How to pick the right rental home even under pressure

Budgets are tight and rental homes are increasingly hard to find, which means that prospective tenants now often need to make quick decisions about the properties they view - or risk losing out to the next person on the landlord’s list.
So says Andrew Schaefer, MD of leading national property management company Trafalgar*, who notes: “The ideal situation is to have time to look at several flats or houses you might like to rent, make comparisons, find out about the different locations and visit at different times of day or over a weekend to check on traffic, security and noise levels.
“But despite the resurgence of new apartment development lately, there is still a shortage of rental stock compared to demand. At the same time, the number of new households continues to rise and fewer people can afford to buy their own homes, so there is often keen competition for the rental units that become available.”
And in this situation, he says, there is seldom time for prospective tenants to ponder their options, so they should draw up a checklist of features they are looking to achieve in a rental property and use it to help them decide which properties to view and which to choose.
Essentials might include a certain location, good security, safe parking, public transport, sufficient space, pre-paid metering and the condition of the building or complex. In a sectional title development it is also important to check the rules and make sure they contain no potential causes of disappointment or dispute. 
“Lifts, storage rooms, laundry facilities, a pool, a gym and braai areas might also be on your list if you are looking at flats - but it is also extremely important to remember that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ rental home.
“In this market especially, you should be willing to compromise quickly on non-essentials if you find a flat or house that fits your budget and also ticks all the boxes on your list of must-haves.”
Of these essentials, Schaefer says, location is as usual the most important. “A well-kept house with all the space you need may seem like a great choice but if it’s in a run-down area, you probably shouldn’t rent it.
“Traffic volumes or noise levels might also be a consideration, especially if you are looking for a flat close to work or a place of study. You may not be able to avoid overlooking a busy road, but flats close to late-night entertainment venues, freeways and public transport hubs should not be your first choice if you value your sleep.”
Second, he says, you really need to check on the condition of the rental unit itself, and the overall complex if it is a sectional title apartment or townhouse. “You should be on the look-out for homes that are spotlessly clean and neat even if the flooring or the fittings like kitchen and bedroom cupboards are not new. This shows that the landlord cares about the property and is likely to attend to any maintenance or repair issues without delay.
“In a sectional title scheme you should also check on the general appearance of the buildings, lobbies, hallways and gardens and the functioning of the lift, if there is one. A flat with a fabulous view may soon seem like a bad choice if you frequently have to climb several floors of stairs with your bike or your groceries.”
The third essential on your list, Schaefer says, should be security. “You really must take the time to check whether the home itself has burglar bars, security gates on the doors and an alarm system. In a complex you also need to check for electronic gates and doors, safe parking, good lighting and perimeter security measures such as electric fencing – and observe whether the other residents take care to maintain security.
“And finally, you should enquire about fibre internet connections, especially if you often work from home, as these offer significant benefits in terms of network speeds and communication and entertainment options.”
Schaefer also says that when they have found the right property and are ready to commit, prospective tenants must ensure that they sign a proper lease that clearly spells out all the obligations of the landlord as well as the tenant with regard to the rental and when it is due, the duration of the contract and any penalties for early cancellation and property maintenance.
“Usually the first month’s rental, a deposit equivalent to a month’s rental and lease administration fees will need to be paid up front, so it is important to have these funds immediately available.
“It also really helps to rent through a large and reputable company like Trafalgar, which not only has a choice of well-managed rental homes on offer, but also ensures that all contracts between tenants and landlords are legally correct and carefully explained in advance of signature, and that all deposits are safely held in trust.”

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