First-Time Apartment Renter? How to Make Sure Your Application Is Approved

 

Applying for a rental is similar to applying for a job. In fact, most landlords consider their rentals a business aimed to generate income and will scrutinize your application as closely as any employer. And while landlords are aware that everyone has to start somewhere and that first-time renters do exist, it’s your job to convince them that you are the best possible candidate — or, in this case, tenant. Here’s how:

Prove That You Have a Stable Income

The first step towards making sure your rental application is approved is showing the landlord that your income is stable. It’s also the first thing the landlord or property manager will check to make sure you’ll be able to pay your rent on time. Use pay stubs from the last three months and, if possible, tax forms from the previous tax year as proof of income. Also, aim to rent within your budget. If your financial figures show that you would be spending more than 30% of your gross income on rent, the landlord may deny your application.

Improve Your Credit Score

Apart from a stable income, the second most important thing a landlord will check is your credit score. This, along with your credit report, will help them determine how well you can handle your financial affairs — including rent payments. Although the credit score requirements for renting aren’t as stringent as those for taking out a loan, most landlords will look for a score of around 600. Meeting that figure will increase the chances of having your application approved, especially if you’re renting for the first time.

Ask for References

As a first-time apartment renter, you won’t have references from previous landlords, yet there are other ways you can prove your accountability and professionalism. The easiest way to do so is to ask your current employer for a reference letter. Another solution is to ask for a character reference from previous employers, co-workers or even professors and coaches. However, avoid references from family and friends. Most landlords will consider them biased, and they can also indicate that you’re trying too hard to provide references.

Have All Your Paperwork Ready

One of the easiest ways to make sure that your application is approved is by getting all your paperwork ready. After all, the landlord won’t be inclined to spend time chasing you for additional details and will just choose another tenant, especially in a hot market. Also, having a file ready when you apply is yet another proof that you’re a reliable tenant. The rental documentation should include:

  • Your rental application
  • Pay stubs and bank statements
  • Photo of your ID or driver’s license
  • Social Security/Insurance Number
  • Employment history or resume
  • Credit report and credit score
  • References

Write a Cover Letter

Landlords don’t typically require a cover letter with your application, yet submitting one can improve the odds of being approved. The letter can explain, for example, why you have no previous rental history. You can also use it to explain why you want to move into that particular apartment and why you believe you would make a great tenant. Think of it as a cover letter for a job application: even if you have no prior work experience, the letter can highlight your positive qualities and why you could be a real asset.

Be Honest about Having Pets

Although more than 70% of renters have a pet, most landlords aren’t keen on the idea of allowing a dog or cat on their property. Pets can increase the odds of property damage and disturbing the neighbors, which is why even pet-friendly rentals come with hefty pet deposits or limitations on pet size and how many you can have.

As tempting as it is, never hide the fact that you have a pet from your landlord. In the worst-case scenario, this can result in an eviction. Instead, try to prove that you are a responsible pet owner. Write a resume for your pet, set up a meeting where the landlord can see the pet for themselves and address any questions or concerns before signing the lease.

Consider a Co-signer

Even if you have a stellar set of references and a compelling cover letter, you may find that, sometimes, your credit score or income is just too low for the landlord’s requirements. In this case, bringing a co-signer along can improve the odds of your application being approved. The best candidate is usually a family member who can act as a guarantor for your lease. This will put the landlord’s mind at ease regarding who will be taking responsibility for making the rental payments.

 
 

First-Time Apartment Renter? 6 Things You Need to Know

 

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Finally flying the nest and moving into your own apartment is an important step in the game of life. Equal parts thrilling and nerve-wracking, the more you look into the logistics of renting your own place, the more you realize that it’s not as easy as taking the keys and moving in. Independence comes at a price, but with a few tips and tricks, you’ll be able to avoid any major pitfalls and can enjoy your own space to the max.

Let’s take a look at six things any first-time apartment renter can benefit from knowing.

Your Budget Has to Cover More than Just the Rent

At first glance, this seems obvious; on top of your monthly rent payments, you’ll need to pay utilities and food. But there’s even more to it. Before you start looking for apartments, it’s essential to create a realistic budget that works for you. To do this, you need to fully understand all the costs involved in renting your own place.

