Monday, August 1, 2016

Important Considerations When Renewing Your Lease

Lease Renewal: Important Considerations

Person Signing Rental ContractSummertime is on of the most popular seasons for moving, so many of you are likely facing lease renewals in the near future! Even if yours isn’t for a few months, read on for some things to consider before signing on for another year. In fact, your landlord will often send you the renewal lease two to three months before the end of your lease and you may have to decide if you want to stay 60 days before the end of your lease.

1. Are there any significant changes to the terms in my lease?

Lease renewals are your landlord’s opportunities to introduce new rules or change specifics in your contractual agreement, so make sure to read the full lease (start to finish!) and note anything that sounds different or unfamiliar. If you are content with the changes, feel free to move on. If not, bring them up with your landlord or leasing office so you can learn the rationale behind the changes. It’s unlikely that their changes will make your place un-livable for you, but make sure to pay close attention before extending your lease.

2. How long is the new lease?

Depending on where you live, leases can span from 6 months to a few years. If you’re secure in where you are, you may want to extend your lease past the traditional 1 year into 2 years. Typically, you end up saving money with a longer lease because a 2-year extension increase is less that having two 1-year increases. Talk this over with your landlord. If they propose a lease longer than what you’re comfortable with (i.e. they recommend a 2-year lease when you’re not sure if you’ll be moving in 1 year), meet with them to decide if you can compromise or not.

3. Can I afford the price increase?

Most apartments require an annual price increase, citing the market or various other reasons. (Unfortunately) this is standard, so don’t be surprised! Generally, the increase is a small percentage of what you pay each month. You should also know that depending on the rent regulations in your market, maximum rent increase may be limited by law. Whatever the increase, do some research to find out if it pushes your rent above the market for similar apartments. If the increase is higher than expected, take it up with your landlord. In some instances, they will be flexible with the increase, since it generally saves them money to keep you in your place versus finding a new tenant. Make sure that you don’t overstep your bounds during the conversation by remaining calm and logical. Be prepared to show any research that supports your point. If they can’t budge and you can’t afford the higher rent, it’s time to look for a new place.

4. Are there any opportunities to upgrade?

Lease renewal time also begs the question of upgrades to your apartment! If the complex is undergoing a renovation, ask your landlord what the price difference would be to move into an upgraded unit. If your place is feeling old and dingy, ask what they can offer to improve (landscaping, one-time cleaning service, upgraded fixtures, etc.). While this may not always pan out, it can’t hurt to ask.

5. How about extra amenities?

Likewise, lease renewal negotiation is perfect time to ask the landlord to throw in extra amenities. If the rental market is soft the landlord does not want to risk an empty apartment, so he might be willing to include in your lease gym, storage locker, garage or other amenity that normally costs extra.

6. Am I happy with the management’s track record?

Think back over your time in your apartment. Has management been responsive to your needs? Available to help? Consistently upholding their responsibilities (i.e. changing air filters, maintaining the grounds)? If you’re happy with their contribution, don’t worry about this one. However, if it’s been a negative experience, it’s not likely to change when you extend your lease. If management has been very bad, this is a good time to look elsewhere.

7.  Do I love where I live? 

Last but certainly not least, do you love it?! If it’s an easy “yes”, and you are comfortable with your answers to the other questions, stay put. If you don’t love it or are uncomfortable with price increases or management, it may be time to move on. If you decide to leave, read your lease and make sure you notify your landlord on time, in writing.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Questions To Ask When Budgeting For Your First Apartment

Ask Yourself These 6 Questions When You Are Budgeting for First Apartment Expenses

Modern young man with mobile phone in the street.The amount of rent is obviously the most important consideration in your first apartment search, but there are several other factors that can make or break your first apartment budget. Before you fall in love with an apartment, ask  yourself these six questions and factor your answers in when you are budgeting for apartment expenses. Knowing how much living in that apartment will cost you on a day-to-day basis will ensure you can live within your means and not get into trouble.
For each rental you look, answer these questions before you put in a deposit:
  1. How much is the rent?

    If the rent is high and uses too much of your budget, you may not be able to afford other things you need to pay like your student loan, a car payment, gas or groceries. Even if you love a certain apartment, you may have to find one you love a little less but is one you can afford. (Use this calculator to estimate what is the maximum rent you should pay on your salary.)
  1. How much will your utility bill be?

