, wall decorations, maybe even a throw rug.  Instead of multiple small items, you can also opt for a statement splash of Marsala by adding a couch, window treatments, large rug or table sporting  the warm, earthy tone.
  • If you like the color, but you’ve recently redecorated and like you current color palette, buy Marsala kitchenware. The warm tones of Marsala work incredibly well with home cooked meals and salads. Mix and match your Marsala bowls and plates with bamboo placemats and wooden serving utensils to complete the hearty home feel.
  • For a bold statement paint an accent wall in Marsala. If you’re feeling particularly bold, all four walls of a room in Marsala. Just make sure your landlord signs off on the update or you might just loose that precious deposit.
  • Whether you opt for a few discreet touches of the rich tone or go for a full dramatic look, take note of how different colors compliment Marsala.  Neutrals and soft pastels make Marsala pop, while greens, gold and amber bring out earthy tones. Blue tones, especially vibrant and dark tones create a striking, dramatic color play for those who are not afraid of bold décor.
  • If you’re planning on updating your home with more than just a few pillows, remember to add all new purchases to your renters insurance, especially big-ticket items. We all know that a full dinner set can cost a pretty penny. If you’re planning on giving your apartment a make-over with the help of your friends, make sure your renters insurance is up to date and in order. Renters insurance such as Resident Shield offers you coverage in case of accidental injury of guests while at your home, including slip and fall injuries.

Simmering summer apartment design

The days start early and end late; the birds chirp from dawn until after dusk. The heavy boots, the gloves, the comforters, and all those warm clothes are stored away, not at all missed. It’s summer outside; the perfect time to bring it indoors as well.

Mirrors. Mirrors are the perfect way to capture the sunshine rays that enter your apartment, especially when placed opposite of windows. Living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, hallways, not only will they sparkle in natural light, but will also be given the illusion of grandeur. (Just make sure you place the mirror wisely so that it reflects something you actually want to see!)

Flowers. Make it a habit to bring home fresh flowers at least once a month. Place your vases on the dining table, on the nightstand, and on the kitchen counter – those beautiful colors and that fabulous perfume will add to your happiness. If you dislike the idea of fresh flowers, bring in a small flowering plant in a pretty pot.

Scents of summer. Transform your bathroom into a tropical heaven by adding coconut and sea-mist scented bath gels, lotions, and soaps. Candles and essential oils are other scent-sational ways to refresh the happiness factor of your apartment.

Lean on lighter linens. Those lazy afternoon naps are brought in by the easy breeze. To enjoy them the most, change your bed linens to light fabrics with floral or sea-themed patterns. Go even further and swap the heavy winter drapes with the gauzy summer curtains. Bright colors work best.

A paint alternative. Most probably your landlord doesn’t allow you to repaint the walls, so why not turn to something that you own, like furniture. Refinish an entire piece or just add a few accent touches and it will feel as a new addition to your living environment. Pinterest is an endless source of inspiration.

Renter’s insurance has your back on vacation

Ah, summer, the golden months when all we want to think about is vacation. The summer escape, whether it’s a mountain cabin, a beach bungalow, or some city condo, is the sweetest relief.

Some of us travel light, using the occasion to satisfy shopping pleasure. Others consider heavy bags to be the sign of a happy vacation. Yet all that stuff we take with us – laptop, camera, sports equipment, musical instruments, jewelry – is not only heavy, but also valuable. What happens if these items are damaged or stolen while staying at a hotel or a vacation rental? For peace of mind, first determine whether or your luggage with its contents will be covered by your insurance policy in event of loss due to fire, theft, or some other unfortunate events.

Your renters or homeowners insurance most probably has “off-premise” coverage. In other words, your personal possessions will still be covered outside your home – regardless if it happens to have your property stolen from your car or your vacation rental. Furthermore, you will also be covered for the common perils such as fire, theft, vandalism, and hurricanes. However, if you put your bike on the roof of your car, don’t secure it properly and it falls down, most probably you won’t get a new bicycle under insurance coverage.