Initial Costs

Before you move in, you’ll need to make sure you’ve saved up enough cash to pay the following upfront costs:

  • Security deposit
  • First and last months’ rent
  • Furnishings (if required)
  • Moving costs
  • Application fees (if required)

Ongoing Costs

Once you’ve moved in, there are several monthly fees you’ll need to take into account:

  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Internet and phone
  • Parking
  • Laundry
  • General Maintenance (e.g., snow removal)

Knowing all of these costs in advance enables you to save for a deposit and budget for the ongoing monthly costs. In doing so, you’ll be able to find an apartment that you can comfortably afford, rather than living paycheck to paycheck. As a general rule of thumb, limit yourself to spending 30% of your income on housing needs.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

If you find that no matter how you crunch the numbers, renting alone just isn’t feasible right now, don’t despair. Moving in with a roommate is a superb way to split the costs and enjoy a more desirable location and a larger living space. However, think long and hard about who you’re comfortable living with, and don’t assume that your best friends are always going to be a good fit.

Living with someone is a big step, and it’s important that all parties involved understand what they’re getting themselves into. Write down on paper the house rules and the needs of each person to figure out whether you’re compatible or not.

Viewing in Advance Is Essential

No matter how amazing the photos look online, it’s always essential to visit a potential apartment before you make a decision. There’s no other way to get a feel for the neighborhood and location, as well as the apartment itself. Photos can be flattering, but visiting for real will soon let you know if your dream apartment is the real deal or not.

If you’re happy enough to sign the lease agreement and make the plunge, don’t forget the final walkthrough. This is an opportunity to discuss with your landlord all the issues and damage the property had before your arrival. Take photos as evidence so that when your lease is up, you cannot be held accountable for issues that existed before you moved in.

Understanding the Lease Agreement Is Important

Your lease agreement is a legally binding contract between you, the tenant, and the owner, the landlord. It details the basics, such as the duration of the lease, the cost of monthly payments and the consequences of late payments. Landlords can also use this document to set their own rules and terms, so be sure to read thoroughly before signing anything. If in doubt, ask a professional or someone with more experience for advice.

Good Relationships with Your Neighbors Go a Long Way

Your relationship with your neighbors can make or break your first rental experience. First impressions count for a lot, and it helps to be open and friendly. Introduce yourself early on — a simple hello and a smile will normally suffice. On top of this, remember that you’re responsible for the noise in your apartment, so if you’re planning a party, let your neighbors know in advance and maybe invite them along.

Renters Insurance Is Worth Considering

Renters insurance can be a useful way to protect your belongings and yourself in case of accidents, vandalism, theft or natural disasters. It’s not overly expensive and can save you thousands of dollars if something bad does happen.

 
 

Types of Mortgage Loans, What Mortgage Is Right for Me?

 

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When buying a home, the vast majority of people need to take out a mortgage. But of the many different options, how do you know which is the right one for you? In this guide, we’ll take a quick look at the different types of mortgage loans available.

Conventional Loans

A conventional loan is any mortgage loan that is not guaranteed or insured by a government entity. It is also the most common type of mortgage loan and likely the first thing that comes to any homebuyer’s mind when they need to apply for a loan.

Conventional loans are provided through private lenders, banks or credit unions. In general, buyers are required to have a minimum credit score of 620 to qualify for a conventional loan, with a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 43% or less. Conventional loans come in different shapes and sizes, each with its own benefits. Here are the most common types to look out for:

Fixed-Rate Mortgages

These mortgages span several years and feature an interest rate that stays the same for the duration. This ensures that your monthly payments are predictable, making it much easier to budget for them. However, the duration of the loan impacts how high the monthly payments will be:

  • A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is among the most common and is ideal for homebuyers looking for smaller monthly payments.
  • A 15-year fixed-rate mortgage allows you to pay off your loan in half the time, but your monthly payments will be significantly higher. On the plus side, the interest rate is typically lower than a 30-year mortgage, and you’ll pay less in total interest payments. These shorter-term loans are great for refinancing and for buyers with a bit of spare change in their pockets.

The minimum duration of a conventional loan is 5-years, ideal for those buyers that want to avoid paying too much in interest and have the cash available for larger monthly payments.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

The interest rate on an adjustable-rate mortgage is variable, fluctuating over time. This can be great if interest rates drop but an expensive gamble if they increase throughout the term of your loan. However, the introductory rate is typically far lower than most fixed-rate mortgages, resulting in sometimes drastically lower monthly payments. In addition, it’s locked in place for either 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 years.

After this initial rate, it will adjust periodically, often annually, though different schemes can be discussed with your lender. Adjustable-rate mortgages are available for various lengths and are ideal for buyers who believe that rates will drop in the future.

Unconventional Loans

Most unconventional loans are backed by a government entity. They are designed to help segments of the population that might otherwise find it hard to qualify for a conventional loan. Here are the most common types of unconventional mortgage loans.

