A Rent to Own Guide

Safety Checklist For Homebuyers

After three dingy, depressing apartment viewings, you think you've found the one. It's light, airy, in a great neighborhood by your friends and a farmer's market. Despite the urge to just sign on the dotted line immediately, you absolutely must inspect the property thoroughly making any major decisions. The nicest spots in beautiful buildings can harbor secrets that you don't want to discover when you're legally obligated to live there for a year. Here is our comprehensive checklist for 12 must-check things to remember when looking over your dream apartment.

1. Make sure all lights switches and outlets work. This seems like a no brainer, but it is easy to get caught up in the experience and forget to assess where outlets are, or even make sure that the lights work. Walk around flipping the lights on to make sure they all work. Keep an eye out as to where power outlets are (especially in older buildings that may have been retrofitted with electricity selectively). Bring a wall plug phone charger with you and get instant confirmation that each of the outlets work. Take note of any signs of bad wiring, such as strange humming from switches or burnt power outlets.

2. Check the windows. The shape your windows are in can save or cost you quite a bit of money in the long run. Examine your windows closely to see if they open, first of all (particularly in older buildings, often windows will be painted shut by careless painters). Look at the seals and check for gaps to see if there's a draft coming in. Older windows may only have single pane glass, which loses considerable heat during the winter (meaning you will need heavy curtains to stay warm).

3. Ceilings. Look for signs of discoloration or water damage. Bulging misshapen ceilings can result from pooling water coming down from upper units. If your unit has ceiling fans, do they work properly?

4. Floors. Cracks in the walls or floors can go unnoticed by landlords and be blamed on you at a later point. Note and document any stains or damage to carpets or wood flooring. Look closely for roach or mouse droppings anywhere in the unit.

5. Insulation, Heating or Central Air. Ask the landlord about whether or not the apartment is insulated, and what type of heating it uses during the winter. Oil heat needs to be bought in bulk and can be exceptionally expensive. Also, inquire into how old the furnace is–you can learn a lot about the quality of the heat from how old the furnace is and how well it is maintained.

6. Phone Jacks and Cable Jacks. Keep an eye out for phone and cable jacks, as they will dictate where your internet modem will end up. If you don't see any, ask the person showing you the apartment. Getting a new cable line installed in your space can cost money out of pocket, and will mean you have to wait longer to get connected.

7. Smoke Alarms. Operational smoke alarms are legally required for obvious reasons. Hit the test button on each smoke alarm, and make sure there is a battery in each. Buying your own batteries and installing them is not necessarily expensive or difficult, but it's also not your responsibility (and, in many cases, once you sign the lease, it can become your responsibility.)

8. Fireplace. There are two kinds of fireplaces: ones that work and ones that don't. Ones that work are great for creating ambiance and warming up during the winter. Ones that don't work are usually a place where a log goes at best, otherwise just where stuff you don't really have space for otherwise goes. Both types of fireplaces are fine–they're fireplaces, fireplaces are cool–but expecting one kind (working) and getting the other (not working) is a major disappointment. Getting a fireplace cleaned can be expensive, and is important for its safe use, so if it is functional ask about its condition.

9. Kitchen Cupboards, Drawers and Under Sink. Once you've been shown the layout of the place, the first thing you should do once you're free to explore is check in the cupboards and under the sink. Pull out all the drawers. Why? Because these dark spaces are often the first signs of infestation by roaches, rats, mice, and more. Keep an eye out for dead bugs and mouse turds. Finding an infestation ahead of time can not only save you stress, but can also be a financial lifesaver: landlords will often charge tenants for extermination fees, even on pre-existing infestations. Ask the landlord if the whole property has history of roaches, bedbugs, mice, and any other regional pest (not just your unit). Get their response in writing, if you can.

10. Kitchen appliances. Check each of the appliances in the kitchen to ensure they are clean and in working condition. Open the refrigerator and check to see if there is mold or any other unsavory surprises. If you have laundry on site, check to make sure the drums on the washer and dryer are clean and rust free. Check the stove if all the burners are working and if it comes with an oven, check to make sure it's working as well.

