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Finding the perfect apartment/house doesn't happen by chance. The ability to determine your needs, identify problem areas and ask the right questions will help you make the right choice before you sign the lease. Remember, once you have signed on the dotted line you are typically committed for a year.

Determine your needs
Price range : Price is one the most important considerations. Decide how much you can afford or want to spend. Remember to factor in utility costs, parking and your usual monthly bills. Knowing your price range from the outset will focus your search, saving you time.

Location : It is important that the neighbourhood you choose to live in is well suited to you and your family. Consider the distance from your work place or schools. Do you mind a long commute every day? Is public transportation easily accessible? Is it a high crime area? Is it close to amenities such as grocery stores, doctor offices and the post office?

Type of apartment/house : Consider the size of your family and the space you require for your furniture and other possessions. Will you be happy in 500 square feet or will you need 1000? Will a one-room bachelor be adequate or do you require a one, two or three bedroom apartment/house? Typically, the larger the apartment/house the higher the rent will be.

Features and amenities : Determine what features you need or desire in your future home. Is an en suite or on-site laundry facility important or do you mind going to a Laundromat? Does the building feature security features such as security patrols, video cameras or a controlled-access public entry? Do you want the convenience of a dishwasher, an on-site gym or pool, a balcony etc.?

Inspect the apartment/house
Never rent an apartment/house sight-unseen. It is essential that you tour the apartment/house and examine it closely for problems. Areas that warrant inspection include:

The building : What is the state of repair outside and inside? Are common areas kept clean and in good repair? Are the walls in need of paint? If maintenance appears to be lacking it could be a sign of poor building management.

What is the area like? Does it have amenities you want? Are there any potential nuisances?

It is worth making a very rudimentary check of the structure of the building i.e. have a quick look for major cracks, leaning walls etc. Gutters tend to provide a good "rough guide" to the condition of the property. Look for evidence of leaking and or plants growing in them.

Does the accommodation seem secure?

If there is a garden, find out who is responsible for its upkeep. 

The apartment/house : Upon entering the property take note of general appearance and upkeep. Are the carpets or flooring worn? Are the walls cracked or in need of paint? Is there staining on the roof or walls (an indication of a water leak). Check all light switches and outlets to ensure they are working. Poor general maintenance may also be an indication of poor maintenance in other areas.

Are there any signs of damp, such as flaking paint or a musty smell, or infestation, such as mouse droppings?

Are there any repairs needing done?

Is there roof insulation? Bills will be higher if not.

Also look out for the little things - is there a vacuum cleaner, are there enough cooking utensils etc? Test power sockets and make sure plugs don't warm up in use.

Is there adequate storage space?

Sitting room/Lounge
Not much to say other than keep an eye out for a TV and an aerial lead if you want one. Ditto for a telephone connection.

Make sure the bedrooms are adequately cupboarded and that all beds and chairs are comfortable and dry.

Doors and windows : Are there secure locks, a peephole and deadbolts on all outside doors? Check for drafts around windows, doors, light switches and electric outlets. If you are paying for heating, a drafty apartment could be cold and costly in winter.

The kitchen : Check taps for water pressure and hot water. Examine the base of the taps for leaks and look under the sink for signs of water damage. Turn on the stove and oven and check that the refrigerator, dishwasher and any other appliances are in good working order.

Make sure that there is plenty of work surfaces and cupboards. Also check that the fridge is big enough.

Check for washing machines and dishwashers - do they look like they are in good order?

The bathroom : Check taps for water pressure and hot water. Examine the base of the taps for leaks and look under the sink and around the tub or shower stall for signs of water damage. Press gently on tile. If the tile moves, it could be a sign of water damage in the wall behind the tile. Flush the toilet to ensure it drains properly.

It is worth checking that things work - a shower may look good but is it capable of producing more than a dribble. Also make sure that there are enough facilities for the size of your group, including adequate geysers.

Look out for:

  • 5 lever mortise locks (important for getting insurance)
  • The entry door to the building - is there an intercom? Does it work?
  • Window locks, particularly if you're on the ground floor.

Is there a burglar alarm?  Try to find out if the property has been broken into in the last year.

Fire : there are over 70,000 fires in people's homes each year: there should be a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  Are all landing doors fire doors? Does the geyser, wiring, plumbing etc look safe and in good condition?

Make sure soft furnishings are labelled as fire resistant.

Make sure all electrical appliances work.

Bathroom light switches should either be pull chord type or outside the room.

Questions to ask before you sign the lease
If you have found an apartment that fits your needs you should ask the landlord about important details regarding conditions of the lease and building regulations. Remember, the lease is for your protection too. Ensure that any verbal promises are also included in the lease. Get it in writing.

  • How long is the lease? (Typically one year, although shorter periods including month to month are available.)
  • Can I sublet the apartment if my circumstances change before the lease period is over?
  • How much do you require for a deposit?
  • Can I have roommates?
  • Are any utilities included in the cost of rent? What about parking?
  • Is there special building rules regarding quiet times, pets etc.?
  • What is the procedure for obtaining repairs to the apartment? Is emergency maintenance available 24 hours a day?
  • What maintenance (if any) am I responsible for?
  • What changes can I make to the apartment (paint, wallpaper, carpeting, pictures or shelves that attach to the wall)?
  • When is the apartment available?
  • When can I move in?

Please note: we have compiled this information in good faith, but we accept no liability for any errors, or for any use that is made of it, or for any problems or damage that may arise as a result of using or acting upon this information.



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