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Author Topic: Introduction, and questions about renting
Sphinx
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Hello Hatrack! I am a longtime lurker of this forum, but I thought that my current situation warranted (*fanfare please*) my first actual post.

First, my (relatively) brief introduction, as who I am has a great deal of bearing on my questions to you all. I am 22 years old, and I just graduated from Oklahoma State Univ. with degrees in English and History; as such, I am now fully qualified for an exciting career in either the retail or food service industries! In spite of this bright, sparkling future, however, Iíve decided to go to graduate school and pursue a degree in linguistics (specifically forms of applied linguistics like sociolinguistics). Iíll be attending the Univ. at Buffalo this fall.

The big question for me right now Ė other than the massive and perpetual anxiety attack regarding whether or not grad school is the right choice for me Ė is the prospect of moving the New York. Iím currently living with my Dad in one of the bedroom communities of Tulsa, in the house I grew up in. When I was at OSU, I lived in the Honors dorm for all four years; it was closer to my friends, close to my classes, and close to food that I didnít have to cook for myself.

I have no idea how to rent an apartment, or a room in a house. I donít know how to find a space that will work for me, I donít know what questions to ask when Iím looking at a space, I just have no idea what Iím doing. To make it worse, Iím trying to do this in a city Iíve never been to Ė my planned trip had to be cancelled so that I could finish a research project Ė and that is one thousand miles from where I currently live.

This does not make for easy sleeping, let me tell you.

However, my Dad and I are going to take a vacation to Buffalo --stopping in various other cities to see the sights, of course -- to look at the university and, hopefully, investigate the accommodation situation (that sounds like an episode of a murder mystery tv show, doesnít it?).

My big, overarching question to all of you wonderful people of Hatrack is: what do I, as a first time renter/apartment hunter, need to know?

For example, I donít know how the bills for services will work; Iím used to paying for everything in one massive chunk at the beginning of the semester. Do they come directly to me, or do they go to the apartment complex / manager first? If the apartment is advertised as ďall bills paid,Ē how does the situation change? What bills will I get that Iím not expecting? Like, is there a separate bill for trash pickup or is that part of the water/sewer bill? Or will all of this depend on the specific lease I sign?

Are there any good ways, other than simply asking people, to find out quickly whether or not a particular house or apartment is in a good neighborhood?

Can I haggle about the price?

What types of things do I need to take/have before I actually move in? Iíve read about renterís insurance for renting an apartment Ė do I also need it if Iím just renting a room in a house, or will the ownerís home insurance cover any losses? What essential items did you all forget to bring when you moved into your first apartment?

I really want to live in either an apartment or a house; I think it will really help me expand my comfort zone and become (for lack of a less hackneyed phrase) a better person. Iíve never really lived like Ďan adultí Ė cooked for myself, been responsible for more than one room, paid bills, etc. Ė and I think that this move is a great opportunity to change that.

However, the fact that Iím trying to make a major decision without any first-hand experience (either of renting or of Buffalo itself) has left me feeling very lost. Any help you could give Ė books to read, good neighborhoods in Buffalo, reasons I should just go to law school, whatever Ė would be a big help to me.

Thanks!

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Artemisia Tridentata
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First stop should be the Housing office at the school. If you could find a good roommate situation, with another grad student, you would shortcut a lot of the stuff you have mentioned. It would be cheaper, and you might even cop a friend out of the deal.
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Corwin
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Welcome to Hatrack! I hope your housing experience will be as painless as possible.
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Jhai
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Welcome to Hatrack, Sphinx!

I don't know much about Buffalo, but I do know that it a) gets really cold & snows a lot in the winter and b) likely has a depressed housing & renting market due to the city's slow industrial death. What that means for you as a renter is that it should be pretty cheap to find a place, and that you should consider heating costs (and how well insulated a place is) if you're a baby like me about cold weather.

Now, about renting in general... I was in your place last year about this time (moving to a new city for graduate school, never lived on my own outside of dorms before), and I remember having the same apprehensions you have. First rule of renting: check Craig's List (http://buffalo.craigslist.org/) to get an idea of what's available, and how much it costs. In some parts of the US (like the Bay Area) Craig's List is pretty much the only place you need to check to find rentals. In other areas, newspaper ads are still big - you should check Buffalo's local papers online to see if there are listings. I imagine that Buffalo's rental market is slow enough that you can wait until your visit to find/decide on a place, but if you see something great before then, you might consider signing a lease before your visit (this is a necessity in some areas of the US, because the market moves so quickly).

