Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent; Pt. 1

Not that I have actually done most of these things. No woman in my family had ever moved out of the house until they were married, so no one was really forthcoming with advice for me when I announced I was going to move out. So, I basically thought it was going to be easy. I looked at a few places with different friends, and then decided to move into a place with my best friend (and her fiancée, and her mother, and their 6 cats, and their ferret). I moved a few more times in the years after that while in school, and am currently starting the long journey to FINALLY moving into a place that is just mine (no roommates other than my cat). With each new place, I learned from my mistakes. And damn, were there ever a tonne of mistakes.

So, before you actually start physically looking at places, or touring places, here’s a few things you should be considering (which I probably did not):

1 ) What is your budget?

Now, this will be different to figure out, depending on your income. For people who work a set amount of hours every day/week/month, this is simply figuring out how much money you make, and how much you can spend on rent. Many experts recommend looking at your budget as a whole, and working from there. Gal Vaz Oxlade (from tv show Till Debt Do Us Part, and the infuriating to watch yet amazing to gather tips from tv show Princess), has some great worksheets in her Resources section of her website ( http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources.html ) to help you do different types of budget and budget analysis.

One of the sheets in this resource section deals specifically with students (the Student Lump Sum Money Worksheet). For many students, the majority of your money for each semester is given to you in one lump sum through your student loans, bursaries, scholarships, and grants. This worksheet can help you work out your total budget for the semester, and break it down into a monthly budget.

Basically, you need to look at your money situation to make sure you can afford the place you want to live in. What would happen if you rented an apartment for $600 a month, but only had enough in your budget to afford $380? That’s $220 each and every month that you would have to make up for in some way, or risk being evicted.

2 ) Pick you basic location

This doesn’t mean “find an apartment building”. This means “look at the area you want to move into, that is most convenient for you”. For students, this is most likely in the immediate area of their school. Take a look through this area and take a good look at the housing situation. Are there more apartments, or private homes being rented? Are things run mostly by rental agencies? Is the area safe? What is around this area?

I know some of this sounds stupid, but hear me out. In apartment buildings, you’re more likely to be able to find a one bedroom or bachelor place, where you can live totally by yourself without any roommates. There’s also the option of a two bedroom place, that you can share with a close friend. House rental could mean renting an entire house with a group of people, or renting a room in a random house that has other random people living there. Also, there are more likely to be things like house parties at houses (obviously) than apartments, meaning there are more likely to be loud nights at your neighbour’s place.

Safety should be a huge concern for you when looking for a place. I don’t care if you’re not even 90lbs soaking wet, or the 350lbs linebacker for the school’s football team: you need to worry about your safety. Many local police websites have a section where you can look at crimes and crime rates throughout the city. Now, no area will ever bee 100% free of crime. It is always a good idea, though, to look at what you may be getting yourself into. Is that nice apartment building you saw surrounded by drug busts in the recent past? 27 murders in the building last year? Or is the worse you would likely see around there probably a loud party, or bike thief? It’s always better to know these things ahead of time, than to just take a place and find out the hard way.

And what is around this area is a HUGE thing you should be looking at. Obviously, if you’re trying to stay close to school or work, they will be near your chosen area. But what else is there? Things you should look for are grocery stores, laundromats, bus stops, restaurants, shopping centres, hair salons, banks, and any other type of business you would need in your life.

3 ) Know what you want.

Now that you know what’s in the area, and the types of places around, and the amount of money you can spend each month on rent, you can start looking at what you want in the area. I suggest looking at ads for a variety of types of places first (rooms for rent, bachelor, one bedroom, two bedroom), just to see what the prices are like. Sites like Kijiji often times have pictures of the properties, so you can see the size and condition of the places you are looking at. Also, they tell you if things like utilities (water, electricity, gas) are included in the rent, or if they are extra. This is SUPER important to know before renting a place, because it impacts your budget hugely.

