House-Hunting: the Mobay Edition

Finding somewhere to live is hard, whether you’re in university, freshly graduated or bouncing around with three kids and a stable career. Fortunately or unfortunately house hunting is something I love to do (is that weird? It’s probably weird), and I’ve picked up a few lessons over the years that I think can be useful to my fellow 20-something Montegonians (all five of you who read this blog, if so much).

I only hope that this two-part series will make wading into the waters of independent living a little less scary, and that it will be a guidepost along a path that can be confusing and muddled. If it’s not time for you to leave the nest for one reason or another, that’s okay. Work hard and save. Living with parents is by far the cheapest option – no rent, free food and your mom will probably do your laundry too. But if you absolutely have to get out there on your own, then maybe this little blog will help you do it.

General rules:
  • Be prepared to pay at least two month’s worth of rent up front (sometimes three). This is the rent for your first month plus a security deposit in case you ruin the place and don’t pay bills.
  • Take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve been told an apartment was on Brandon Hill and after following the directions ended up, disgruntled, in the middle of Farm Heights.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is. Look for the catch.
  • Read that rental agreement cover to cover. Get any promises to fix things in writing before you sign. Document any pre-existing damage and make sure the landlord knows about it.

Once you’re ready with that rent money and a healthy dose of skepticism, it’s time to plot your game plan.

Pick an area and know your budget

The first step is to know how much money you can feasibly spend on rent. Be realistic here not ambitious. One of the awesome things about Montego Bay is that you can find a home for any budget, especially if you’re flexible. If you’ve only got $10,000 to spare you can still find a place to live. It will probably be a shoe-box but it will be your shoe-box.

A good rule of thumb is that your budget for rent and household expenses shouldn’t exceed 30% of your total income. Like the pirate code, this is more of a guideline. To find a more exact number, once you’ve figured out 30% of your monthly salary go ahead and subtract an estimate for your utility bills (if not included in the rent) and any associated costs of the rental home like maintenance fees and such.

Once you know what your budget looks like, go ahead and pick an area (or a few) where you’d like to live. Bear in mind that location is everything in real estate and nice areas usually come with really nice price tags. There are ways around this, like smaller homes in uptown areas, or sharing common spaces. Which brings me to my next piece of advice. . .

Be cautious about sharing utilities and common spaces

The first rule will help you in weeding out your prospects. Once you have an amount and a location in mind, you’ll quickly skip those listings that don’t match your specifications. But even though you might want to compromise on that one bedroom apartment in Westgate Hills where you ‘only share a kitchen and the light bill’ take a minute to think about what sharing a kitchen means: dirty dishes in the sink all the time, and people eating your food from the refrigerator. Sharing the electricity bill means constantly arguing over who burns more current. And if you’re anything like me 2AM on a weekday morning will find you angrily trying to calculate the estimated energy consumption of your toaster oven vs her microwave.

Just don’t give yourself the headache.

Be cautious about living with a landlord

People can be . . . sensitive about their homes. Which is understandable. But as a tenant it can be frustrating to have someone constantly looking over your shoulder. This might be okay if you’re a fledgling graduate just starting out in the world of independent living (almost like having a surrogate parental figure – if you have a good relationship!) but gets much more tedious once the independence really settles in. Their ‘friendly advice’ turns into nagging, and all of a sudden you’re desperate to move. My advice would be to avoid living with the landlord altogether.

In the same vein, try to find landlords that are reliable and respectful. Avoid the ones who flake on fixing infrastructural problems, or go into your home when you’re not around. Ask other tenants (if you can) what their experience is like, and when you meet the landlord make sure their temperament is one you can work with.

Make a list of your preferences/needs

This helps to refine your search, and comes in handy when you’ve viewed a prospective home. After you’ve done your ooh’s and aah’s on the walk-through it’s important to drill the landlord with some hard-hitting questions. How stable are utilities? Is there parking available? How do you feel about extra guests or loud noise? Pets? Smoking? The list is endless and subjective. Knowing what’s important to you comes with time and sadly a little trial and error. The awesome thing about moving is if you absolutely hated something about your last apartment you can make it a definite deal-breaker with your next one. Hurrah for starting over!

***

That’s it for part one! The second installation, where I talk about how to find these elusive apartments, will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your strategies for house hunting. Do you agree with me on the shared spaces? What was your worst landlord experience? Let me know in the comments!

 

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