By Stefanie Jackson – Finding affordable housing isn’t easy whether one rents or buys a home, but the Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition made it a little easier by hosting an online housing conference Aug. 21.
Local real estate agents, lenders, and state and federal housing program associates shared their tips for success in acquiring a home.
LaDonna Cruse, a homeownership education specialist for Virginia Housing, formerly the Virginia Housing Development Authority, shared her 10 key steps to rent a home.
The first step is simply seeking to learn about renting before jumping headfirst into a lease agreement.
The second step is the same for both renters and homebuyers: make sure you are financially ready to live in your own home. That might mean creating a personal spending and savings plan and determining your income, expenses, debts, and how much you can afford to spend on a home.
Third, identify what you need and want in a home, such as the price, location, and number of bedrooms. Write two lists, one of what’s necessary and another of “what’s not absolutely necessary but it would be really nice to have,” Cruse said.
Fourth, keep in mind that there are many types of homes available to rent beyond the usual houses and apartments. Other options include duplexes and townhouses, mobile and manufactured homes, and single rooms such as those found in boarding houses, although all options may not be available in your area.
Fifth, know the fair housing laws. The Virginia Fair Housing Law protects against unfair discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, citizenship status, genetic information, or marital status.
(Mahalia “Mally” Dryden-Mason, of the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, noted the goal of the Virginia Fair Housing Law is to prevent discrimination against qualified individuals who want to rent or buy a home, not handle disputes with landlords.)
Sixth, be aware of scams. A landlord should allow the renter to see the property before money changes hands. Promising a large home for an unusually small price, asking for three months rent in advance, or only accepting cash are red flags to watch out for, Cruse said.
Seventh, read before you sign. It’s important to ask questions and make sure you understand all documents provided before you sign anything, including the rental application and lease agreement, Cruse said. Sometimes rental agreements read like a “legal brief” and it’s okay to ask a professional for help understanding them, she added.
Eighth, personally inspect the property. Take photos and record your observations in writing. Give your landlord a copy of your report and keep one for yourself. Having documentation of the home’s “pre-existing conditions” will maximize your chances of receiving your security deposit in full when you move out.
Ninth, consider purchasing renter’s insurance, because the landlord’s insurance on the home will not cover your personal property. “That’s one of those big, kind of misunderstandings within the industry,” Cruse noted. Renter’s insurance is usually affordable, and will cover loss of property like clothing, furniture, electronics, and appliances from an event such as a fire or flood.
Finally, follow the lease agreement. Renting a home comes with rights but also responsibilities. “Paying that rent on time, keeping the property in good condition, and adhering to the lease agreement (are) really just the three key factors to being successful as a renter,” Cruse said.
“Do this and your rental experience should be a pleasant one.”
For more information, read Virginia Housing’s free e-book, “How To Be a Successful Renter” at https://www.vhda.com/Renters/Pages/Renter-Education.aspx
Tips on homebuying from the Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition’s Aug. 21 housing conference will appear in an upcoming edition of the Eastern Shore Post.