If you’re a military family facing a summer PCS like we are, you may be sipping your morning coffee and browsing online for your next home. At this time of year, the rental market can be as hot as the summertime sunshine!
If you find a listing that seems to meet your needs, you’ll want to jump on it. But before you take that leap, ask the landlord as many questions as possible, especially if you’re not able to view the property in person just yet.
Some basic questions we ask about a rental property are:
- Flooring: hardwood or carpeted?
- Appliances: gas or electric?
- Heating and cooling: Central air? Fireplace or woodstove?
You’ll have your own list of specifics. Some other information we’ve requested from potential landlords before renting:
Tell Us About the Yard
Our family’s biggest requirement is a fenced yard for our dogs. We have large dogs, so we’ve learned that the simple “fenced yard” detail of a property listing needs further explanation: How tall is the fence? Does the fence entirely enclose the yard?
For instance, when preparing to move to Ohio, our future landlord stated he had recently installed a chain link fence to secure the backyard. We were excited for our dogs to have this premium amenity. When we arrived, we found the height of the fence was only 4 feet. Our dogs frequently channeled their inner kangaroo and hopped right over the fence in an attempt to police the neighborhood squirrel population!
When looking at rental properties we also ask, What is expected with the landscaping chores of the yard? Are there HOA guidelines? Do you currently have a landscaping service?
When communicating with our future landlord in Texas, she was unconcerned about our attention to the yard, since there were no HOA rules to follow. However, during our first month at that rental property, we realized there were “unspoken” guidelines for yard care due to living next to a family-owned landscaping business. Naturally, they tended a stunning flower garden and perfectly groomed lawn. We ended up hiring their landscaping service, as our own attempts at preventing weeds and bare patches with the yard were not providing comparable curb appeal!
With preferences for pets, for children, or simply for privacy, before signing a lease ask for full disclosure from the landlord about the yard. Photos are even better if you can't see it in person yet.
Tell Us About the Neighborhood
Of course, when creating a property listing, a landlord wants to highlight every good thing about their place. As a renter, you’ll need to look out for potential exaggerations with property descriptions.
For example, if a property listing states the neighborhood is “steps away from public transportation” and it seems too good to be true? Do an online search to show where the nearest bus or metro stop may indeed be. A creative marketing writer may equate “steps” with “miles.”
One property was listed with “ample street parking” in the neighborhood. This would be a great amenity, especially in areas where parking spots are worth their weight in gold. As it turns out, the available parking was only during the day, when residents of the area left for work. After 5 p.m., when residents returned home, street parking in the neighborhood was very limited.
When narrowing down our search for rental properties, we thoroughly research the areas to help prevent any surprises with potential new neighborhood locations. Check out Military Town Advisor's neighborhood reviews, written by other military families.
Tell Us about the Noise
When our friend, a Registered Nurse, suggested a rental property near a top-notch hospital, we valued her professional opinion. Little did we know that stellar hospital was the only trauma hospital in the area, complete with a rooftop helicopter landing pad. At all hours, we would hear the med evac chopper coming and going. Add in the sirens from the ambulance and fire trucks, and we quickly learned how neighborhood noise is an important detail to consider when looking for a rental home.
Street noise may also be a concern. Due to constant back up of traffic in Virginia, the street noise in our neighborhood was not from the whiz of cars going by, it was more the squeal of brakes echoing down the street. Depending on your patience level, the noise of the city is either something you grow used to or something that will deter you from choosing an urban neighborhood.
Other details to research: The level of noise from your neighbors often depends on the dynamic of who lives around you. You may live next door to college students with a band, repetitively practicing songs for their weekend gigs. The tree house in the yard down the street may be a magnet for neighborhood children, stirring happy laughter, squeals, and screams with imaginative play. Elderly folks or those with an early bedtime may not appreciate the noise you make with gathered friends around your backyard fire pit.
Consider looking into local noise ordinance guidelines when deciding on which neighborhood may fit you best.
As you hunt for a rental to meet your needs, ask the landlord as many questions as possible to find out as much information about the property that you can. If they’re reluctant to share details about the property and neighborhood, what will your future lines of communication be like?
Even when rental listings hit summertime peak and you have limited time to make a decision, go with your gut feelings to ensure that you are signing a lease with a trustworthy landlord. Here’s hoping you’ll find an address that you and your family will feel completely comfortable calling “home!"