How services/utilities work will depend on the lease you sign. The bills you are responsible for will almost certainly go to you directly. It's rare to find an apartment where water/sewage/trash is paid for by the individual tenants. You can often find "all utilities included" rentals - which typically do NOT include internet/phone/cable bills - or you can find places that will bill you for your individual use of electricity and/or gas. If you get a room in a house, it's more likely that you'll have all utilities included, and that might possibly include things like cable & internet. Or the home owners might suggest a bill split - you pay 1/2, or something. You shouldn't get any bills that you weren't expecting, unless you don't read over the rental contract. Utility, phone, cable, internet, etc bills will come monthly, and I highly suggest you set up automatic bill payments online so that you don't forget to pay & have your electricity shut off.

The best way to find out about neighborhoods is to ask people, or go to the neighborhoods yourself to get a feel for it. Your dad might be able to help there. Also, you can try asking at the city-data forums: http://www.city-data.com/forum/buffalo-area/ The people there were super helpful about my move to the DC area, but obviously there's different posters in the Buffalo forum. Studying Craig's List ads, and matching up the addresses to different areas of Buffalo might also help you get an idea of what the pricier and cheaper neighborhoods are. Finally you should use your university's resources, since they're used to having students coming in needing housing: http://subboard.com/sbi-och/ It looks like they have some advice about housing in the area (including listings), and have a lawyer who can help you if you don't understand your rental agreement.

Typically you will not be able to haggle on the price unless you're renting from individuals (like renting out a room in a house) - but that might depend on the housing market of Buffalo. Of course, you can always ask if the rent is negotiable.

What you need before you move in depends on your living style. If you don't cook a lot, obviously you won't need much in the way of cooking supplies, for instance. I mostly furnished my apartment with IKEA stuff, since it's cheap and fairly nice, but it looks like the closest IKEA to you is in Pittsburg (still might be worth a visit, and you can always order online). Of course, I was starting from scratch, given that I was moving from the West Coast to the East Coast. If you're driving from home, then you can obviously lug more stuff that you've stolen from your parents. [Smile] I wouldn't worry too much about little things - there ARE Walmarts in Buffalo, after all - but make sure you've got all of the big basics covered (cookware & kitchen stuff, places to sit, eat, sleep, study, entertainment, bookcases, etc), or have a plan of action to get that stuff once you move. Consider checking ads (again, Craig's List or local papers) for used items, if you're not fussy about that.

I do highly suggest getting renter's insurance, unless you don't have ANYTHING worth stealing, and you'd be able to replace losses fairly easily. You'll have to check with any potential landlords to see if their insurance will cover you if you're renting a room, but generally I don't think it does.

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Valentine014
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Renter's insurance is a must for someone who is renting in a place that is not their parent's house. Getting this is as easy as calling up your car insurance company and adding it on to your current car policy. It is inexpensive (often $10-$15 per month) and is invaluable. A lot of people don't know that if you start a fire in your apartment, you could be responsible for the damages to the other apartments (including the items inside their apartments that were damaged). Another example, on that happened to me was when the drain in my laundry room flooded. It was my renter's that had to be applied so I could get my text books replaced (they were sitting in a bag on the floor when the flooding happened). My apartment complex said that it wasn't their responsibility.

Regarding your other issues, what one would typically pay for in an apartment includes the following:
-rent (paid to landlord or apartment complex)
-Electric (needs to be set up by calling the local power company)
-Gas and heat (sometimes paid for by landlord/complex, and sometimes not-call local company to have service set up)
-Cable (sometimes you have a choice on where you get these services, same as electric and gas/heat)
-Phone (sometimes a part of cable package-for an extra fee, unless you just use a cell)

All of the prices of these things will vary on things like how big the apartment is, how old it is, and if you get a roommate.

To start, go online and look at the local newspaper , probably want to look at one bedrooms. Top floor apartments cost more (FYI), and better views and nice economic areas are expensive. When you are making the calls, ask about the neighborhood (is crime a problem, is it close to a school, parks, places to eat).

