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Unlocking a Seamless Rental Journey: 10 Must-Ask Questions for Your Property Manager

Rental Journey: Introduction

Embarking on an apartment rental journey is often a chaotic task. It is stressful, time consuming, and can leave you in a bind if you don’t know what to look for or ask when taking an apartment tour.

I worked for over a year for a highly respected national property company and I have spent a lot of time in prospects shoes thinking about how to best serve them.

During my time in property management, I’ve seen, spoken to and converted a lot of prospects and I think it is important for people to understand what they are getting into before signing a lease.

Below I have prepared 10 questions you must ask a property manager before signing your lease, and also some thoughts on the process in general.

Rental Journey: Always Do An Apartment Tour

Always do a property tour in person.

If this isn’t possible for your rental journey, do a live virtual tour.

While many complexes offer self-guided tours, I highly recommend you have a leasing consultant, property manager, or agent guide you.

Leasing an apartment is like starting a business marriage with a property manager/ landlord. While modern media may have plenty of negative examples of bad landlords, many want to keep their residents happy. It is better for business, and also better for our sanity. Lord knows, I’ve spent many sleepless nights thinking about angry tenants and how to best serve them. (Advice for property managers, leave your work at the office- but that’s a topic for a different time).

Because it’s crucial to have a positive relationship with your property manager, it’s important to have them give you a tour of the building and apartment, if it’s available.

Even if you’re an introvert, doing a self-guided tour can shoot you in the foot. When leasing an apartment, you should be studying not only the apartment and the environment, but also the building’s management. You should be looking for things like how they treat you, how they treat residents, how they treat other staff, and how other staff respond to them.

1) What are the lease terms, deposit amount needed, and qualification structure? 

This may seem obvious, but it is critical for you to understand your financial requirements and for how long.

Also, know how much you will need upfront. This may be different for international applicants who do not have a social security number.

Many property management firms will conduct an extensive background check and run a credit report on you, such as an Equifax scan. These are often a hard pull on your credit. They often take a much larger deposit upfront if they cannot conduct a complete report.

You need to know the amount of the deposit and how much of it you will realistically get back.

You also need to know how they will see if you qualify for the lease with the company and be ready to provide any references necessary.

Also, you need to know your options if you still need to qualify. Can you bring in a guarantor? Does that hurt your status of the application?

In my experience, this can complicate things, but generally speaking, we would do whatever we could to provide someone with an apartment. Not just because we get a commission from each apartment lease but also because we want to keep occupancy rates high. It is also our job not to discriminate against others for any reason. Therefore, we do our best to provide housing unless there is a glaring issue, such as a fraudulent application, or we feel that the individual moving in will make our community unsafe.

2) What is the total amount due per month? 

Again, this looks obvious, but it may not be. What you pay for rent is only sometimes the total amount you owe to the company.

You must also know the utility costs, additional renter’s association fees, etc. Additionally, utilities vary monthly, so you should get a ballpark estimate. Do not think the property manager is shady by not sharing the exact amount.

You should also know when rent is due, the late fee when you are late, and when the final day is before it’s late. In my experience, rent was late after the fourth, and you get filed on the third week of the month if it’s not paid. Often, the amount owed needs to be at or over one month’s rent to be filed. Additionally, many companies do not accept partial rent payments. Any amount owed needs to be paid in full.

Trust me, you do not want to deal with eviction proceedings. However, if you are, you want to go in person to talk with your property manager/ team to know all of your options. We are getting ahead of ourselves here, but life happens, which is why renting with a competent, kind property management team is vital. Having them on your side would be best because they can help you through any difficulties.

3) What is the lease break penalty? 

During your rental journey, you may need to leave your lease early for whatever reason.

Knowing what is required financially to leave your lease early is essential.

Please note that if you get any rent concessions upfront, such as a month of free rent, you may need to pay the amount saved back to your building. Always get the total amount owed in writing. Most of the time, you may be unable to pay this in installments.

There may be other options, such as a transfer to another building owned by the property management firm or going rent responsible.

Rent responsible means you are financially responsible for the apartment until someone else signs a new lease and releases you from your financial responsibility.

This is a great time to ask/ know if you can legally sublease your apartment.

If you can’t sublease your apartment. DON’T!

Trust me. Property management firms have outstanding lawyers. You want to avoid legal disputes with the titans at firms such as KTS. If you are illegally operating an Airbnb or some other type of short-term rental, they will find you and take you to court.  

Know the financial obligation required to break your lease. It may not be a significant factor when making your apartment decision, but you need to know in case of a change or major life event.

4) What is the office’s method of communication? 

There will be times when the office needs to contact you.

Do they use email, phone calls, or text to communicate with you? What is their preferred method?

Whether it’s to share a community announcement or something more critical. You need to have a reliable way to understand what is going on at the property. You should also ask if they use sites like Active Building to communicate with residents. During your rental journey, you want a website, to be able to keep track of everything that’s going on in the building so you are well informed. They may also publish nearby events or building events/ ways that you can get involved with your neighbors.

