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Everything you need to know (and avoid) to have the best rental experience necessary

The snow has melted.  You’ve finally ventured outside without having to maneuver over 8-foot snow banks.  You haven’t needed to resort to the move when you slip on ice and still try to look cool at the same time by incorporating a dance move (the robot, perhaps) top cover for your flailing limbs.  You start cracking windows, grilling, listening to the Sox on 93.7. In addition to all of the rights of spring is finding an apartment in and around the city.  Where do you start?  Is what you’re paying now for your apartment a good deal?  What types of shenanigans should you be on the lookout for?   All of these are great questions, and I will attempt to answer each of them in this blog.  
Spring (Apartment Hunting) Training Lesson #1 - Where do I start?
A good apartment rental agency, much like most good service based industries, are usually referred by word of mouth or on peer to peer review sights such as Yelp.  That’s where I would start.  If you blindly search for apartments on Craigslist, you don’t know what you’re getting.
Ask your friends.  Ask them if they have had a good experience with the rental process and if you really like where they live, their apartment, etc.  If they did, in fact, have a positive experience, see if the can give you the name/card of the real estate agent with whom they worked.  That’s your best bet.
Now, what if you lack friends because you smell bad or have an awkward drooling problem?  No worries!  As I mentioned, yelp.com, while not perfect, should help steer you towards the more reliable/ethical companies in thew areas you are searching.  One thing of importance to note; If you are looking to be in Allston/Brighton do not reach out to an agency in the Back Bay.  Conversely, if you are looking to be in the Back Bay, don’t reach out to an Allston/Brighton agency.  1st find out where you want to live and then find a reputable agency close by. 
Ok, you’ve found your agency now what are you looking for, specifically?  Here are the top 3 things you are going to be looking for, I would say in order of importance though #2 is a close 2nd to #1.
Lesson #2 – What should I be looking for out of an Apartment Rental Agency??
#1 – Listings; Believe it or not, not all Apartment Rental Agencies are created equal.  You want an agency large enough to have good relationships with a lot of “mom and pop” landlords but not so big where customer service is sacrificed.  Essentially you want your agency to have lots of options for you but at the same time have the time to work with you one on and one and not rush you through the process so they can get to the next deal.  
#2 Customer Service – Assuming all other things are equal (they’re not, but we’re assuming here) how well your specific agent was trained and how effectively they can not only answer your questions but listen to your needs is extremely important.  With a company with lots of listings, you are going to want an agent who is going to ask lots of questions.  The bad agent brings you to places because they are his only listings/options and “oh look I have these keys in my pocket now, let’s go!”  A good agent is going to feel you out and listen to what you want then MATCH you to the apartment that best fits your needs.  For example, if you and your roommates are non-stop party rockers, a good agent is not going to put you in a building where the elderly couple who owns the house lives upstairs.  Bad for you, bad for them.  Not a good match.  Conversely, if you have a demanding work or school schedule, and the idea of a Heineken bottle crashing outside at 2 a.m is less than appealing, a good agent is going to recognize this and keep you away from certain parts of Allston and, depending on your parking needs, open up some other areas that would probably be a better fit for you and your roommates.  Makes sense, right?  Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should so revert to #1 to make sure that you are in fact in good, capable, trustworthy hands.
#3 The process.  The process starts with filling out your application and ends when you are unpacking boxes in your living room.  There’s a lot that goes on in between that and what goes on we are going to call “The process.”  A good agent is going to be upfront and clear about what is required. From the total amount due to creating a flexible payment schedule with you so that you don’t have to sell your granpa’s World 2 metals to cover your portion of the security deposit.  If you need your parents to co-sign, they will have easily accessible forms so you can get them in quickly.  The entire process should be easy, and all too often it’s made difficult either by inexperienced agents or poor systems.  Once your paperwork is in, payments have been scheduled the only thing left for you to do is to move in on move-in day.
Lesson #3 – What types of shenanigans should I be on the lookout for?
A) The bait and switch.  If the apartment looks way to good and is priced way under what it should be, most likely it’s not a real listing.  the agency lacks good listings so they will advertise false places just o get you in the door.  How do you spot the bait and switch agencies?  Call 3 separate times about 3 separate apartments they have listed.  If you’re continuously greeted with “That was jut rented but let me see what else I have” you’re on to them.
B) The uber-confused agent.  Again, it comes back to lack of training. please allow me to share with you the recent experience my friend Kate* had while finding an apartment in Allston Ma.  *All names have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the confused.
Full disclosure I met “Kate” around two weeks after this experience happened so I could do little more than offer my condolences.  So Kate gets her apartment through a less than stellar agency, we’ll call them Shade Tree Realty.   Kate’s agent we’ll call Al. Kate is looking for 2 beds up to $1800 and when Al meets Kate, Al has 3 apartments lined up for her.  A 1 bed for $2000, a 2 bed for $1750 and a 3 bed for $2250.  Confused, Kate clarify’s her price range and goes to see the one apartment that fits her budget.  Kate likes the apartment an, under the assumption that this was the only thing in her price range on the market, decides to rent it. Al’s pushiness helped her make an ill informed decision.  Al doesn’t tell Kate anything about the management company or the building, both of which are definitely not good matches for Kate’s situation.  For the 1st couple of weeks Al is attentive.  After around 10 days, Al falls off the map and it takes Kate repeated attempts to reach him, to find out what the next step in the process is, etc.