Hope that helps!

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ambyr
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Welcome to Hatrack! I'll try to answer your questions, but my experience is somewhat limited--I've never rented anywhere near New York, and most of my rental experience is with individual landlords, not management companies.

quote:
For example, I donít know how the bills for services will work; Iím used to paying for everything in one massive chunk at the beginning of the semester. Do they come directly to me, or do they go to the apartment complex / manager first?
If you are paying bills for an apartment you're renting by yourself, they should come to you in your name. If you're sharing with roommates, you'll have to work out amongst you who has what bill (electric in one person's name, phone in another, etc.) and how you want to split up costs (split evenly? charge the person who insists on keeping the heat at 80 degrees a premium?). Suggestion: Do this before the first bill shows up.

quote:
If the apartment is advertised as ďall bills paid,Ē how does the situation change?
If utilities are included. . .they're included. That means you will never see a bill for the included utility; you will just pay your rent, which will probably be higher to account for the fact that the rental owner is footing the utility bills. (Note that you often have included utilities in situations where you don't individual control the utility; for example, heat/gas may be included if it's a central radiator system that management decides when to turn on and off.)

quote:
What bills will I get that Iím not expecting? Like, is there a separate bill for trash pickup or is that part of the water/sewer bill? Or will all of this depend on the specific lease I sign?
This will be specific to where you're renting, but in general, unless you're renting a single family home, water, sewer, and trash will be included in the rent. Electric and gas may or may not be included; television and telephone virtually never are.

quote:
Are there any good ways, other than simply asking people, to find out quickly whether or not a particular house or apartment is in a good neighborhood?
You can check police department crime maps, if they're available, but nothing is a substitute for visiting. One person's good neighborhood is another person's nightmare.

quote:
Can I haggle about the price?
Unless you happen to be in an area that's heavily a renter's market (ie, properties are standing vacant for six months due to lack of tenants). . .probably not. You can haggle for furniture, though! (Err, don't try that if you're buying it at Ikea or Target.)

quote:
What types of things do I need to take/have before I actually move in? Iíve read about renterís insurance for renting an apartment Ė do I also need it if Iím just renting a room in a house, or will the ownerís home insurance cover any losses? What essential items did you all forget to bring when you moved into your first apartment?
Do a walk-through, documenting the condition of the apartment (ie, any dents in the wall, rust on appliances, stains on the carpet) with photographs before you move in. This will help you prove you didn't cause the damage if your landlord wants to charge you for repairing it after you move out. If there's anything broken that you want fixed before you move in, document it in writing with your landlord (example: I asked mine to install a new door chain and fix a leaking faucet).

I can't help you with renter's insurance, since I've chosen not to purchase any. Some landlords will require you to purchase renter's insurance as part of the lease.

We forgot a shower curtain when renting our first apartment, and made a mess of the bathroom for several days before breaking down and buying one. I'd advise against doing that.

I've found all but one of my apartments through Craigslist. The Buffalo housing Craigslist is at http://buffalo.craigslist.org/hhh/; I'd recommend checking it out, if for no other reason than to get a sense of the prices.

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ambyr
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(Looking over the Buffalo Craigslist was painful, by the way--rents seem to run half to a quarter of what they are in my city. Enjoy it!)
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HesterGray
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You might want to try www.rottenneighbor.com to see if any bad neighbors have been reported in the area you're moving to.

Also, if you're planning to stay in Buffalo for a while, I understand wanting to buy furniture and stuff. But if you won't be there for a long time, you might consider looking for a furnished apartment. Then you wouldn't have to worry about the big stuff.

Laundry is another thing to consider. Your apartment might include a washer and dryer, or maybe you'll find a complex that has a laundry room available for all residents. Or you may need to find out where the nearest laundromats are.

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The Pixiest
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Before you start looking, make a list of things that are important to you.

Is A/C important?
Silence? (are there noisy neighbors, a freeway TOO close?)
Traffic?
A dishwasher?
Close to School/Work? (long commutes kill your weekdays)

Write these things down and when you're looking for an apartment, check them off. You'll miss something but at least you won't be sweltering in the summer, or unable to sleep or even watch TV because your neighbors are so loud, or traveling an hour to work and another hour home. (all of which happened to me.)

