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What to Know Before Renting a House

By Sheree R. Curry 
Special to Relocation.com

Part of the American dream is to own a home, but some still can't qualify for a purchase despite lower housing prices -- or they prefer to wait out the market before committing to buying.

For those with their sight set on a white picket fence out front and a garden, play set and dog run out back, the dream doesn't have to end just because you don't have the savings or can't qualify for a loan. Homesellers who are finding it economically inconvenient to sell in today's market are opting to rent out their place instead, which means renters can turn away from apartments to single-family homes.

"There are 39.0 million investor-owned housing units, both single-family and condo," says Walter Molony, spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors. "Historically, about 80 percent of these properties are rented out. There's no way of measuring recent changes, but anecdotally it's risen," he says. 

NAR data also shows that a home vacancy rates have risen significantly in the last couple of years, meaning more owners might be open to a rental, or even a rent-to-own option.

The opportunity is there, but is renting a home right for you?

"A renter should be just as cautious as a buyer when considering where to live," says Joe Russo, a broker in Charlotte, North Carolina specializing in waterfront communities. With a rental home, you're still investing in a community, and there are some important things to consider:

  • School assignments for the area as well as school bus routes, schedules and stops. If you have children, you will want to know if their school schedule will fit your own.
  • Crime rate in the area. Just because the home is in a single-family neighborhood or the suburb doesn't mean its immune to high crime rates.
  • Check the sex offender registry for the neighborhood.

And then there's the house itself.

  • Who is responsible for the general house maintenance and utility bills? You or the landlord?
  • Is the landlord easily reached if there is an emergency? Some homeowners who rent out their places are doing so because they are moving out of state. If your landlord will not be available, see if they will have property management company in place to quickly respond to your needs.
  • Do a background check on the homeowner just as they'd do one on you, say experts -- you'll never know what secrets may be in their financial closet. 
  • Environmental hazards such as lead paint, asbestos, mold. Older homes especially may not be up to current standards.
  • Make sure you go over the lease very carefully, particularly the section about breaking a lease. You never know -- you might have to, and it pays to be prepared.

Just as some renters are looking for single-family homes because they lost a home due to a divorce, some homeowners who are renting out their home are doing so for the same reason, says Bonnie Russell, who operates FamilyLawCourts.com, an educational site through which she has helped people deal with losing their home because of a divorce. The last thing you want is to rent out a home only to find out that your landlord lost possession of it during a divorce settlement and you're being put out.

Also, find out if the owner of the property is up to date on the mortgage payments and their property taxes. Says Russo: "Renters today are becoming victims of foreclosures and are finding their homes being boarded up and possessions gone or in the front yard even though they paid the owner the rent."

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