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Advice for First-Time Renters

As a student, job market entrant or young professional looking to rent for the first time, it’s important to keep these things in mind before signing the lease:

Remember that a lease agreement is a legally binding contract. On signing, you agree to pay the rental amount on time and in full every month. Failure to comply with the terms and conditions set out in the lease agreement will result in monetary and/or legal penalties – which will make securing future rental agreements difficult. Moreover, you agree to comply with the rules and regulations stipulated in the lease agreement. These could be pet policies, visitor restrictions or noise considerations. Moreover, you are obligated to return the property to the landlord in good order at the end of the lease agreement.

Credit checks – performed by the real estate agent or landlord – assess whether or not you could comfortably afford the rental. These compile your previous and existing credit commitments, and give an overall rating on your credit performance. This is a prerequisite. As a young professional or student, your credit record may reflect little to no credit history. In this case the landlord’s decision will rely more heavily on how you currently handle your money – as reflected in your bank statements. Most rental agencies require that you, as the applicant, earn at least three times the rental amount. Your rental thus constitutes a 1/3 of your monthly salary.

Reputable estate agencies and landlords require a deposit (usually equal to one month’s rent), and this must reflect in the account before you take occupation. Keep this in mind, as you may have to save to afford both the deposit and the first month’ rent, which is paid on a monthly basis in advance. If the tenant is responsible for any damage to the property, save fair wear and tear, the landlord is within his rights to claim reasonable costs for repairs from the tenant’s deposit. In addition, it’s crucial that in that first month you budget for the cost of moving your furniture, as well as any installation costs (such as for DSTV or WiFi), as these additional expenses have a terrible habit of cropping up when you least expect it.

It’s important that you take your time in finding the right property that meets your requirements. Consider the property’s proximity and access to highways and major travel routes, as well as amenities (shopping malls, gyms, public parks) that form part of your lifestyle. It may be a good idea to visit the property during peak hour traffic (early in the morning or late in the evening) to get an idea of how accessible it is during those times, or how congested.

Additionally, ensure that the property offers adequate security – whether it’s an apartment in a complex or a freestanding house. Security is a particularly important factor if you’re considering renting a flatlet or garden cottage, as many students choose to do.

For affordability reasons students may decide to have a house or flatmate. In one sense the rent is shared between one or more people, and this allows for a slightly bigger place with better facilities. On the other hand (and particularly if the housemate is a stranger) sharing the rental, your space and other miscellaneous costs may be challenging, so the decision should be considered wisely.

Spend time researching the property’s price in relation to similar rentals in the area, and the general rental of properties in adjacent areas. Contact a reputable area estate agent if you have any questions. Rental agents have a wealth of market knowledge and property experience, and will be able to advise whether or not they have something that suits your preferences. Additionally, estate agents will assist in the rental application process – from signing the application form to the key handover, and everything in between.

At your viewing, try to imagine how the apartment would look furnished with your own furniture. This may be difficult, but it would give you an idea of whether your furniture would comfortably fit within the space. Take note of cupboard space, in both the kitchen and the bedroom, and the state of the bathrooms. Take the time to walk around each room, making mental notes of what you like and don’t like. If your requests for changes are reasonable, raise them with your agent.

Young people wish to assert their independence, self-sufficiency and responsibility. The lease agreement finalisation may seem daunting, but with the right agents at your side you can take confident steps towards emancipation.