The Insurance Information Institute advises to check on the off-premises coverage as some policies limit it to 10 percent of the amount of coverage you have for your personal possessions. Specifically, if you have $100,000 worth of coverage for your personal items, you’d get only $10,000 for off-premises coverage. Check with your agent before you start your vacation. If your off-premise coverage is too low, you may want to consider raising your policy limits.

Depending on where you spend your vacation, be selective with the items you take with you. On the beach or on some mountain, you won’t need all that expensive jewelry or tech. Make an inventory of the things that make it in your luggage and keep it documented and detailed in case you have to make a claim for damage or loss. If you must travel with valuable items, consider adding a floater to your renter’s policy. This endorsement will cover the cost of specific higher-value items, whether at home or on vacation.

 

 

Apartments with criminal pasts

Perhaps one of the most terrifying nightmares in the life of a renter is to unknowingly rent an apartment with a criminal past.

There are some obvious signs signaling that something is wrong with the place; the most striking of them is the price – below market. Any time you find an apartment with a price that’s too good to be true, it most certainly has something terrible to hide.

Picking the perfect place has many factors to be considered; most renters focus on size, location, price, amenities when choosing an apartment, but omit one essential aspect: its criminal record. It might sound as a scene from the movies, but reality sometimes beats the movies.

There was the case of young renters moved into their new apartment and shortly after experienced sickness, including nausea and vomiting, serious breathing problems and terrible migraines, forcing several hospital visits before they moved out after three months. It was only afterwards that they discovered that the apartment beneath theirs had once been a meth lab.

Perhaps you’ve watched Breaking Bad and noticed that cooking meth requires little hardware and is pretty easy to conceal. There have been hundreds of cases such as this one, seriously affecting the health of tenants who have moved in next. Meth contamination is invisible and the clean-up process is expensive; unfortunately there are plenty unethical landlords who simply skip the cost and keep quiet.

Renters who, unknowingly move into apartments where drug dealing/cooking or prostitution took place, enter an unsettling and dangerous zone. Unwanted visitors looking for the previous tenant will compromise privacy and safety in the new home. What is worse is the fact that many landlords avoid to warn the future tenants before they move in, so it’s up to the tenants to conduct their own research.

In many states the law doesn’t require landlords to warn potential tenants of criminal activity in their apartment or complex. Therefore, if your apartment or a neighboring one has been a nest for criminal activity, you might not be told, even if you ask. But if you are willing to do the research, there are ways to track such mishaps.

First, use Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine and type in the exact address of the apartment. The address may have appeared in a news story or police blotter. You can also research police reports for the unit and the area to see if your potential apartment or nearby ones have experienced criminal activity. Consider break-ins close to the apartment, drug related activity, sex offenders in the proximity – all these are indicators of danger for new tenants.

Another option is to use CrimeReports and type in your exact address, if the results come up clear, then probably your apartment has a safe past. If you also wish to find out whether someone has died in that respective unit (either by natural or violent causes), you can pay DiedInHouse to bring you that answer.

A simple and inexpensive way to find out if the apartment you’re eyeing has a criminal past is to ask the neighbors. Knock on a few doors and ask of any unusual or illegal activities as well as of recent tragedies around the area/complex. Ask them if they feel safe, if they’ve noticed strangers or non-tenants hanging around as this may be a clue for drug or prostitution activity. However, be careful how you ask, be friendly and casual so that your future neighbors won’t feel accused of doing something against the law.

Once you’ve cleared the air and signed the lease to your new home, get renter’s insurance. Safety first, right?

Hurricane updates from the Insurance Information Institute

The Atlantic hurricane season started on June 1st and will end on November 30th, reminds the Insurance Information Institute. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Go over the steps you should take to get through the stormy season prepared.

