Q: I’ve been relocated to a different city and need to rent a place. How do I figure out if the price is fair?
A: Let’s take a look from a property appraiser’s point of view, first checking out prices for comparable properties and making a list. While professional appraisers consult public records or listings for information, the researching tenant has other resources, such as local listing services, both Internet and hard copy, and just driving around calling on “For Rent” signs.
What to look for? Comparable properties, or “comps,” focus on a specific neighborhood or area. Neighborhood plays a top role in determining value, so look around and decide if the location you focus on suits your needs.
Since no two properties are identical, features have to be weighed in order to create a balanced comparison. Appraisers also consider price, size, age of property, number of bedrooms, baths, and property upgrades.
Upgrades? “Tenants should check if they can plug into their high-tech needs at the place,” suggests Steve Hassoldt, a certified appraiser in California. “Is the amperage sufficient for your needs? Is cabling provided?”
Hassoldt also notes what adds to an appraisal value is “quality.” Quality of what? Everything from the age of the unit to the renovations (if any) that make up the big picture. For example, is the kitchen graced with granite countertops or faded Formica?
Speaking of the kitchen, what appliances are included? Especially, the refrigerator is a significant aspect to consider. Between buying and schlepping, bringing in your own fridge can be both a financial and physical burden. The fancier the existing appliances, the higher the price of the unit, too.
Does size matter? Appraisers consider square footage, or actual size of the living space, when assessing a property. So should renters. Like to lounge? Be sure the bedroom or living room suits your space considerations, especially for more than one resident. Same for closets. If you’re a clotheshorse, be sure there’s ample space to corral your herd. If you work at home, is there a quiet space to get to work in peace?
Speaking of peace, another appraisal consideration is public nuisances or nearby noise. Is the place on a busy street? Next door to a commercial center or store? Nuisances can also be private, such as when a tenant rented a place near a local university one summer. Charm, location – it had it all – including a frat house next door. Once the fall semester came, so did the students – bringing plenty of noise and partying to the seemingly placid apartment. Look around; if you’re not sure what dwells nearby – ask.
Is the property gated? Also called “security” parking and/or entry, this amenity adds to the price tag, too. Depending on the neighborhood, gated units are sometimes viewed as worth a premium, especially on newer properties.
If the “security” is merely metal bars on the windows, that’s another story, which begins with a good look around to figure out why the bars were installed. Sometimes it’s because the previous resident was on the first floor and preferred to leave the windows wide open. Whatever the reason, be sure your desire is parallel to the bars — in other words, for the same reason. If it’s because of crime, the rent or value may be lower, too.
What about laundry location? How far do you have to drag your soiled socks? Wherever one lives, a private, full-sized washer and dryer is considered supreme. Stackable size is a notch below. Wandering down a common hallway or outside is a far less valuable feature. No laundry on the premises at all? You do the math. In general, the further you and your laundry have to travel, the less the cost of rent or value.
How’s the heating? A hot topic, since types of heaters vary widely by location and due to age of property. Air-conditioned? Some places offer little more than open windows for a breeze. Others have window units that cool a specific area. The premium? Central air-conditioning; the newer the air-conditioning unit, the higher the price.
Look at the quality and type of flooring. Some people love hardwood floors and are willing to pay extra to get nature’s gift underfoot. Carpet can vary from fabulous to fraying shag, with obvious value assigned due to condition. Tiles that are cracked or sagging are rarely in demand for a premium price, ditto for vinyl flooring.
Hopefully you’ve kept a list your priorities, and decided what items of value figure into your decision – and your pocketbook.
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