FHA Loans

Insured by the Federal Housing Association, FHA mortgages are aimed at buyers who don’t meet the credit score or DTI ratio requirements of conventional loans. It’s possible to obtain an FHA loan with a credit score as low as 500, though you’ll need 580 to put down a down payment of as little as 3.5%. FHA loans are great for first-time buyers and experienced buyers alike with lower credit scores looking to avoid a 20% down payment.

VA Loans

Guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA loans are designed to help serving and veteran members of the military and their spouses. There are several benefits, including no down payment, no mortgage insurance requirement and competitive interest rates. You will need to pay a VA funding fee, either upfront or rolled into your mortgage payments. This is a relatively modest cost ranging from 1.4% to 3.6%, depending on how much your down payment is.

USDA Loans

Backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA loans are designed to ‘improve the economy and quality of life in rural America.’ Only buyers seeking properties in rural areas will qualify, though there are other criteria to meet. USDA loans don’t always require a down payment and provide caps on property prices and income limits. Ideal for buyers looking to settle down in the country.

Conforming and Non-Conforming Mortgages

The loans discussed above fall into the category of conforming loans. These adhere to the loan limits set by the government (Federal Housing Finance Agency – FHFA). In addition, conforming loans meet the underwriting guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Non-conforming mortgages, on the other hand, exceed the limits set by the FHFA and do not conform to guidelines. Jumbo loans are the most well-known type.

Jumbo Mortgages

These are reserved for buyers who meet the strictest criteria, with a minimum down payment of at least 20% and a higher credit score (at least 700) and DTI requirements. They’re designed to finance expensive properties in which conforming loan limits would be breached. Jumbo loans are suitable for buyers of expensive homes who have the funds and credit reliability to make the high repayments.

 
 

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2021 and How to Prepare

 

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Last year was crazy to say the least — both inside the home and in the outside world. Now, going into 2021, you’re probably wondering what to do with the year and your living situation going forward. Perhaps you’ve thought about it before or are just beginning to consider whether you should sell your house. Although the right and wrong time to sell a house depends on much more than the outside world, 2021 might be one of the best times to sell if you’re already considering doing so.

While the market can direct the exact time you sell, only you can determine the right time for you and your family. That’s because when you should sell your house is about your personal life circumstances, timing, and finances. But, once you’re at a place where you’re ready to sell, looking at the world to gauge the market can help you determine the perfect timeline for your sale and move.

Fortunately, 2021 brings hope not just for finding the home you love, but also for making a great sale on your current place. Specifically, finding someone you trust to handle the sale, prepping the place well, and moving forward in your own journey can help you sell your home and make the most of 2021.

Here are a few reasons why 2021 is the year you should sell your home.

You Have Time

COVID-19 brought lockdowns and quarantines for much of the world, and many people took to baking bread or doing home DIY projects at the beginning of the pandemic. That said, 2021 is still a year of caution and spending quality time inside, and you can regain that spirit and motivation when it comes to home projects, prepping the place to sell, and getting everything in order. Granted, having a lot of extra time to spend at home might not feel quite as exciting as it did when you were filled with inspiration, but you can still channel it into getting things together fully.

The Market Is Hot

The housing market can be tumultuous, and no year has proven that like this one. Even with the economic plights of the pandemic, the housing market has boomed into a seller’s market — which is good news for those looking to sell.

Many people are also looking to put down permanent roots, primarily outside of major metropolitan cities. The widespread desire to own a home in a quieter suburban area is a strong motivator to sell in 2021 — provided you have that kind of property. With this boom in the housing market, desirable homes are getting snatched up quickly and entertaining multiple offers. So, if you’re selling a home this year, expect to receive offers above your asking price.

While the market is subject to change — as it always is — right now is a hot time to sell houses, especially in areas with ample room and outdoor space. The pandemic is unpredictable and the market is, too. But, you can take advantage of it by selling at the right time — and as soon as possible.

You Can Take Your Time

While the market is hot right now and selling as soon as you can is a smart move if you’re ready, you also have the power to take the time you need this year. Right now, lots of signs point to the pandemic sparking new priorities in the market, even if the public health crisis clears up. Nevertheless, you can feel a bit more relaxed taking your time to get everything just right with your home.

How to Prepare

So, you’ve decided to sell your house this year. Now what?

While there are some specific things you can keep in mind for the 2021 housing market, there are also a few tips that are always good to keep on your radar when prepping for a sale. Whether this is your first time selling or you’ve been around the block a time or two, it’s important to prepare however you can. Here are a few ways to do just that:

  1. Find a Real Estate Agent You Love

No matter when you’re selling, finding a great real estate agent to support and guide you through the process is a great way to make the sale of your home easy — for you and potential buyers. In fact, a real estate agent reduces the stress of negotiation and saves you time in the process.