    You will not know exactly how much your utility bill will be since this bill changes from month to month, but you do need to have an estimate. Talk with the landlord and other tenants to see how much the utility bill averages for the area and check out the results of My First Apartment’s Utility Cost Surveys. (Our rule-of-thumb is to budget utilities at 20% of rent in most housing markets, and 10% in high rent cities, such as NYC and SF.)
  1. How far from work is the apartment?

    Stressed woman driverNot only will the distance from work determine how long your commute will be, but the distance will also factor into your travel costs. If you live 30 miles from work and drive your own vehicle, you will have to factor in the cost of gas and vehicle maintenance. If you live two miles from work, you may be able to walk or ride a bicycle to work and reduce your cost of gas and vehicle maintenance. And if you pick an area with good public transportation you won’t even need a car.
  1. How far from town is the apartment?

    Before you choose an apartment, figure out how far it is from basic services, such as a grocery store, gas station, your doctor’s office, a hospital, etc. These are places you may need to get to quickly or frequently. If you live far from town, the distance will cost you time and money in gas.
  1. How far is the apartment from activities and places where you like to hang out?

    Friends looking at smart phone while sitting in cafeIf you go to a gym every day, hang out in a certain coffee bar, or if you walk your dog in the park often, you may want to find an apartment close to these activities. Like the distance from work and town, living far from activities you participate in a lot will cost you money every time you travel to and from your apartment.
  1. How far is the apartment from your friends’ places?

    If your apartment is far from all your friends’ places, nobody will want to come to your neighborhood and you’ll be the one always spending money traveling to meet them. (You’ll also likely incur high taxi/Uber costs after late nights out!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Leaving Town For A Long Period For The Holiday Checklist

Checklist When Leaving Your Apartment for a Longer Period

vacation checklistAre you leaving soon for an exchange program abroad? Or a long work assignment out of town?  Or maybe your dream trip bumming around the ski slopes in the West? Leaving your apartment for longer than a few days is always more work than you’d think and it requires some effort to carry it out.
I know whereof I speak: I write this from a cruise ship currently heading from Guatemala to Mexico, as part of a weeks-long excursion to South and Central America. I’ve been having a blast, but the lead-up, well, it was an ordeal. There was the trip planning itself, of course, although I enjoyed that part because it involved a certain amount of anticipatory daydreaming of life in the tropics.
More tedious—and also much easier for me to push aside and even to flat-out forget—were matters on the home front, all those things I needed to do to make sure I still had a functioning, standing apartment when I returned. So here’s the checklist I wish I’d had, the list of things to keep in mind to ensure you don’t return home to any unpleasantness after you’ve been away for an extended period.
Make a plan to pay your bills. This is especially important for your rent, but don’t forget utilities, car payments, student loans, or any of those checks that you have to write every thirty days. Most banks offer online bill pay, with the option of scheduling payments in advance. Set it up before you embark on your journey, so that you don’t have to worry about it while you’re away. Or, if that isn’t an option, write out a check and put it in an addressed, stamped envelope, and ask a trustworthy friend to mail it on a particular day well in advance of the due date. Send the your friend a nice postcard from your trip with gentle reminder—not that he or she actually needs it, of course.
Hold your mail. A mailbox literally overflowing with mail is a great way to show enterprising thieves that you’re not home, and also an excellent way to feel a general sense of disorganization and chaos upon your arrival. Avoid this fate by having the postal service hold your mail, which you can then pick up at your post office or have them deliver in one massive load when you return. It’s easy to set this up  by going to the Hold Mail Service page over at the US Postal Service web site. If you subscribe to the newspaper or have any other scheduled deliveries (e.g. medical supplies), be sure to contact customer service to find out your options for holding or forwarding.
Notify your landlord that you’ll be gone. It’s common courtesy to let your landlord know that you’ll be away. Even better, provide your cell phone number or a family member’s contact information, or some other way to reach you if needed. You never know when water pipes will freeze or something else will come up. And if there are any major repairs or painting that needs to be done, this would be a great time for the landlord to do so.
Remember to lock your doors and windows. Ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your unit and let you and your landlord know if anything is amiss. Also, don’t tempt thieves by leaving things like computers, jewelry, or other pricey objects in plain view from the outside, especially if you live in a unit on the ground floor or in a basement.
Put a light or two on a timer to help give the appearance that the apartment is still in use. It’s a small thing, but easy enough to do, and the added bit of security will also provide peace of mind when you’re on the road.
Remember your pets and plants. Obviously, you’ll need to do more for your cat than simply opening a huge bag of food and piling it on the floor. Make arrangements with a trusted friend or neighbor—and don’t forget to bring him or her a small token of gratitude from your travels. Likewise, if you have plants other than the cactus or plastic varieties, have someone stop by your apartment to water them as appropriate.
Set the thermostat back. Turn the air conditioner off, and your computer and your television, and all of those other appliances and gizmos that don’t need to be on. Even if you’re not using actively using them, they’re still drawing a small amount of power if they’re plugged in.
If you have time, tidy up your apartment and wash your sheets and towels so that you’ll come back to the most inviting, cozy, comfortable conditions.
Empty out the refrigerator and take out the garbage and recycling. Fact: You really—really, really—don’t want to come back to overwhelming food odors.
Finally, do make sure you do have some non-perishable food in the cupboards. When you get home after your long trip, the last thing you’ll want to do is head back out to the grocery store or the local take-out joint. At the very least, have some canned soup or some tortillas—something, anything, to fill your stomach before you shake off the dust of the road and head to bed for some well-deserved rest.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Exotic Fruits and Veggies You've Never Heard Of