The Insurance Information Institute has available English and Spanish-language experts, who can talk to you about the economics of insuring against natural disasters, provide you with tips and updated news, and even give historical perspective on Hurricane Katrina, the calamity which made landfall in August ten years ago. You can find the list with spokespeople here.

If you haven’t yet reviewed your insurance yet, be advised that wind damage from both tropical storms and hurricanes is covered under standard renters, homeowners, and business insurance policies. However, flood damage resulting from storm surge caused by hurricanes is excluded under the standard policies. Still, flood coverage is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Furthermore, damage to cars from tropical storms and hurricanes is covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy – this includes wind damage, flooding, and even falling objects such as trees.

For those living in threatened areas like Dr. Tim Reinhold, director of Engineering and vice president at Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has identified five steps homeowners can take to make homes more hurricane-resistant: (1) Shutter all openings, (2) Protect gable end vents, (3) Secure loose roof shingles, (4) Seal openings, cracks and holes, and (5) Strengthen doors. Talk to your landlord and check that your rental is strong enough to get you safe through the stormy season. Maybe even show him the video below.

The folks at Resident Shield wish you a safe summer and an uneventful hurricane season.

Renting from private parties (vs. property management companies)

What if your dream apartment belongs to an individual instead of a company? How does the procedure differ from renting from an individual as opposed to renting from a company? It’s a compromise: give the 24/7 maintenance, the workout room, and the community gathering spaces for a more personable, friendly, and flexible process.

Flexibility is the main benefit. Working one-on-one allows you to develop a relationship with the landlord and the option to negotiate the policies or whatever situation you might find yourself in. Whether it’s pet related or rent payment date, individual landlords might be willing to work with you. It may also save you money in some places: since you can negotiate, you may do so with the rent amount, or work out some trade situation.

Since they own the property, they have vested interest in the property’s condition, thus he may allow you to improve the living space, indoor or outdoor, for a discount on rent. If the two of you get along well, he will want to keep you as a tenant for as long as possible and probably enable you the possibility to avoid rent increases at renewal or even get a discount for signing a longer term contract.

Of course, there are also risks and many of them are unknown as every experience will vary, depending on who you are renting from and the terms you have agreed upon. A great risk is visible when you don’t have a contract/lease in your renting transaction. If the landlord doesn’t insist on having one, be very careful, investigate. It is as much in your protection as it is in his.

Make sure that the landlord actually owns the apartment as he might be renting it, in which case, check to make sure he has the right to sublet. And as in any case, sign a contract that you know you can follow through – contracts work the same with individuals as they do with companies.

Questions for the landlord:

  • What is the monthly rate? What utilities will you be paying for and how much?
  • How much is the deposit, if there is any?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • What amenities are available to you – WiFi, laundry facility, maintenance?
  • How will the two of you manage situation in case of emergencies or if something breaks, are there any emergency expenses?
  • How long will the space be available to you?
  • Are they planning on selling the property?
  • Is he the owner of the property?
  • Are there any personal policies – noise or visitors related?
  • Are you the first renter or has someone else leased the apartment before you? – you might be able to find out more about the location, or about doing business with the landlord.
  • How much will the landlord be involved in your life? Will you see them every day or will they give you privacy?
  • What situations will make the landlord require access to your apartment?
  • Ask for a copy of the contract to take home and read it fully before signing it.

At all times make sure everything is clearly written down. Be aware of your move-in and move-out responsibilities. Don’t just look at the place, but try it out: operate the cabinets, test the faucets, flip the switches, turn on the air conditioner and heater; mainly check the little details to be functional. Of course, make sure any broken things are replaced or fixed before you sign the contract. Additionally, document the space: take pictures, write details, and have the landlord sign it. To make sure you really did your homework, research tenant rights in your area.

Regardless if you rent from a company or an individual, renter’s insurance should always be part of your plans. Remember the great benefits such a small amount of money will bring.