  1. Start Your Search, Too

This one might not be as obvious, but in a housing market so suited to sellers, those looking to move somewhere new should get a jump on their search, too. You don’t want your own house to sell fast and then end up with nowhere to go next.

  1. Make Little Fixes

Small improvements can contribute significantly to the big picture, especially when putting your house on the market. Fixing cracks and dents; thoughtfully highlighting your entryway; and even putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls can truly change the game and make your house look totally move-in ready.

  1. Clean

One of the most important aspects of selling your house is making sure potential buyers can see your house. In particular, doing a deep clean and decluttering not only helps you prepare to move, but also gives you the opportunity to neatly and concisely show off your home. Cleaning out closets, spare rooms and garages are all necessary when prepping your place for sale.

 

Selling your home at any time is about what you want and what you need. Not every year will work for you. However, if you feel ready to sell in 2021, it could pan out in your favor.

 

8 Rental Myths New Landlords Should Know

 

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Becoming a landlord for the first time can be an exciting experience. However, several misconceptions may become apparent at the worst time. It’s best to go into this with eyes wide open, so in this guide, we’ll bust eight common rental myths that all new landlords should know.

1.   The Rental Property Will Generate Passive Income

This is likely the main reason you put up a rental ad. And while revenue agencies consider rentals a form of passive income for taxpayers who don’t work in real estate, there’s more to being a landlord than simply collecting rent payments.

From advertising and showing the property to screening tenants, understanding the local laws, being on call for unexpected repairs, even chasing late payments and dealing with evictions, being a landlord takes a lot of work. At the end of the day, you may discover that you are still trading your time and labor for income, which can hardly be considered as “passive.”

2.   A Good Credit Score Means a Qualified Tenant

A good credit score will help you determine whether your tenant will be able to pay rent on time. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when screening your tenants. Running a credit report on the tenant will help you pick up on any late payments, loans and debts. On top of this, asking for references and setting up an interview will help you get a better feel for the tenant compared to simply assessing their financial status.

3.   Rent Increases Can Be Applied Anytime

To some extent, this is true, but there are some legal considerations to keep in mind. In the case of a lease agreement, you can only increase the rent at the end of the agreement unless you include a clause regarding rent increases. For month-to-month rental contracts, you will need to provide your tenant with a written notice, typically 30 days in advance.

4.   Entering the Rental Property Is Possible at All Times

Although the rental is your property, tenants have a right to privacy. Some regions have laws in place that require you to provide them with a notice of 24 to 48 hours. You will need to provide a notice if you need to come in for repairs or maintenance or even show the place to potential buyers or new tenants. The only exception is an emergency situation, such as a fire breaking out, flooding or a gas leak.

5.   Tenants Who Are Behind on Rent Can Be Evicted

Late or no rent payments are the most common reason for tenant eviction. As unpleasant as this situation is, you can’t just kick the tenant out. The first step you need to take is checking out your local eviction laws. Most regions will require at least a formal notice asking the tenant to either make the payment by a certain date or move out. Best case scenario, you will be able to smooth things out with your tenant. However, if things get complicated, you will need to file the eviction with your local court.

6.   Repairs and Maintenance Are the Landlord’s Responsibility

Depending on the case, this is both true and false. As a rule of thumb, any damage to the property caused by tenants is not your responsibility to fix. However, fixing any plumbing, heating or electrical issues falls in your court. Therefore, it’s essential to know the maintenance tasks that are not the landlord’s responsibility and make sure that your tenants are also aware of them. Similarly, if there are specific tasks you want to delegate to your tenants, make sure that they are clearly outlined in the lease agreement.

7.   The Security Deposit Will Cover Wear and Tear

Wear and tear is a normal phenomenon, and you can expect it even from the best-behaved tenants. Therefore, you cannot use their security deposit to cover any expenses associated with it. As a landlord, you will need to familiarize yourself with the differences between tenant damage and normal wear and tear to avoid any disagreements when it comes to returning the deposit.

8.   Non-Qualified Tenants Are Better than No Tenants

If your rental listing has been up for a long time, or if you’re dealing with slim pickings in terms of tenants, you may be tempted to lower your standards. However, this is not a risk worth taking. A vacant property may cost you money, but the costs associated with an eviction can be twice as high. You will be better off spending a bit more to promote your rental or even enlist the services of a realtor or a property management agent to help you find the right tenant.

 
 

 What Is the Ideal Credit Score to Secure a Mortgage?



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Buying a home is certainly exciting, but there are many aspects to consider as you begin to get the ball rolling. One thing that is important from the get-go is your credit score. This can make or break your dreams of homeownership, so it’s important to understand just what is the ideal credit score you need to secure a mortgage.