There are more than 30 durian species in Southeast Asia alone, but only about one third of them are edible. Those who don't like the flavor of the durian fruit often say it smells like dirty gym socks. Yum!


Pitaya is found on several cactus species. In different countries it's known as dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit, and strawberry pear. 


Yangmei (sometimes called/spelled yamamomo, myrica rubra, kanji, katakana, Chinese bayberry, or Chinese strawberry) is native to Southeast Asia, mainly China. 


The bottle gourd grows in tropical areas all over the world and can actually be used as a real bottle, rather than eaten.


This guy is also known as monstereo, windowleaf, Mexican breadfruit, Swiss cheese plant, ceriman, fruit salad plant, or just monster fruit, due to its monster size (it can grow up to two feet in length!). It’s mostly native to Mexico and Panama.


Black Spanish or Black Spanish Round occur in both round and elongated forms, and are sometimes simply called the black radish or known by the French name Gros Noir d'Hiver.


The carambola, also known as starfruit, is native to Southeast Asia and is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and low in sugar, sodium and acid.


This fruit is another with tons of aliases: kiwano, horned melon, African horned cucumber, hedged gourd, jelly melon. It’s native to Africa, but also grows in California, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, as well. In California it’s widely known as Blowfish fruit. Although it’s edible, kiwano is mostly used as decoration food.


Buddha's hand fruit is very fragrant and is used predominantly by the Chinese and Japanese for perfuming rooms and personal items, such as clothing. According to WIKI, "The fruit may be given as a religious offering in Buddhist temples. According to tradition, Buddha prefers the 'fingers' of the fruit to be in a position where they resemble a closed rather than open hand, as closed hands symbolize to Buddha the act of prayer."

Monday, October 5, 2015

Top Pinterest Halloween Decorations for an Apartment

Getting Festive this Halloween?

Here are a few simple ideas to decorate your apartment for your Halloween party or just for the season!

  • Uncarved Pumpkins – You don’t have to make a mess carving to enjoy some spooky pumpkins. Try using stencils to create spooky patterns on your pumpkins or purchase some black paint and get to work turning your pumpkins into black cats.
  • Wreaths – A fun wreath on your front door is a great way to add a little Halloween. Try creating some black bats then attaching them to a basic wreath or use small styrofoam balls to create an eyeball wreath.
  • Haunted Terrarium – Terrariums are big in decorating and thanks to this they are easy to find. Visit your local craft store to purchase small items that can go inside your spooky terrarium. Think green moss, small ghosts and haunted cutouts.
  • Stuffed Jack o Lanterns – For a really quick project purchase some Jack o Lantern leaf collection bags from your local home improvement store. You can then use smaller plastic bags or newspaper to stuff the bags. These are perfect for a patio or small front porch.
  • Scary Spiders – Pipe cleaners, pom poms and googly eyes are all you need to create some fun spiders. Once you have glued all the pieces together, place the spiders over your toilet, on your front door and throughout your apartment.