A new lease on life

Posted on 03 Mar 2009 at 1:53pm
By Steven Lindsey

Apartment life can make ditching the mortgage attractive — if you’re savvy in how you find one


UNCOMMONLY USEFUL: Most apartment complexes, like Elan at Bluffview, have beautifully decorated common rooms where residents can hang out or entertain — essentially doubling the space in their apartments, according to expert Lamar Stone. PHOTO BY ARNOLD WAYNE JONES

There is little reason to rehash the state of the current housing market, except for historical documentation when this article is uncovered by future generations looking to examine what life was like in early 2009. Well great-great-grandchildren, for many homeowners right now, life sucks. Big time.

Whether people have had their homes go into foreclosure or are voluntarily looking for ways to cut back on living expenses, leasing an apartment is becoming a viable alternative. What you lose in terms of square footage and green space you can quickly gain in savings, from maintenance expenses to a monthly rent below your mortgage payment.

And even if you’re not looking especially to save money, it’s sweet to get the most for your rent money, whether you’re looking for a low-cost efficiency or a palatial space in one of Dallas’ abundant luxury high rises. Lamar Stone, an apartment locator with Apartment Dispatch, spends his time helping people do just that.

"I’ve heard all my life that if you lease an apartment, you’re just throwing away your money on rent," Stone says. "It’s certainly true that when you lease an apartment you do not build equity and you miss out on some tax advantages, but here are plenty of good reasons why someone would want to rent."

For example, new arrivals to an area, even those hoping to eventually buy, can benefit from renting. "Renting an apartment first gives you time to explore different neighborhoods and figure out exactly what and where you want to buy later," Stone says. "Many apartments offer a carefree lifestyle, free of the responsibilities one would have if they owned. At an apartment, you just go out and enjoy the pool, you don’t have to worry about cleaning it. When you own a home, if something breaks, it’s your problem. When you lease an apartment, if something breaks, it’s their problem!"

Using a service like Stone’s can help you have an advocate in your search for a place to live. His vast knowledge of communities and neighborhoods is invaluable, and he knows how to ask tough questions and negotiate in ways that some people may be uncomfortable doing. He can also save you money by finding you places that fit your criteria exactly. Indeed, the pickier and more specific you are, the more an apartment locator can help.

But Stone is still willing to offer his top 10 tricks of the trade that can help you get more bang for your rental buck and questions to ask to protect your credit if you choose to go it on your own.

1. Special offers. Sometimes the direct approach is most productive when you’ve found an apartment you want to rent. Stone advises to simply ask what the best deal is that they can offer.

"Many apartments now offer what’s known as a ‘look & lease’ special. If you lease on your first visit — or sometimes within 24 hours — you can often take advantage of some fantastic specials," he says.

2. Lease terms. "Sometimes there can be a big break for a six month lease versus a five month lease. As a general rule, the longer the lease, the better the price," Stone says.

3. Termination options. "You should definitely ask them what their policies are regarding your options should you need to get out of your lease — if, for example, you got laid off from your job, or receive a transfer to another city," he says."There are some larger apartment management companies that will allow you to move to a sister property in another city, or even another part of the DFW Metroplex without penalty." Not all complexes can offer this, so if you don’t ask, they won’t tell.

4. Maintenance. "Ask them about maintenance and if there are any guarantees as to how quickly they can respond to problems. There is at least one management company that I know of that actually offers a guarantee that they will respond to a maintenance request within 48 hours or they will offer you a credit on your rent."

5. Pets. "If you have a pet, make sure you are clear on what is a pet deposit and what a pet fee is," says Stone.

6. The competition. "Ask about the advantages they have over the apartment complex down the street — knowledgeable leasing agents should know a thing or two about their competition," he says. Follow up by investigating their claims and judging for yourself. They are, after all, trying to lease the space, so it’s always a good idea to do your homework.

7. Where they live. When talking to a leasing agent at a property, find out if they believe their own selling points. "Ask them if they live on site. If they answer yes, that is usually a good sign," Stone says.

8. Crime. "Do not ask the leasing agents about safety or crime. If you want to get information on crime statistics for a certain area, ZIP code or apartment property, contact the local police department. Leasing agents will be more than happy to point out what, if any, security measures they have at their respective communities, but they are not allowed to tell you that a property is safe or not."

9. Location within a complex. Even where your apartment’s located within the community itself can impact the bottom line. And if you’re willing to climb a few stairs, you could save even more. "You can often save on your rent if you choose the third floor! If a building does not have elevators, third floor apartments will often rent for less than those on the first or second floors," Stone advises.

10. Good old common sense. In the end, it often comes down to your gut feelings when you see the community, and the apartment itself. "When visiting apartment properties, keep your eyes open and just look around. If it’s obvious that the premises is not kept up, then it would be advisable to go somewhere else," he says. "If you see other residents, ask them how they like living there. They will usually be happy to tell you what they like or don’t like."

Reach Lamar Stone at 972-922-1162 or APTS4DFW.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice Defining Homes magazine March 6, 2009.

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