 

What Is a Good Credit Score?

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself when looking to get a mortgage is whether your credit score meets the lender’s requirements. Different lenders and mortgage schemes have different prerequisites for loan approvals, yet they all have one thing in common: a minimum threshold for the credit score.

Many lenders use FICO® Credit Scores to determine whether a potential homebuyer is eligible for a mortgage loan. These scores range from 300 to 850 and are broken down into the following categories:

  • 579 or lower: Poor
  • 580 to 669: Fair
  • 670 to 739: Good
  • 740 to 799: Very good
  • 800 or higher: Exceptional

However, even if your credit score doesn’t fall within the good 670 to 739 range, it doesn’t mean that homeownership becomes unattainable. In fact, many lenders will accept a credit score of 620 if you’re looking to buy a home.

The ideal credit score will vary from lender to lender, the same way the idea of an ideal home varies from buyer to buyer. Depending on the case, you may find that your credit score is too low for a conventional loan, but it can be used to secure a government-backed loan instead.

 

Minimum Credit Score by Loan Type

Let’s take a closer look at the main types of mortgage loans available to homebuyers and their credit score requirements for each one.

Conventional Loans

A conventional loan is any mortgage loan that’s not backed by a government entity. This type of loan is made available through private lending institutions, such as banks and mortgage companies. The minimum credit score required for a conventional loan is typically 620.

FHA Loans

An FHA mortgage is a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration, provided through an FHA-approved lender. FHA loans have some of the lowest credit score requirements, yet the figures are closely tied to the down payment amount.

For example, you can qualify for an FHA loan with a credit score of 580 or higher and a down payment of 3.5%. However, if you raise the down payment amount to 10%, you can qualify with a credit score as low as 500.

USDA Loans

USDA loans are made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they promote affordable homeownership in rural areas. Although the USDA doesn’t set a minimum credit score for the loan, the private lenders who issue the loans do. On average, the lowest credit score figure required by lenders for USDA-backed loans is 640.

VA Loans

VA loan is backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and issued through private lenders. Like in the case of USDA loans, the VA doesn’t have a minimum credit score requirement; however, the private lenders it collaborates with do. The amount can vary depending on the lender, and you can expect the minimum credit score to range from 580 to 640.

Jumbo Loans

jumbo loan is a type of loan that exceeds the maximum amount you can borrow through a conventional mortgage. The larger the loan amount, the bigger the risk for the lender, which is why jumbo loans have a minimum credit score requirement of 700.

 

Why Is a Good Credit Score Important?

When you apply for a mortgage loan, several requirements will determine whether your application will be approved or not. The down payment amountloan size and debt-to-income ratio are just some of the requirements taken into account. But the first thing all lenders will check is your credit score. And because first impressions matter, a good credit score can bring you one step closer to homeownership.

Your credit score will also have a direct impact on your monthly mortgage payments. For instance, lenders will charge higher interest rates for bad credit scores. Similarly, they will take your credit score into account when determining your PMI cost and eligibility. As a result, you will end up paying thousands of dollars more each year if your credit score is too low.

Any type of loan is a potential risk for the lender, and your credit score will essentially be used for risk assessment. Although you can get a home with a credit score of 550, you may incur penalties as lenders try to minimize the risks associated with such a low figure. On the other hand, a credit score of 740 or higher will upgrade your mortgage terms, giving you access to perks such as lower interest rates.

 

How to Improve Your Credit Score

As far as both lenders and borrowers are concerned, the higher the credit score, the better. Raising those figures may seem like a daunting task at first, but there are several ways to improve your credit score.

Step 1: Understand

The first step is analyzing and understanding your credit report. Your credit history will show you what is helping or damaging your credit score. Most of the time, the culprits are easy to identify: a late bill payment or a past-due account. Others are a bit more insidious, such as making too many credit inquiries, which will also snatch points off your credit score.

Step 2: Act

Keeping your credit utilization around 30% or lower will also look good on your credit report. Whenever possible, try to maintain the outstanding balance below 30% and make several smaller payments each month, rather than letting them build up towards the due date. Also, keep in mind that closing old accounts will reduce your available credit, so keep your credit cards open.

Step 3: Double-check

Last but not least, remember to check for errors. Errors do sometimes occur, and in the worst-case scenario, they can severely impact your credit score. Reviewing your report for mistakes and disputing inaccuracies may just give your credit score the boost it needs.

Disclaimer:
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be deemed as legal, financial or investment advice or solicitation of any kind. Before purchasing real estate or insurance, always consult with a licensed attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, and real estate broker.