Now, you can decide what it is you want. What do you want more: privacy, or a cheap place to live. I always went the cheaper route, and didn’t look into things that I now know are essential to me. I would rather give up a little bit of my privacy, for example, and have a roommate if that means I can have A/C in my place. I live in one of the most humid cities in all of Canada, and suffer from eczema that is made worse by sweating in the humidity. I spent one horrible summer in a dingy little apartment with no A/C, because it was an apartment and I only had to have one roommate while I was living there. After that, I moved into a house with 6 other random people just to escape the heat and to live in a basement room with no A/C controls (meaning it was absolutely freezing all year). Right now, I have my A/C and I’m down to 3 roommates (all males) in my current house, plus my cat. While this is not ideal for me right now (I miss being able to watch TV in my underpants and sing in the shower), there are certain benefits to it (A/C, utilities included, everyone loves that cat, house is in good condition, no infestations of any sort, no mould, and I get my own private bar fridge in my room for my wine, cheese strings, and candy bars). I know that I cannot afford all of these things if I were to move into an apartment right now. You need to know your necessities, and where you are willing to compromise. Some people don’t need A/C, or are so frugal with their utilities that they don’t mind paying them separately (many places offer cheaper rent if you will pay your own utilities).

And remember, if you decide you don’t need something, make sure you are really ok without it. If you opt for a place that does not have on-site laundry facilities, for example, you damn well better make sure you have a laundromat nearby that you can easily get to. There is nothing fun about carrying a month’s worth of laundry and sheets on the bus to get to the laundromat that’s too far to walk to.

4 ) Start looking

Now that you know more about the area, what you can afford, and what you are willing to compromise on, you can start seriously looking at places. I’ll have a whole other post on what to do when you’re inside the place, checking it out. Right now, you’re just looking at a bunch of possible places.

You’ll want to look at places that fit your budget (obviously), meet your standards of privacy, are clean and infestation-free, and are in the general area you’re looking in. Don’t get too narrow of a focus (can only look at one-bedroom apartments on the 5th floor or above with a balcony, A/C, and in-suite laundry, for example), but don’t make it too broad either (somewhere, anywhere, where there isn’t a tonne of mould and the neighbours aren’t running a house of ill repute, for example).

Also, you’ll want to look at some rather specific things. If you have a pet, make sure the place is pet-friendly before you decide to go see it. If you have issues with mobility, you would want to make sure the building and apartment/room are accessible to you. Basically, you need to make sure you can actually live in a place before you try to live in a place.

So that’s the basics for part one of Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent.  In my next post, I will be going into what you should be doing once you actually pick a few places to look at (yes, you should look at more than one, just in case the one you have your heart set on turns out to be a bust).

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Do I REALLY need a portfolio?

In one of my job search seminars (I attend a whole lot of those lately), it was suggested that we each create a portfolio and bring a copy of it to every interview we go to. We were told tales of the people who had done that and were then hired on the spot, with employers impressed by their readiness. After talking with a lot of professionals in different fields through personal contacts and LinkedIn, this seemed a little wonky to me. Is a portfolio really needed?

The long and short answer is: kinda. You should definitely create a master portfolio for yourself, with both an electronic and a printed copy, with the originals put somewhere safe (a fire-proof safe or lock box is ALWAYS a good idea for anyone to have, and the perfect place for original documents). It is always a good idea to have all your documents and proofs in one convenient location, in case you need them.

So what is actually in your portfolio? To start with, put a copy of the resume you applied with. If at all possible, also include the cover letter you used to apply with, even just for your own reference. You should scan copies of any educational documents (high school diploma, GED, degrees, diplomas) and print copies. Any certificates, transcripts, letters of reference, or other documents that prove that you have knowledge are a good idea too. Basically, your portfolio is a presentation of the very best of you (in a professional manner).

But do you need to bring this to every interview? From what I’ve been told, no! Not every employer is going to need or be impressed by this. There will be jobs you apply for that are not interested in everything you have to offer.

So how do you know when to bring it? Easy: check the job ad! Most job ads list the required education, skills, and knowledge needed for a position. Do you have documented proof of these? Then bring copies! If you are up for a creative job, bring examples of your prior creative works! But you don’t need to have copies of EVERYTHING for every job.