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Farmgirl
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Go Cowboys!

(that's my only helpful tidbit)

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Lostinspace
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Talk with an insurance agent. It is a must because sometimes the basic renter's insurance will not cover some important items you may have. Expensive electronics (I pay $60 a year to have full coverage on my Digital SLR camera about normal insurance), antiques and family heirlooms
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El JT de Spang
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The thing that you're going to forget that's going to cost you a few bucks is cleaning supplies. I've lived on my own for 10 years in a half-dozen states, and I always forget how much I need in the way of cleaning supplies when I move cross-country. When I move within the same city I take them with me.

But you'll need a vacuum, a broom, a mop/swiffer, detergent (laundry and dish), bleach, comet, some sort of dusting device, whatever sort of wipes you like, etc.

Also, you should consider how essential certain amenities are to you (dishwasher, laundry, garbage disposal, icemaker).

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ketchupqueen
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Welcome to Hatrack!

My best advice is to follow others' excellent advice, and also to figure out what's important to you in a community (do you want to be close to your school? Close to your house of worship? Close to a 24 hour grocery store or pharmacy?) and make sure you center yourself on those things, as much as is reasonable (rent-wise.)

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Valentine014
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Found this article, thought it might help.
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El JT de Spang
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I'd like to change my advice.

I think you should live in a treehouse, a pirateship, or underwater. Rent, conveniences, and location be damned!

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ClaudiaTherese
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Something that I never thought to look for but has screwed me up in the past: check where the outlets are in the room (electrical and cable, if you will use cable). I've rented before in a place where one room had no outlets. Difficult to light it. Uncommon, but check, especially if an old place.

Something a friend forgot to look for: a stove. No, seriously, she didn't realize it had a fridge but no stove. Check to make sure the major appliances are there, and if it has no washer/dryer, where that is and how much a load costs.

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ketchupqueen
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And if the washer/dryer are exhorbitant, there's only one for a large complex, or something like that, you should check to see if there's a laundromat with good prices within reasonable distance. If not, the place may be a no-go-- unless there's a service in the area that will pick up, wash, and deliver laundry, and you're willing to pay for that (I've found some that are actually quite reasonable, but because of allergies I'm unable to use them. If I'm exposed to certain detergents I itch for a week, and if my daughter is exposed to fabric softener of any kind, she breaks out in hives...)
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Sphinx
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Thank you all so much for your wonderful advice! I will be printing it and taking it with me on my trip, you can be sure of that. From what you are all saying, I think it's time for me to start making lists of what I want and what's available.

I have been checking Craigslist almost daily since the beginning of the month, trying to get a feel for how much a good apartment would cost and what areas seem to be better than others. Hopefully I'll be able to see for myself once I'm there, but I really want to do as much preparation as I can before then.

To be honest, I keep thinking about the book Regina's Song by David and Leigh Eddings and the house the protagonist finds; that would be perfect for me. But then, I'd need to be skilled with tools for that to work, and, unlike virtually all other men in my family, my main skill with tools lies in using them to make any project take twice as long as it should. [Smile]

quote:
I think you should live in a treehouse, a pirateship, or underwater. Rent, conveniences, and location be damned!
I just have a few, teensie-weensie little problems with these ideas. Nothing major, or anything.

1. Treehouse: No insulation. Buffalo is -- as everyone on the planet has told me, it feels -- one of the snowiest places in the U.S. So, what to do in winter? I could either spend the entire winter freezing, or I could light my home on fire in a desperate bid to return warmth to my extremities. Not a good plan.

2. Pirate ship: While most of the time I wouldn't say no to pillaging and grog-drinking and such, especially if we also do some lively singing (Muppet Treasure Island has been incredibly influential on my life), I just really don't want to be swabbing the deck and writing papers at the same time. My swabbing just wouldn't be up to par, and that just wouldn't be fair to the other fellas.

3. Underwater: Two words. Lake. Erie. If you want to live in there, go right ahead, but I'd rather go back to the treehouse idea. But that's just me.

quote:
Go Cowboys!
Pokes all the way! And down with all those crimson-and-cream wearing ninnies!
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