Dennis Toomey
March 2024
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Today's Feature Stories

What to Look for When Signing Your First Lease

Whether you’re living solo for the first time or prepping for an apartment or home rental with your new roommates, your first lease is an important milestone. And you’re in good company. This year over 36% of the US population rented a home or apartment, the highest percentage since 1965. It’s definitely a booming market, so before you sign on that dotted line, make a list and check it twice. Use these tips to make sure you’re well informed before you sign your lease and take responsibility for your new rental.

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1. Do Your Research

Treat your commitment to renting a property in the same way you would carefully consider buying an expensive appliance or a new car: do your research. Look for online reviews from previous renters attached to the property profile in Google or on other social media platforms like Facebook. Search under either the landlord’s name or the name of the property company or apartment complex to find reviews in Yelp. You can even dig up complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.

2. Read the Lease

This seems like an obvious piece of advice, but it’s worth repeating. Read the lease and then read it again. Ask for advice from someone you trust who has the relevant experience and expertise to help you review any stipulations you don’t understand. Be sure the lease is clear about the following points:

• Length of the lease
• When rent is due and how to pay it
• Security deposit rules and refunds
• Lease termination and penalties
• Rules about roommates or subletting
• Whether pets are allowed or prohibited

3. Get It in Writing

If you don’t see a topic or rule specified in writing, request to get it added to the lease. Even if it seems minor, it should be clearly outlined in the legal agreement between you and the landlord. Look for language about who handles the utilities and rules for personalizing your space. Fleshing out the details in the lease protects both you and the landlord from future misunderstandings and financial headaches.

4. Be Clear about Maintenance Responsibilities

Understand and document what your responsibilities are in terms of maintenance and who you should call in case of an emergency. When you move in, the landlord should document the condition of the property—if there is preexisting damage, insist that it’s recorded accurately before you accept the keys. Check all the appliances, door locks, and plumbing, and if anything needs attention, require that it be addressed now so you don’t end up paying for it later.

If your landlord doesn’t supply a checklist to verify the current condition of the property when you sign the lease, supply one yourself. There are several free templates online that you can use to document the condition of the property and ask your landlord to co-sign.

5. Check Out the Security

Check with the landlord or property manager to determine the security measures in place for your rental. If you are moving into a complex, make sure all areas are well lit and measures like security cameras are in place. If the apartment or home isn’t outfitted with security safeguards, ask the landlord if they allow tenants to install their own security systems. Some DIY systems cater to rentals for $15–$25 a month, meaning you still have security options if the property doesn’t have them already.

You can also research the surrounding area to see if they have a Neighborhood Watch program in place, and you can ask local law enforcement if the area has any crime trends.

6. Don’t Forget about Parking

This may be one of the last things on your mind when you’re signing the actual lease, but it’s crucial that you understand where you can and cannot park. Whether it’s off-street or on-street parking, covered or out in the open, the parking arrangement may end up being a pretty large hassle depending on the weather and the safety of the neighborhood. Request clarification about the parking situation if it isn’t clearly outlined in the lease.

7. Consider Renters Insurance

Insurance probably isn’t a priority when you’re still apartment or house hunting, but it should be something you consider getting before moving in. In addition to protecting you from property loss, renters insurance can sometimes help with damage caused by poor maintenance that wouldn’t be covered by your landlord’s insurance policy.

Once you’ve thoroughly reviewed the lease and checked off all these boxes, you can feel more confident about signing on the dotted line.

 Victoria Schmid enjoys writing about technology for the “everyday” person. She is a specialist in online business marketing and consumer technology. She has a background in broadcast journalism.


Two Stories

Let me tell  you a couple of stories that you absolutely won’t believe.

A very young couple who had just got married, figured the next step is to buy their first home. The husband had just graduated from college and is now working as an accountant. He worked hard, made good grades and all that. In fact, it was in college where he met his bride. His job paid well and he was happily married. Not a bad combo. The bride had also just graduated and was going to be an elementary school teacher this next fall.

So the husband made an appointment with a loan officer at his bank. They were both scheduled to meet at the bank in two days. They were excited. They even had a couple of houses picked up and felt comfortable with the proposed monthly payment their banker had calculated for them. The payment was just a bit higher than what they were paying in rent but with both incomes they could qualify, without her income, they couldn’t.

Anyway, they put on their best business dress clothes and headed to the appointment on the day of their meeting. They sat in a waiting area for a few minutes until their banker came to meet them.

“Sit down” he said. They both took a seat. The banker guided them through a loan application and after reviewing, he said they could qualify based upon their income. But he said that he wouldn’t approve the loan.

“Why?” they both said together.

“Because, your wife is of child-bearing age and if she became pregnant she would have to quit her job and without that additional income, I’m afraid there’s just not enough money available for a new mortgage.”

Stunned and disappointed, they got up and walked away.

Another couple was on the opposite side of the age category. They were both retired and approaching their 80’s. They too made an appointment and started toward the bank. They completed all their paperwork and even though they had some income, it was all from social security. However, their social security income was more than enough to move forward and buy the home they were downsizing to.

“I’m sorry,” said the banker. “I’m afraid our bank can’t move forward with your loan application.”

“Why?” they both said together.

“Because due to your age, there’s no way you’ll live long enough to pay off a 30 year mortgage.”

Stunned and disappointed, they got up and walked away.

These were both true stories, the difference is this was many years ago before age discrimination laws were put in place. The bank could pretty much do anything it wanted to in both instances.

Today however, if this happened in a bank, or with any lending institution, they’d get their proverbial pants sued all the way to kingdom come.


