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Monday, June 23, 2014

Finding an Apartment the Second Time Around

Seniors are opting to rent apartments for many reasons, including freedom from a big house, yard and upkeep, which can be expensive. Those looking for a rental for the first time since their youth will find a vastly different challenge. Looking on the internet might be the first step.  

Older adults have many reasons for wanting to rent rather than stay in their houses:
  • Free up home equity that can be invested to generate interest and/or dividend income
  • Eliminate the need for and cost of home and garden maintenance
  • Travel without the worry of taking care of property
  • Need to divide the equity after a divorce
  • Financial inability to continue to pay a mortgage
  • Desire to move near friends and relatives
Older women, particularly, are renting. Not only do they comprise a larger percentage of the 65-plus population, but many have lower retirement income, especially those who outlive husbands or are divorced.

Seniors who rented apartments when they were young may remember thumbing through the want ads in the local newspaper and calling the landlord (on landline phones, of course). If the place was available, you checked it out in person and talked to the landlady, who decided on the spot if she trusted you and then asked for the first and last month’s rent.

Today, seniors will find an entirely new process. Instead of the newspaper, they can go online to Craigslist or another online source, such as When they find an apartment of interest, they’ll visit with references already in hand and maybe even a copy of their credit report.

Another issue that older adults may not have experienced their first time around is a tight-rental market (“Rental Market Analysis: A Tight Forecast,” June 13, 2013, More people across the country are opting to rent for various reasons—from foreclosed homes to young people delaying their first home purchase. This is pushing up the demand for rentals and raising rent costs.

Because competition is intense, experts advise acting quickly on any new listings, being prepared to make a fast decision and having your checkbook and references ready.

Looking for a Place 

Making a list of what’s most important to you will help you stay focused when looking at multiple apartments.

First, determine what neighborhood is most desirable, so you can streamline the process and visit several places at once. Do you prefer older and more established neighborhoods, the ones with tree-lined streets, or a recently developed neighborhood with newer and larger apartment complexes? Do you want to live close to public transportation and be able to walk everywhere? Do you want to live near trails and other recreational outlets?
How important is safety? High-rise complexes can provide more security, while smaller apartments in older neighborhoods may be less safe but can provide more interaction with different types and ages of people. (See sidebar for other factors that older adults might want to consider.)

Second, figure out how much space you require. How many bathrooms do you need? Do you want a guest bedroom? Do you need a lot of storage space?

Not every apartment accepts pets, so make sure to ask up front. Many properties will only allow certain types of pets and may specify breeds and weight limits.

It doesn’t hurt to drive through or walk by the area you’re interested in and look for “for rent” signs. In a tight market, use all your resources, including your network of contacts and friends to spread the word that you’re looking for a place. 

Checking Out the Apartment 

Many places offer virtual views online, but it’s always best to see for yourself. Beyond ensuring that what you see is what you’re going to get, you can check out the neighbors (discreetly) and the area. For example, you may notice that neighbors blast loud music or there is significant traffic noise. Experts advise checking out apartments at night as well as during the day (especially if natural light is important to you) because neighborhoods can become different places when the sun goes down.

Look at the public spaces in the apartment complex, such as hallways and lobbies. Are they clean? Are there any strange smells that might make you think the place is not being cared for properly?

Inside the apartment, make sure the stove, refrigerator and other appliances work. You might want to even check out the water flow in sinks and the shower, and flush the toilet. Check under the sinks for signs of mold and critters. Look inside closets: Is the storage space enough?

If security is a concern, check the locks on the front door to make sure they work and ensure the lighting in the hallways and parking areas is ample. If the apartment has security gates and doors, make sure they function properly.

Easily compare different places by creating a checklist that includes information about storage space, security concerns and so forth. To aid your memory, snap a picture of each property.

In your initial conversation with the landlord, ask what the monthly rent includes and if there are any additional fees you should be aware of. What may have looked like a bargain at first may not hold true if utilities are not included and you end up paying for electricity, water and garbage pick-up. Inquire about other “extras” such as parking fees, and check if there are perks such as free public transportation, on-site health club memberships or discounts to local gyms. Other amenities could include window treatments, customizable cable hook-ups or Wi-Fi in the building. 

Getting the Documents in Order 

Before you sign the lease, property owners will generally ask for a security deposit and the first and last month’s rent. In addition, they may request an application fee, a broker or finder’s fee, references and/or a credit check. Be prepared.

For your protection, before signing the lease, find out (and, if necessary, include in the lease) if your security deposit is refundable; your options if you decide to move out before the lease is up; and how much notice the landlord must give before notifying you that your lease won’t be renewed. If the property owner has agreed to make certain repairs (a new refrigerator or repainting the walls, for example), make sure you get it in writing, especially if that’s a condition for you moving in.

Although much of the language in a lease is standard, read your agreement entirely so you know what’s expected of you and the landlord.

Before moving in, take photographs to document any pre-existing issues to avoid having part of your security deposit withheld for damages. That way when you leave, you can prove that the scratches on the door were made by the previous renter’s dog or that the nail holes in the wall were put there by someone else. 

“5 Tips for Senior Apartment Living” How Stuff Works 
“6 Tips For Renting An Apartment,” 
“10 Things You Should Do Before Signing a Lease,” July 18, 2013 The Shared Wall 
“11 Apartment Hunting Tips for Renters” Houzz 
“Seniors Only Apartments” Senior Resource

Finding an Apartment the Second Time Around was featured in the February 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors