Whether you’re a renting rookie or reevaluating your living situation, finding the perfect rental home can be incredibly time-consuming. About a third of all Americans rent, and while a good portion of them are young adults, there are also families, empty nesters and seniors. Fortunately, there are rental homes here in Cincinnati for all household types and budgets, big or small.
To find the best rental home for your budget and lifestyle, follow these five steps:
STEP 1: Figure out what you can afford.
Before you even start the search, put together a budget and take a good look at where your money is going from month to month.
In most cases, it’s recommended that you allocate no more than 30 percent of your income for housing costs. Does that amount seem reasonable once you’ve factored in all of your other monthly expenditures? Regardless of the 30 percent recommendation, landlords will often specify income limits — like that your yearly income is a certain multiple of the monthly rent, or that your rent shouldn’t exceed a specific percentage of your income each month.
It is important to keep in mind that, in addition to rent, you’ll have to budget for utilities (unless your landlord covers some or all of them), cable and Internet, and any other amenities you would want. And all of that is in addition to the cost of moving and furnishing your rental homes.
STEP 2: Make a list of your ideal features.
Apart from a bedroom and bathroom count, ask yourself if there are other “nice-to-have” or necessary features:
- Do you want a large backyard? How about a space for entertaining outdoors like a deck or patio?
- Do you want a fireplace? Wood-burning, gas, or electric?
- Do you want some distance between you and your neighbor?
- Do you need a full sized bathroom, or would you be alright without a tub?
- Would you prefer a gas stove in your kitchen?
- Do you need an extra room in your home to set up an office?
- Would you be willing to park on the street or is a driveway of your own a necessity?
And consider what you would be willing to sacrifice:
- Would you give up some space and a yard in the suburbs in exchange for a smaller rental home in the city and a park across the street?
- Would you be willing to live with a roommate so that you could afford something in Over-the-Rhine or Hyde Park, or would you rather live alone in one of the quieter neighborhoods outside of the city?
STEP 3: Map out your day.
Take some time to think about where you spend most of your time, then look at what’s available in those locations. What’s your schedule like? What neighborhoods do you travel between daily or even weekly? Do you want to drive to work, or would you rather ride a bike or take the bus? What do your weekends look like, and do you want to live near the places and activities you frequent or is it OK to live somewhere else? If you work late, or if you get up early, are there stores nearby and open during the hours you need to shop?
- Check things out: Spend a Saturday, an evening after work or a pre-work coffee stop in any neighborhood you’re considering. Most importantly, test out your morning commute from the areas you’re considering as part of your search. Do you like the culture, the drive, the people? Is the commute reasonable at the time you’d be making it? If you work remotely, are there services nearby, like copy shops, co-working spaces and cafes?
- Look into services: Will you be close to the services that matter to you, like theaters, restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores? Aside from the basics, you should also consider how close you are to public transportation, schools, gift and clothing stores, and services specific to your needs or interests, including churches, veterinary or doctors’ offices, a post office, a gym, etc.
- Research crime: Regardless of whether you choose to live in downtown Cincinnati or in one of the quieter surrounding neighborhoods, take some time to determine what types of crime are happening in your area and where. If car break-ins are common, maybe you’ll want to find a rental with a garage. If home invasion or burglary happen often, you can look for a home with a security system installed.
- Know your school districts: If education is a priority, research the top school districts in the Cincinnati area and narrow your search to the neighborhoods within those districts.
STEP 4: Submit your application.
You’ve set your budget, settled on the right neighborhood and found the right rental home for you. The hard part is over, and now it’s in the landlord or property manager’s hands. At this point, they’ll determine whether or not you’re qualified to rent the property. Here are some things to expect during the process:
- The background check: When you submit your application for a rental home, the landlord or property manager will likely ask for written authorization to run a background check and request permission to verify your information in the form of pay stubs and personal references. In most cases, you will have to pay for your application and it may be a few days before you hear back from the landlord.
- Lease: Assuming your background is acceptable, you will then negotiate the terms of your lease with the landlord of the property. The lease will spell out the terms of your rental, including when it starts and ends; the deposit amount and how it is to be used; who is responsible for making payments; rules regarding the use of space; under what terms the landlord can enter; what is and isn’t included (utilities, for example), etc.
- Negotiation: Keep in mind that some aspects of your lease are negotiable — ranging from the duration of the lease, to the perks a landlord may offer — such as one month free on a 12-month lease or free cable TV. You may even be able to negotiate that the landlord fix a few things before your lease begins or let you paint the walls for a fee. On the other hand, landlords can also add conditions to your lease before accepting you as a renter: Perhaps they require a guarantor or co-signor because of your age or credit history, or an additional deposit for your pet.
- Deposit: More often than not, when you move in you are required to pay a security deposit equivalent to one month of rent, as well as the first month of rent. The security deposit must be returned to you within the number of days or weeks set forth in your lease once you move out. It is important to remember that if you damage the home beyond “normal wear and tear,” the landlord can keep part of your deposit. What’s “normal wear and tear”? That depends on the landlord. Typically, normal wear and tear might mean the place could use some light cleaning or paint touchups at move-out, while excessive wear and tear might mean the carpet is so stained it needs to be replaced or that walls have holes in them that need patching, sanding, and repainting.
EquityTeam manages rental homes throughout the city of Cincinnati and the surrounding suburbs. To view our available properties, request a showing, or submit an application, visit our Tenant Services page.