What is a Certificate of Occupancy?

When you’re buying a home, of course, you want to know that it’s safe. When you buy a property, you need to follow some requirements, one of which may be getting a certificate of occupancy. A certificate of occupancy is also called a CO. The general idea behind the CO is that it verifies a property is suitable to live in.

Beyond that, the following are more details to know about a certificate of occupancy.

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The Basics

The certificate of occupancy is a document that shows a structure, like a house or office, is safe for inhabitation. A CO includes what the property is legally classified as in terms of zoning. For example, the CO will indicate whether the property is for residential, commercial, retail, industrial or mixed-use. That means that the property is being used as it’s meant to be. For example, residential property should be used as a primary residence.

A CO verifies a property is up to code and in compliance.

The third thing a CO does is show that a property is suitable for occupation based on the standards in the municipality where it’s located.

A CO will include, along with verification that a property is up to code, the property address, a legal description including square footage, the zoning code, the owner, and any additional notes that might be relevant to the property’s safety.

When Do You Need a CO?

Local rules and specific situations determine if you need a certificate of occupancy to sell a house.

If you have a converted space, you’ll need one. Basically, what this could mean is that if you were selling a multi-family home but converting it into a single-family home before doing so, the certificate needs to show the code change. If you’re converting a business into a residential space, again, you’ll need a CO showing the change.

If you’ve made a lot of renovations, you’ll need a CO to sell it.

If you’ve done any type of remodeling, it’s best to verify whether you need a CO or not before you try to sell a home.

If you didn’t have a CO before, but you need one to sell the home, then you might have to make changes to get it up to code.

If you built a new house to sell, you’d need a CO as part of the sale.

When your home was built, there was probably a CO issued. As long as you haven’t made any major renovations or the building code hasn’t changed, then you should be able to use that one.

How Do You Get One?

If you do need a CO, then you can contact your local zoning or building department. There should be a website in the city or town where you live to indicate who to contact.

If you have an existing home, you can apply for a CO at your local building department. Sometimes you might need to show architectural plans to apply if there were extensive renovations or the home was just built.

Finally, if you do need a CO, someone has to come from the local government and inspect the home. It’s not the same as a home inspection that occurs when you’re doing a real estate transaction.

During a CO inspection, the professional will come and compare the building to the current code and make sure there are no violations. They’ll look at general building components, plumbing, electrical, fire safety, and more minor elements.

Then, at the end of the inspection, you get a report.

If you passed the inspection you can claim your CO and go forward with the home's sale. If you don’t pass, then you’ll receive a list of what needs to be fixed within a particular window of time. Once you make the repairs, you’ll have another inspection before you can move forward.

If you need a CO and you don’t get one, your transaction might not go through because a lender will not want to provide financing for a home that isn’t safe. You might also be fined by your municipality or sued.

As a final note, in some municipalities, you need a new certificate of occupancy each time you sell a property or when a new tenant moves in if it’s a rental. If you aren’t sure about anything, check with your local building or zoning authority.


Septic or Sewer: What's the Difference?

Septic systems or sewer systems: what's better? What's the difference? Homeowners flush their toilets, run their sinks and take showers without putting a second thought into the sewer systems that allow for this luxury.

All of these functions rely on one of two things:

1. Sewer system

2. Septic system

Sewer systems are different than a septic system because one relies on the local government, while the other relies on the homeowner.

Why Many Homeowners Rely on Sewer Systems

A sewer system requires no maintenance, but you'll need to pay monthly fees for using the system. Local governments allow the homeowner to hook up the local sewer system, which will ensure all of your waste is gone forever.

You'll pay monthly, but you never have to worry about septic system costs and repairs.

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Sewers can become clogged and they may backup over-time. This happens when neighbors and others in the community are flushing wet wipes or pouring grease down their drains. When major blockages occur, everyone is impacted.

You may not pay for the unclogging upfront, but your fees may rise to cover the expenditures.

Why Homeowners are Moving Back to Septic Systems

A septic system is your own system, and this is a tank system that's often able to hold 1,000 gallons of water. The three-layer system connects to the home, and the system is placed in the ground on the home's property.

Often seen as an eco-friendly option, you won't pay monthly fees to use your septic system.

Clogging of the system is also your fault. If the system becomes clogged, this is due to your actions: i.e. you're flushing items that cannot breakdown in the system.

Septic systems can be costly to install, and all of the maintenance and repair fees must be paid by the homeowner.

But "sewer betterment" fees are often imposed on homeowners, with some fees being in the $10,000+ range. This may include fees for installation and repairs. When these fees are considered, this is often higher than the cost to install a septic system on the land.

Septic systems do need to be pumped, and this can cost $200 - $300 every 3 – 5 years.

Concrete tanks can last 40 years with proper maintenance, while steel tanks have a lifespan of 15 – 20 years.

"Septic systems should be inspected and pumped a minimum of once every three to four years. You may not be experiencing any problems now, but a full septic tank may allow unwanted solids to flow into the drain field, which is the part of the system that consists of a distribution box and a series of connected pipe," explains Apollo Drain.

Septic systems also offer the benefit of being able to build a home in a remote area, which may not have a sewer system connection close by. But when sewer systems are close to the home, they're often chosen because they can handle large amounts of waste at a time. During storm periods where heavy rains occur, sewer systems are able to handle the water with much greater ease than a septic system.



Mortgage Rates
Averages as of March 2024:

30 yr. fixed: 6.9%
15 yr. fixed: 6.29%
5/1 yr. adj: 6.03%

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Dennis Toomey
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