11. Turn on the water in the shower. Chances are you are going to want a hot shower when you're done moving in. Take a moment to turn on the shower, check the water pressure and temperature and make sure it is clean. Examine the showerhead and see if it has noticeable lime or rust deposits. Make sure the water pressure is good, because if it isn't that is unlikely to be something that gets fixed. Make sure you don't move into any uncertain circumstances.

12. Check for Mold. Mold is one of the signature signs of water problems. Keep a sharp eye out anywhere water is for mold growing on walls, floors, and seals. Make sure bathtubs aren't molding, especially around caulked seals.

13. Check the Toilet Flush. Flush each toilet at least once and examine it as it refills. Make sure the flap closes properly as the tank refills. Make sure it is clean, so you don't have to celebrate your new home by cleaning the toilet right off the bat.

14. Check the sinks. Plumbing is neither cheap nor easy to fix. Ensuring that everything on your sink works ahead of time saves you trouble in the future. Make sure all faucets work and drains are clear. Also, take special notice of whether the faucets drip or leak, as this will undoubtedly lead to a headache.

Actually, anywhere there's water: take special note. Water can do a lot of damage when it gets out of control in a building. Anywhere there is water, look around for signs that water is running wild. Check walls and ceilings for bubbling and mold. Make sure bathtubs aren't molding, especially around caulked seals. Flush each toilet at least once and examine it as it refills. Keep track of any sinks that may leak, both from the bowl and underneath. The damage done by water can be extensive and seemingly come out of nowhere, often damaging your personal property in the process.

15. Closet and storage space. Make sure you have enough storage space for all your stuff. Do an inventory of everything you plan on bringing with you before you leave your old house.

16. Security and safety. Voice of experience here: walking up a narrow Victorian era spiral staircase in the dark every night isn't an enjoyable experience. Make sure that your hallway lights work, that your entryways light up. Check locks on doors and windows to make sure they close securely and don't show signs of an attempted break in. When the landlord opens the door to show you in, does the lock operate smoothly? Is there a clear route to a fire escape in the event of an emergency?

17. Laundry Facilities. Does your new place have laundry facilities? That's the best. Do they work though? Ask the landlord and check out the drums on the washers and dryers to make sure they're clean and rust free. Ask how often the ducts are cleared out, as a large accumulation of lint can be a ridiculous fire hazard.

18. Parking. Establish your parking situation ahead of time, not after you sign the lease. Discovering that your new neighborhood has no overnight street parking and you have no parking spot creates a whole lot of problems (in the form of little paper slips signed by the city). If you and your roommates, housemates, or building-mates need to coordinate tandem parking, figure that out ahead of time.

19. Garbage Disposal. If you have a garbage disposal in your unit, make sure it works. Non-operational garbage disposals tend to turn into traps for decaying food, causing them to smell and generally be gross.

20. Accessibility. Go around the neighborhood and see if you can find the basic establishments you will need: grocery stores, gas stations, hospitals and malls. Come back at night and make sure that everything checks out once the sun goes down. Often that quaint little cafe down the block turns into a wild rager when the bar crowd starts to shuffle in. Know what you're getting yourself into first. Also check how accessible public transportation is from your rental.

21. Read your lease. The most perfect apartment can come with a broken, shady lease. I can't stress this enough: read your lease and read it thoroughly. This isn't an iTunes terms and conditions agreement. Note what the policies are on it with regards to resigning your lease at the end of the term to ensure you don't get “auto-resigned” into another year (this is frightfully common). Look into your local tenant rights. If you're in a competitive market and you have rent control, high five yourself and start bragging to your friends how you're never moving out. And in case I forgot to mention, read your lease.

Make note of anything that is not right. Can it be fixed before you move? If not, document each problem with a photograph and written notice in the lease agreement. Otherwise, it may come out of deposit to fix eventually. Moving in can get exciting but keeping your head together to go inspect your unit for the above items will save you dollars and a massive headache later on.