10 Questions To Ask Before Renting

February 4, 2009

Rental

The rental season is fast approaching. Chicago’s tough winter weather and the tradition of 12-month leases have created a very strong rental season; we usually don’t see moving trucks blocking the roads except from April to September.

When people look at apartments, they tend to look at the layout, the size of the bedrooms, the light coming through the windows, and most importantly if it fits their budget. There are a few other questions renters forget to ask. And, if you’re using a rental agency, their agents tend to not bring up such items because they may spoil the deal. So, here are ten to make sure you either get the answer to or investigate yourself:

1. Is There Decent Water Pressure?

Under Pressure?

Under Pressure?

I’m amazed at how many people don’t turn on the sinks and shower! Turn them on. And don’t just turn on the tub, pull the little lever and see if the water comes out of the shower head at a rate that will do more than give you a good misting. Then, make sure that they all turn off! Dripping faucets are a sure sign that you might not get the response to maintenance requests that you would like. One last thing to check while you’re playing with the shower is how tall is the shower head? Are you going to spend the next year or more stooped over in order to get clean?

2. Do the Tub and the Sinks Drain?

While you’re playing with the water, fill the sinks and tub up and make sure they drain…that is unless you enjoy the feeling of standing in calf-high water as you shower.

3. Do All The Windows and Doors Open and Close?

In many of the vintage buildings in Chicago this is a very important question. Both the windows and doors have likely had somewhere fewer?but not too many fewer?than 100 coats of paint on them. Getting windows to open and close is extremely important, not only from a enjoying-the-first-day-of-spring point of view, but also a safety point of view. It’s also really nice to be able to close that door to your bedroom rather than having to leave it open a crack and wondering if the new roommate you found last week has voyeurism issues. So, before you sign that lease, make sure to open all the windows and make sure that you can close and latch all of the doors.

4. Do the Appliances Work?

This is another area where people seem to get shy. They seem to not want to upset the landlord by poking around and turning stuff on. Turn all the burners on. Turn on the oven. (By the way…is the oven clean?) Turn on the dishwasher. You want to make sure all these things work.

5. Can You Paint?

This will be in the lease, but you should ask it right up front. If you can’t imagine yourself in all white rooms with all white doors and all white trim, you need to find out what the rules are on painting. Most will require you to turn the walls back to white before you leave. Some will be so thrilled that you want to paint that they will pay for the paint if you don’t go too crazy on the colors. Talk to them.

6. Do the Radiators Turn Off?

Is This Guy Going to Melt You in January?

Is This Guy Going to Melt You in January?

Ever felt like you were going to melt in January in Chicago? If not, you’ve never lived or worked in a steam-heated building! I have to laugh when I drive by buildings and see half the windows open in January. It’s not really all that funny from a environmental point of view, but I know how those people feel. I lived in an apartment that had five radiators, of which we left two on and still roasted much of the time. If we hadn’t been able to turn off the radiators in the bedrooms, we wouldn’t have been able to sleep.

7. Does the Laundry Room Get Cleaned and the Machines Repaired?

Ask to see the laundry room. Most people only count how many machines there are and then begin to do the mental math comparing that number to the number of apartments times number of people per apartment times the number of loads… Also take note of the cleanliness, the number of Out Of Order signs, and the age of the machines. They will break down, g-u-a-r-a-n-t-e-e-d. When it happens, will there still be enough machines to handle the building?

If there is no laundry room, walk to the nearest coin laundry with a 40 pound bag of something and see what you think of doing that once a week.

8. Do the Hallways Get Cleaned Regularly?

Make sure to take note of all the public areas, like hallways and entrances. Are they clean? If they aren’t clean at the moment, make sure to ask when they will be cleaned. How often are they cleaned? It’s less than a joy to have to wiggle past a six-month old tower of Yellow Pages only to climb up filthy stairs that haven’t been vacuumed in months.

9. How Much Noise From Above, Below, and Sides?

Make everyone in the apartment stand still and quiet for a few minutes, and just listen. If you’re there during the day, it won’t be very representative since many neighborhs will be at work. But, just listen to the ambient noise level and gauge it by the time of day you’re there. Have someone go out in the hallway and pretend they’re coming home from a party at 2 a.m. How much can you hear?

10. Is There Enough Kitchen Storage and Counter Space?

Moving into a Chicago 4+1

Moving into a Chicago 4+1

Can you get by with the number of cabinets that are in the kitchen? Mentally put your stuff in them, and don’t forget the bag of potatoes! Where are they going to go? How about your blender? If you do a lot of cooking, is there going to be enough space for you to roll out your Sunday morning croissants? Put yourself in the kitchen and mentally make a meal. Where will you put stuff? Where will you work? Where will you plug your bread maker in?

11. The Ubiquitous BONUS Item!! Where Are the Phone/Cable/Satellite Dish/Electrical Outlets?

Where is your TV going to go? Is there a electrical plug in and a cable/dish plug anywhere near by? If not, can you run a wire to it somehow? How about your computer? Where will it go? Are there enough outlets? Will you have to resort to WiFi to get connected to the modem? Are there enough electrical outlets in the bathroom to handle the curling iron, hair drier, and electric toothbrush?

12. The Not-So-Common 12th Item in a 10-Item List!! Do You Have Access to The Circuit Breakers?

Apartments rarely have enough juice to run all your stuff, especially if you are using window air conditioners along with your computer and curling iron. You need to make sure you have access to the circuit breakers and know how to flip them back on.

Photos by Evan Prodromou, Wes Peck, & Eric Schmuttenmaer

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About Rod Holmes

Rod has been a broker working in Chicago since 2004. He has worked with developers, buyers, sellers, and as well as managing offices. He is currently a partner in Chicago Style SEO working primarily with real estate firms to improve their Internet marketing. Rod lived for nearly ten years in Japan where he owned a corporate training and executive coaching firm with clients including Hitachi and 3M Japan. He lives in Lakeview with his wife and two children. He enjoys coaching and watching his kids participate in sports, cycling, camping, and traveling in general. You can find Rod online on Twitter at @roddesu, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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2 Responses to “10 Questions To Ask Before Renting”

  1. Lisa Gregg Says:

    I’d also add to ask if the building allows smoking. Even though City of Chicago code requires all units to be on separate heat/air systems, the smoke from other units can still come through the vents or stairwell. If you are sensitive to the smell or don’t want to expose yourself or family to the second-hand smoke, this can be a real problem in your home, as it’s your safe-haven, comfortable place.

  2. Instyler Says:

    Great advice. I’m currently trying to find tenants for my apartment and it’s probably a good idea to make sure that I can provide good answers to all these questions if somebody asks me.