Kate had tried to reach out to Al on several occasions leading up to her moving date without much luck.  So Kate rents a u-haul and drives up with her dad and her brother on the 1st.  If you’ve never driven around Boston on September 1st, it’s one part obstacle course, one part Armageddon, and one part Will Smith summer blockbuster.  Horns are going off; traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see, trucks parked where no one else can get by.  You may see someone crying.,  You’re going to hear some people swearing, that’s ok, you’ve got your keys and your apartment so just weather the storm, right?  Well Kate gets to Shade Tree Realty  and is greeted by one of the following, we’ve come to the “choose your own adventure” segment of this blog)
Scenario 1 – Kates agent see’s her walk in the door, greats her with a smile, a copy of her paperwork, 2 working sets of keys and a small move in gift because her business was truly appreciated.  She’s in and out in under a minute.
Scenario 2 – Kates agent is in Mexico, so he doesn’t see her walk in.  The receptionist does greet her with a  rather stern “yes, can I help you?”  Kate gives her name to no avail. She describes her apartment to a squirly looking gentleman who has come over to “‘help”.  He looks at her like she has horns but calls up Al whose phone goes right to voicemail.  At this point, Squirly Sam we’ll call him, summonses the office manager who offers his apologies and politely asks Kates to take a seat while this is figured out.  Kate looks at the couch, and clearly she has some company as she scans the row of frustrated faces doing their very best breathing routines.  Exactly 12 minutes later someone comes over to Kate and asks her if she needs an apartment.  She doesn’t.  23 minutes later and Kate’s apartment has been located!  The manager is searching for the keys ass we speak, would you like some water? Kate didn’t want any water.  6 minutes later (29 minutes after walking in for those scoring at home) and Kate is offered half an apology and ushered out the door with keys that look like they’ve survived the sinking of the Titanic.  No label on them, no address, just two crusty keys on an even crustier key ring.  Good luck! Manager Moe tells her as he goes off to tend to more problems.  And here’s where the fun starts ladies and gentleman.
Kate’s dad sees red as no less than 14 people have asked him to move his truck and two unsavory looking “street characters” have asked him for spare change.  After traversing the one-ways and blocked off streets, Kate and her fam finally get a spot near where Kate will be living.  Finally.  Here.  Kate’s dad pops the back of the u-haul as Kate runs up to open the doors.  Kate’s keys don’t even come close to working. Luckily the front door is propped open to accommodate the other people moving in and out, so she runs up two flights to try these keys on her own locks.  No dice
How can you avoid this?
 Ask your agent to send you links to the places you’ll be visiting.  Be very clear about your price range, which amenities are important to you, what an ideal living situation (quiet house, younger building) and a good agent with good listings should be able to accommodate you.  the more questions that he agent asks you, the better. If you don’t in fact rent through Preview, call your agent prior to your move in date and make sure you’re driving up you can have working keys to a clean apartment.  this may sound crazy but with many, if not most agencies, your agent may not be checking to see if the keys they are giving you work and if the apartment you will be habiting is in fact clean. 
Now, the most common questions I see agents get asked is “Can we move in early?!”. For your agent to get you in early all of the following criteria has to be met and as you’ll see, even then there’s no guarantee.  That being said, here are the stars that need to align perfectly for an early move-in-date to be possible:
1- You can’t have a balance and all of your paperwork (originals) need to be submitted.  This part is easy and the only part of the process you control
2- The tenants leaving your new apartment need to be out, AND they will need to have cleaned.  Out and cleaned.  Cleaned and out.
3- Your landlord needs to be ok with you moving in early, i.e., before your lease start date.
4- If your apartment is managed by a management company, the management company may have set rules about you needing to pick up keys only on the 1st and only during certain times.  Please don’t shoot the messenger.  Trust me, if we can help you out and get you in early, we will.  Busy agents often have several move-ins on the 1st, and anyone whom they can get in early becomes a win/win.
A good agent will try their hardest but please understand it’s most often out of their hands.  
Regardless of when you move, you are going to want working keys to the actual apartment that you’ve rented.  Crazy, right?!  Again, a good, reputable agency will make sure this happens and without using such an agency, you could have the experience my friend Kate had. Don’t have that experience!  While here at Preview Properties we work very hard to make sure your rental experience goes smoother than expected, i fully realize not everyone reading this is going to rent through preview properties.  keep this tips in your back pocket and hold other agencies up to these standards!  If there are any other Real estate related subjects you would like to see a blog about, please email me directly at adam@previewbostonrealty.com.  thanks and best of luck!
 Adam Mason is the owner of Preview Properties and has been in the Allston/Brighton rental market for 19+ years.  Preview Properties is the #1 apartment rental agency in Allston and Brighton and more importantly, consistently ranks in the top 3 on yelp for all Real Estate companies in Boston.   www.previewbostonrealty.com


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