 

How to Become a Landlord in 10 Steps

 

 

 

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Renting out a property is a superb way to earn a little passive income. But how do you make the change from homeowner to landlord? In this guide, we’ll discuss the ten essential steps you need to make.

Find an Investment Property

If you already have an unoccupied house or apartment, this first step is the easiest. But if you have to buy the property, there are a few differences between buying an investment property and a home for yourself. Look for a low-cost property in an up-and-coming area, but avoid straining your budget with a fixer-upper. Also, keep in mind that lenders have stricter criteria for investment properties simply because they stand a higher risk of foreclosure.

Research the Local Market

Get to know your competitors by finding out what types of properties are most commonly rented nearby, how much the average rent is, what amenities are typically being offered. It’s also worth finding out what type of people are looking to rent in your area. For example, if your property is close to office buildings, it may attract young professionals. If it’s close to a school, it may attract families with kids or teachers. You can use this information to draw up an attractive rental ad later.

Crunch the Numbers

Decide how much rent you’re going to charge each month. Most landlords use the 1% rule, where the rent is calculated at around 1% of the property value. On top of this, you should also prepare a budget for unexpected expenses, such as late rent payments, repairs and maintenance, and even legal fees in case you have to deal with evictions.

Understand the Local Laws

Landlord-tenant laws vary from region to region, so make sure you are familiar with the local requirements. For example, some regions have limits on late fees or require that the late fees be written in the rental agreement. In addition, you may be required to have a rental license in some areas, or you may have to pay interest on the security deposit.

Get Your Property Ready

Ensure that your property is livable and ready for tenants as soon as possible. Provide all necessary amenities, from furniture and appliances to smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Make any repairs or renovations if needed, then give your property a good clean. When all this is done, take some photos of the space and prepare for the next step.

Advertise Your Rental

Post your property on several listing platforms to get as much exposure as possible. Your rental ad should include photos of all the rooms, list the location, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, amenities, rental price, security deposit and other lease terms, such as no-pet clauses and income requirements.

Screen Your Tenants

Finding the right tenant is one of the most important steps in becoming a landlord. Once you have a few applications sent in, take the time to screen your potential tenants. Run credit and background checks, ask for references and set up an interview. Also, make sure that your screening process is in accordance with the fair housing laws.

Draw Up a Lease Agreement

A lease agreement is a legal document outlining the terms under which the property will be rented. Ideally, it should be in writing and should stipulate the length of the lease, rent amount, security deposit, nonrefundable fees and which utilities are included. On top of this, it should also highlight circumstances under which you, as a landlord, are allowed entry on the property, any maintenance tasks that are the tenant’s responsibility, and any clauses you might find necessary, such as a no-smoking or quiet hours clause.

Prepare a Rental Inspection Checklist

Shortly before or as soon as the lease agreement is signed, you should also prepare an inventory checklist for your property. Each room should have a list of all items and their condition upon arrival, from the ceilings and floors to fixtures and furniture. Fill in the list in the presence of your tenant, and use it at the end of the lease to compare the condition the property is in upon their departure. This will help you assess any damage to the property and whether you will need to use the security deposit to cover the repairs.

Consider Hiring a Property Manager

If you have more than one rental, hiring a professional to handle property management can be of immense help. Not only can they handle advertising your rental and screening tenants, but they can also help with collecting rent, maintaining the property, communicating with the tenant, and allowing you to take a step back and simply enjoy generating a passive income.

 

How to Decorate a Small Living Room

 

 

 

Image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

 

Trying to figure out how to decorate a small living room can sometimes lead to a design dilemma. After all, it may seem impossible to get your living room looking just right when you don’t even have space for a full-size sofa.

But just because you’re working with a small space doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on style. Make the most of a less-than-large area with these nine tips on how to decorate a small living room.  

Cut the Clutter

The quickest and easiest way to make a small living room feel more spacious is to remove all the unnecessary items. Start by clearing all surfaces and removing things that belong elsewhere or don’t get used on a regular basis. Then consider if you really need each piece of furniture in the room. For example, removing even one chair or end table can open up a whole lot of space.

Look for the Legs

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The secret to making any small room feel bigger is to expose as much floor space as possible. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any furniture in the room; it just means you have to choose the right pieces. Look for furniture with slim legs and plenty of open space underneath.

Fashion a Focal Point

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Creating a functional floor plan is one of the toughest tasks when figuring out how to decorate a small living room. To make it work (and save your back), start by sketching it out on paper.

Choose a focal point such as a fireplace, TV or coffee table to act as the room’s anchor.  Arrange your furniture so that it faces the focal point and creates a comfortable space for conversation.