Remember, if it’s a larger property, you are one of possibly hundreds of residents. Therefore, it is partially your responsibility to check your messages and stay well-informed about what is going on at the property.

5) Do you have in-house maintenance staff? 

Buildings are flawed. You need easy access to maintenance staff.

They are the bedrock of the community. I was so lucky to work with a fantastic maintenance team. Residents loved them, and they are outstanding at their job.

I also know what it’s like not to have maintenance in the office. When things break, outsourcing takes much more time and energy from everyone involved.

You also want to make sure there is an in-house custodial team. If not, you need to know that there is a weekly cleaning schedule.

You should also look into if they offer pest control, especially if you’re in an urban environment. You want pest maintenance because it can get bad quickly if you don’t.

This is another reason you should visit the property before signing a lease. Trust me.

6) Do you offer parking? 

If so, is it included? How many parking spots are included?

If not, how much does it cost? How many spots can you have? How much does it cost per spot?

Is there a waiting list?

Do you offer guest parking? If so, how often?

If you have a car and plan to live in an urban environment, you must know what you are getting into. Often, buildings don’t have enough spots for their residents’ cars. Look into this before renting.

7) Do you have on-site security? 

Do you have a doorman? Is there a 24-hour call center? Do you have 24-hour security? Can residents call them if needed?

No building is 100% safe, but it is crucial to have security on the property to ensure your safety and the safety of your living space.

If your building has security that you can call, which is highly preferable, save their number in your phone at move-in. You never want to call them, but it needs to be in your phone.

Also, get to know them a bit if they’re the same security people. You want them to recognize you in case you get locked out of the building or in an emergency. It’s better to have a small relationship than to be strangers, especially in your home.

8) How old is the property? How recently it’s been remodeled? Are there any current projects or projects coming up? 

Good property managers always think about the health of their buildings. Especially as the buildings get older, it is important to maintain them by developing new projects. These projects can be aesthetic, such as a new paint job. These projects can also be more internal, such as remodeling each apartment building (which takes years because you must wait for tenants to move out before remodeling the apartments). They can also be an emergency project, such as a pipe burst or replacing an elevator door. I have seen many issues a building can have, and sometimes, as a manager, it feels like you’re playing whack amole.

Property managers are planning and know what projects are happening for the year unless it is an emergency. Therefore, as someone on their rental journey, it is important to know what projects are happening and if there are any in the future. Projects can be loud and cause some disturbances/ annoyances to you as a resident. Therefore, you want to know what you are signing up for before signing a lease.

Additionally, this is entirely out of your property manager’s control, but if you are in a dense urban environment, you’re going to want to know what is going on in the buildings around you. Are they doing any construction? Are there any new projects being built? What hours are they allowed to work?  

9) How do you handle mail and packages? 

If you’re like me and order a lot online, you want to ensure your mail is safe from being lost or stolen. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how your packages and mail are stored.

Does the building have designated mailboxes? Is there a specific mailroom? Do your packages get delivered to a lockbox or directly to your door?

I recommend having some security regarding packages because package theft is prevalent and a low-stakes crime. You want to understand what the building offers and what management recommends.

10) What amenities do you offer?

Amenities are as important as you make them. The building may have a great gym, a great pool, or something of that nature, but if you’re not going to use them, you may not want to have to pay for them. 

Some care about amenities; others don’t. However, if your building has them, you are paying extra for them to some degree. Most of the time, there is a slight increase in the cost of rent due to the amenities. Therefore, it is essential to understand the cost to benefit.

Look at how often they are used, if they are clean, and if you would use them often.

Rental Journey: Bonus Question- Do you allow pets?

If so, what type of animals do you allow? How much do you charge in pet rent?

If you have an animal, it is obvious that you want to live in a pet friendly building.

Most often, you will be charged a pet rent fee unless you have a doctor’s note saying that the animal is an ESA (emotional support animal). Please don’t get a fake doctor’s note. Property managers actually read them and it is annoying when you lie. No one likes this or wants this and it is a terrifying thing to confront someone about the validity of their doctor’s note.

If you have a breed that isn’t allowed in all buildings, such as an American Bully, make sure to get this cleared before move-in. The last thing you want is to be asked to leave because of a pet.

When it comes to pets, just be honest and you will be fine.

Rental Journey: Final Thoughts  

There is much to consider before you move into a new apartment.

Hopefully, these questions can help guide you to make an informed, well-thought-out decision about your next move.

A lot of people read Google property reviews before they move. These are important but don’t believe everything you read here. Some people who never lived at the property leave reviews just for spite. Also, be aware that people will be unhappy with the building, no matter what. No building is perfect.  

As stressful as it can be, moving should also be fun.

Best of luck on your next move!



If you are interested in other lifestyle topics, check out 10 Health Tips for College & Beyond, and my Thoughts On Gluten.

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