LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: Looking for a rented place to live in can be quite a challenge, especially when there is only a limited number to choose from. Until moving to New Jersey recently to live as a first-time expat, I hadn’t rented a property in years. So it can be tricky remembering all the things to check out properly before signing a lease. Added to this, the fact that you are new to the country, will make it harder to know what potential problems to look for when viewing a property to rent. In New Jersey, rental leases on properties are often structured to be a minimum of 12 months duration. So it will pay to be sure you know what you are getting yourself into before signing anything.
Here are a few things to think about when looking at a renting a house in New Jersey:
1. Check out the neighborhood both in day and night time
Most people come to view a potential rental property during the day time. While the environment can look OK, at night time things can be very different. It is definitely worth checking the neighborhood out both in day and night. In daytime watch out for heavy traffic flows near the property in peak hours. At night time, check out how safe it feels. Some areas look fine in the day but at night, turn into a haven for unsavory characters. You can always ask the neighbors how safe the area is at night. Another question for them is to ask about the incidence of burglaries or problems. Also, you can ask if kids go trick and treating much in the neighborhood. If the answer is yes, then that is likely a very good sign that the neighborhood isn’t too disreputable..
I can still remember looking at rental places when we first arrived. You are already saturated with the strangeness of the whole relocation concept. When everything about the area is so foreign, it is very easy to miss those telltale signs that perhaps things around the neighborhood mightn’t be the same at night. Honestly, we were so busy looking at the houses themselves, we just didn’t think about that. After all, it’s hard to know what to expect when you’ve never really lived in this country before. Luckily we had temporary housing given to us up front, so choosing the rental property came after we got to know the area. We were so lucky.
2. Check out how many trees there are on the property
NJ has a beautiful fall season but when the trees lose their leaves, there is a lot of raking to be done. If you are too busy to do the raking, you can always get some gardening help in but you will probably need to pay for this yourself. During storms, these trees can present a serious hazard, depending on how old or securely tethered they are in the ground. Having just experienced Hurricane Sandy here in NJ, there are a number of properties that ended up with trees down, and obviously this can endanger people in the houses nearby. It’s an important factor to be aware of when looking at renting a house in New Jersey where trees are so common.
3. Ask about flooding in the basement
Nearly all houses in NJ have basements below the ground level. Some basements are very well renovated and used as part of the living space for family rooms, offices etc. Others are less finished but are still very useful for storage and often where the laundry is located. So you should definitely check these out as part of your house inspection. Regardless of how finished the basement is, these can be prone to mould through dampness and flooding in some cases. Check what the ventilation is like, and if a dehumidifier is provided by the landlord. Ask the landlord if flooding ever occurs and in this situation, what steps they will take to fix this problem.
You may be able to tell if flooding has occurred previously by water level marks on the walls in the basement. Other signs are if the basement has a strong damp/mouldy smell. A giveaway sign though is if the gas heater, washing machine or dryer are positioned high off the ground e.g. on blocks or bricks. Also check if you are in a flood-prone region which should be avoided wherever possible. While mild flooding can occur widely during a big storm, some areas are very flood-prone and suffer more serious problems, more frequently.
4. Ask about the average costs of utilities such as electricity & gas
Both winter and summer in NJ can have temperature extremes, so your utility bills may be higher than what you anticipate. Heating costs may be high e.g. if the house in question is large and has centralized heating that cannot be controlled by room. Also look at the air-conditioning installed. If it is a central–ducted version and you have a large house, you may also find the cost pretty high. Ask the landlord, realtor or neighbors what costs are like.
These are just a few things to think about which apply whether you are renting or purchasing a property. What other things can you suggest that may be useful to add to this list for assessing rental houses?