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Being a renter offers plenty of freedom that buying does not, but being a renter is not the same as being a smart renter. Once you decide that renting over buying is the right choice for you, it is only the beginning. Renting a place to live, moving and setting up all necessary utilities can be expensive, time consuming and stressful. But thinking ahead can help you save. Here’s how to be sure you get the most for your money.

1. Negotiate Your Terms

When it comes to renting, everything is negotiable. Or at least, it’s a good idea to try and negotiate everything. Whether you are successful will depend partly on the local rental market as well as other factors. Just as when buying a house, you can make a counteroffer for the rent in some circumstances.

The longer the property has been vacant, the more amenable the landlord may be to cutting the price. Sometimes a price reduction can come in the form of one free month of living in the home, waiving the application fee or a lower monthly price in return for doing upkeep. Having a great credit score can also help in the negotiation process, since landlords want to rent to someone who they know will pay on time every month. It could help you beat out another potential tenant in a competitive real estate market.

2. Budget Wisely

Many financial experts will tell you it’s a good idea to keep your housing costs below 30% of your income. This is a general rule of thumb that isn’t always feasible (hello, New York City) but basically, housing is a fixed cost that you are going to be paying out every month so be sure you are not paying more than you can afford. It’s important to create a reasonable budget by looking at your income after taxes and subtracting your expenses (such as student loan payments, utilities, etc.). What you have left is what you can spend on your apartment, use for savings and for fun stuff. Keep in mind that your apartment costs also include utilities and a security deposit.

3. Read the Lease & Research Landlords

Just as a landlord looks into your financial and personal background, you should be making sure you are dealing with a trustworthy person or company. Do not sign a lease without having a complete walk-through of the apartment and looking into your landlord or property manager’s background. The next important step is to read and understand your lease. It may seem silly, but many renters feel rushed to sign immediately and do not take the necessary time to ensure the information is exactly what you and your landlord agreed upon verbally. Look for any additional fees or penalties and make sure you get any changes you want made to the lease in writing.

4. Get Renter’s Insurance

You may think that renting means you can forgo insurance or that you don’t own enough stuff to justify paying the premium. But if anything should happen to your property like flood or theft, you will likely not be covered by your landlord’s insurance. Having renter’s insurance can protect you in the long run, offers peace of mind and is very affordable.

5. Get Your Deposit Back

Security deposits are a contentious part of renting – they protect the landlords from tenants who may skip rent and also cover any unreasonable wear and tear tenants cause to an apartment. To improve your chances of getting this payment back, be proactive when moving in and out of the property. It’s important to take a video or plenty of pictures before you move in and once you are out so you have proof of the property’s condition. Document any repairs, upgrades or changes made while you live there.

Also, discuss big changes before you make them. If you want to paint the walls, upgrade fixtures or make other improvements, you should always ask beforehand. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your deposit even if you think the changes are making the place better.

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