Basically, you NEED a portfolio in order to have one file for yourself , even just for your own piece of mind, that shows all of your accomplishments. At the same time, you need to tailor your portfolio to each job you bring it to. A job involving spreadsheets and data entry may not be excited about your experience creating magazine covers for your Creative Media courses, but would love to know that you have certification in Word and Excel. At the same point, a photojournalism job may not require an advanced knowledge of Microsoft Access, but sure as hell needs proven knowledge of photo-editing software.

So yes, you do need a portfolio, even if it’s just for you. You do not, however, need to bring then entire thing to every job interview you go to. Just like your resume and cover letter, you need to tailor it to each specific job.

Read Your Damn Lease!

(Sorry for the long pause in posts. Saved everything to draft instead of setting it up to post at a later date. My bad!)

So, I was going to post something I have queued about making sure y your syllabus/course outline/assignment rubric/guidelines.  This is somewhat along those lines, but dealing with renters instead.

At the moment, our landlord is half way across the coutnry, doing his Army Reservist training. In his absence, myself and another roommate have been doing some of the things he usually would do (bills, repairs, cleaning, winterization). The two of us have been here for a few years each, so we don’t mind helping out. The new guys in the basement, however, just moved in the beginning of September. They’ve never dealt with the landlord leaving like this. I really don’t think they can handle it, to be perfectly honest.

Last month, when rent was due on the 1st of the month, I was shuttling myself between home, work, and the hospice to stay with my grandma in her last days. Those two were wondering why I wasn’t dropping everything to take their rent and deposit it for them. Now, I had agreed that I would take their rent money from them and deposit it IF they had some sort of problem with their chosen method of rent payment. Afterwards, I told them to get things straightened out for this month.

Another month has passed, and those two are yet again wondering why I haven’t dropped everything to take care of them. When one went out partying for 2 whole days for Halloween and missed the small bit of time I was home to collect rent, he had the audacity to get mad at me! Because he didn’t sit down with our landlord and go over things step-by-step (rent payment, how to get a receipt, how to contact the landlord), it is now somehow MY problem. One of them even went so far as to bring his father into this, saying he was going to have his father “deal with me”.

And this is where reading your damn lease comes into play.

You see, the lease tells you EVERYTHING you need to know (or should, legally). It’s like the syllabus you get the first day of classes: it tells you everything that is expected, everything that is allowed, how to contact important people, and when everything comes to an end. On top of that, this is a legally binding document. Basically, you entered into a contract with your landlord when you signed this.

Yes, that’s right: it’s legally binding.So, you should probably know what’s in there.  In the past, I’ve had leases that specified types of furniture that were not allowed (usually waterbeds, extra appliances, and space heaters), certain types of combustibles not allowed (fireworks, propane tanks), and animal regulations (some places require a pet deposit, some won’t allow certain animals, and one place let my friend have a pig as long as it didn’t spook the carrier pigeons next door). Your lease can also also have clauses in it regarding noise, subletting, overnight guests, and otehr things you may not think about when signing your lease.

So, back to my roommates: as it turns out, our lease is VERY clear about how rent is to be paid. On the very first page, the landlord gives multiple options for payment, knowing that there will not always be a landlord on-site on the 1st of the month. The lease states the house bank account number and which bank to make deposits at (only a few blocks from here); it has an option to set up internet banking options (of which there are multiple); and there is even an option for submitting multiple post-dated cheques which can be deposited into the bank. Nowhere in the lease is there the option to harass a fellow tenant and attempt to force her to take your money and deposit it for you.

I will be making new (highlighted) photocopies of each of their leases for them, showing them their payment options.  I also gladly welcome a phone call from the one roommate’s father. He thinks that, by having his father call me, I will somehow be scared into takin gtheir money and not giving them any greif over this. Instead, I will proudly read from the lease his son signed, and invite him to teach his son to maybe read his damn lease before he complains.