Choose Pieces that Do More than One Job

To get the most out of a small space, it helps to define how you want to use the room before you decorate it. Then, once you have a plan, you can choose items that will add both function and style.

Small ottomans that can be tucked away under tables will provide extra seating when you need it but leave you with room to move the rest of the time. Or try using a bar cart as an end table so you can still serve up drinks without sacrificing space.

Take Your Lighting Up a Level

Proper lighting is a critical component of any well-designed living space, but it’s even more important when you’re decorating a small living room. The right lighting can increase function, add depth, create ambiance and make the room feel larger.

To show your small space in the best light, think in layers. Use a combination of wall sconces, pendant lights and ceiling lights to provide adequate light for any task or activity. Avoid tall lamps that take up valuable floor space and use table lamps sparingly to avoid making the room feel cluttered.

Splurge on a Statement Piece

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To really make an impact when decorating a small living room, forgo a lot of little decor in favor of one stand-out piece. A brightly colored sofa or a boldly patterned accent chair will make a statement and express your style. If you’re not ready to commit to a statement sofa, try a fun area rug or curtains instead.

Reflect on How to Decorate A Small Living Room

When you’re searching for that perfect piece of artwork to decorate your small living room, consider less color and more shine. Mirrors are the ideal small space art hack. A large mirror creates a dramatic focal point when you walk into a room. It also reflects light and creates the illusion of more space. And there are endless styles and sizes to choose from, so it’s a go-to solution for any design style.

Add Architectural Details

If you want to add a lot of character to a room without filling it full of stuff, architectural details are the way to go. Something as simple as upgrading your door and window frames or adding crown molding can really create an impact. Or try adding wall trim in an exciting pattern to instantly add style and elevate the look of a small living room.

Try A Smaller Scale

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Want that super-comfy sofa with all the bells and whistles, but it won’t fit in your small space? Ask if they have an apartment size model. Many furniture manufacturers have adapted to meet the growing trend of small space living by creating smaller versions of their most popular models.

If you’ve been stumped by how to decorate a small living room, we’re here to help. These nine tips will have your small space looking its best in no time!

 

How to Decorate Kitchen Counters: 6 Great Tips

 

 

 

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The kitchen is the one room in the house that can be a little trickier to decorate than all the others. This is because it’s a room designed for function and where we spend most of our time cooking, cleaning and getting things done. But no rule says your kitchen can’t be both beautiful and functional. Since the counter is the largest piece of real estate in the kitchen, we’ve got six great tips on how to decorate kitchen counters.

Cut the Clutter

The reason it’s so hard to figure out how to decorate kitchen counters is often because of kitchen clutter. The kitchen tends to be the catchall of the home. It’s the place where we drop bags after school and where we pile things to “take care of later.” But no amount of decorating can make a cluttered kitchen look better.

Start by clearing the counters of everything. This includes small appliances, knife blocks and dishracks. If you can find a home for those items that get left out on the counter, you’ll be able to focus on decorating the counters rather than trying to make the kitchen clutter look good.

Turn to Designer Appliances

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If you long for the convenience of keeping your go-to appliances out but also want to decorate your kitchen counters, there is a solution. You can now get standard appliances such as toasters and kettles in stylish designer models. So whether you love the vintage look of brightly-hued retro appliances or the sleek, modern-colored metallic options, designer appliances bridge the gap between convenience and style.

Go Natural

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If your style is minimal and you favor clear surfaces over a lot of decor, let nature be your guide. Plants, flowers and produce all make ideal kitchen counter decorations. For a simple look that packs a lot of punch, display a large vase of fresh flowers right in the middle of the counter. Choose a vase that complements your kitchen color scheme and switch out the flowers regularly. If flowers aren’t your thing, a large bowl of fresh fruit gives your kitchen a pop of color and encourages your family to eat a little healthier.

Upgrade Your Kitchen Counter Essentials

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While your everyday cooking accessories may not be designer items, they are the perfect pieces to upgrade so they can double as decor. Pretty cutting boards, serving trays, cake stands and bowls will level up your kitchen counter decorating game.

Look for good-quality items that complement the style of your kitchen. For example, live edge cutting boards will add a rustic touch, while beautiful marble boards give a more modern look. Try to choose pieces with interesting shapes in various materials and sizes to add variety and interest. To decorate the kitchen counter, lean the largest board against the wall and arrange smaller pieces in front of it.

Get Energized with a Coffee Station

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If you want the chicest and most convenient way to get your java on in the morning, you need a coffee station stat! Choose a section of your counter that’s out of the way and isn’t frequently used for cooking or prep work. Then collect up all your coffee-making essentials. Add a few key display pieces such as a mug stand and pretty canisters, and then set it all up. You’ll have a stylish and super convenient spot to prepare your favorite warm beverages

Hit the Books

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Books aren’t just for libraries and desks. They’re the perfect decorating accessory for almost every room in the house, especially when you’re looking for fresh ideas for how to decorate your kitchen counters. And the best part is, you probably already have cookbooks and other foodie books stashed in your kitchen. However, if you don’t have a collection of kitchen-appropriate books, stock up for less at yard sales and thrift stores.

Take advantage of an out-of-reach corner of the kitchen counter to display books. Line them up in the corner and use a canister as a bookend to keep them in place. You can also use larger books as a platform to display small plants or a decorative bowl. And if you have a favorite cookbook you use frequently, a pretty book stand will allow you to both display it and reference it.

When it comes to decorating your kitchen counters, there’s no one way to go. Choose the look you like best or try a combination of these tips for perfectly styled kitchen counters.

 
 

First-time Apartment Renter? How to Create an Airtight Budget

 

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Moving into your first apartment can be an exciting time. However, one of the most important things to nail early on is your budget. In the end, knowing how much apartment you can realistically afford is essential. With that in mind, let’s see how every first-time apartment renter can create an airtight budget.

The Importance of Setting a Budget

Without setting a budget and understanding the costs associated with renting your first apartment, you’re essentially going in blind. As those unexpected costs mount up, your finances will start to strain, putting you in a tricky spot. By calculating an accurate budget in advance, you can narrow your apartment search to those that fit in your comfortable price range.

Knowing Your Numbers and Setting Limits

In general, out of your total income, you should not spend more than 30-35% on living expenses each month. However, it’s important to understand that there are several costs and fees to consider besides your monthly rent payments. Let’s take a closer look.

The Main Monthly Costs for First Time Renters

Monthly Rent

Rent payments can vary wildly depending on the area and type of location you plan to move to. For example, the average rent prices for a 1-bedroom apartment vary from around $1,400-$3,500 across major cities. So do your research and see what the average rent is in the area of your choice – this way, you can be sure you’re not paying too much.

Utilities

In some rentals, the cost of utilities is built into the monthly rent payment. However, they’re often billed separately. Utilities include electricity, heating, cooling, gas, water and even garbage disposal. The cost normally ranges from $120 to $350 per month in most major cities.

Food

Whether you eat out regularly, order take-out or cook for yourself, food is an essential cost that must be factored into any reliable budget. Prices vary by location, so be sure to research how much things cost in your new area.

Internet and Phone

In this day and age, most of us are fairly reliant on the internet and our smartphones. As such, it’s important to take the cost of a monthly subscription into account when budgeting for your first apartment. On average, a typical internet bill will cost between $30 and $60 a month.

Miscellaneous Costs

Depending on your lifestyle, many additional monthly costs are worth considering. For example, laundry fees should be calculated if you don’t have your own facilities, and be sure to consider any subscriptions you might have, such as NetFlix. Maintenance tasks such as snow removal might also be charged, and if you have a vehicle, it’s essential to add in any parking costs you have.

Renters Insurance

You’re generally not obliged to take out renters insurance, but it can be a useful policy to have. It will cost around $12-$16 a month on average and can keep you protected against many disasters.

Building a Lump Sum for Your First Apartment

No budget would be complete without considering the upfront costs you’ll need to pay as a first-time apartment renter. It’s good to have this sum ready to go, as you’ll often be required to pay after signing your lease agreement.

Security Deposit

The security deposit is typically the equivalent of one months’ rent. This will be refunded after your lease has expired, as long as the place is free from damage.

First and Last Months’ Rent

In some cases, the landlord will charge the first and last months’ rent before you move in. This differs slightly from the security deposit, although the rent for the last month of your lease can also be used as a security deposit. This system can be good in the long run for both the tenant and the landlord, but it does increase the initial price of renting an apartment.

Application fees

Application fees go to the landlord and are usually used to cover costs such as running a credit check. The exact amount collected varies – around $30 is a typical figure, although, in some areas, it can exceed $200.

Furnishings

Some apartments are rented unfurnished. If this is the case, you’ll need to bring your own bed, tables, chairs, etc. So, as a first-time apartment renter, you’ll likely have to buy new items. This can add up to a substantial sum, so be sure to factor it in.

Moving costs

For out-of-state moves, prices can easily exceed $1,000 if you use a professional moving company. Even locally, you can expect to pay around $350 for a one-bedroom apartment on average. Of course, you can `make the move yourself to reduce costs, but factor in the price of van hire if necessary, as well as gas.