A reader writes: "What questions should I ask when calling about an apartment?"

Share story

Q: What questions should I ask when calling about an apartment?

A: With skyrocketing competition, a lot of prospective tenants are nervous and don’t know what to say when calling about a place. Before you dial the number, be sure to read the advertisement carefully and have it in front of you for reference.

Pick a time to call when it’s quiet and you can concentrate without interruption. Turn off the radio and be prepared to ignore the call waiting or other phone lines chirping in the background.

Of course, call at an appropriate time — between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on business days — unless specified in the advertisement.

With pen and paper at your side, call the advertised phone number. No answer? Should you leave a message? It depends on the situation. If the phone number is clearly a manager or landlord’s contact, leaving a message may be convenient.

In an effort to avoid phone tag, be sure to slowly and clearly leave your name, address you are calling about, your area code and phone number, best time you can be reached and the phone number again. If you haven’t heard back all day or overnight, try again.

Lucky enough to get the landlord on the line? “Hi, I’m calling about the two-bedroom, two-bath rental on Maple Street,” is a good way to start. “Is it still available?” Some owners have more than one vacancy, and droning on about the details of the wrong unit wastes everyone’s time.

Verify the rental amount and ask when the unit is available for move-in. Is the unit an upper or lower location? Which floor?

If you have any obvious questions from the ad, be upfront and polite. Ask, “What appliances are included? Is there a laundry room on the premises? Does the unit include parking with the rent? One space or two — covered or open? Are pets allowed?”

Questions should be realistic and not a matter of personal opinion. For example, asking if the place is quiet and in good shape is not always useful. After all, who is going to say the rental is noisy and needs painting? Decide that for yourself at the showing.

If the place sounds reasonable for your needs and within your price range, then simply ask, “When is the place available for showing?” When setting the meeting, give a definite time and ask exactly where to meet. Front porch? Driveway? Unit itself? Ask what color the building is or any distinguishing characteristics to help find the way. If the location is unfamiliar, ask for the closest cross streets or major intersections. Getting lost and showing up late is not a great way to make a first impression.

Q: What should I do if I really like the place and want to rent it?

A: Before you start walking into rentals, consider putting together a packet: Include a recent copy of your credit report; letter of recommendation from previous landlords, employer or staff; and proof of employment or student status.

Some people bring a pay stub or W-2 form to prove income. Students should include proof of registration or enrolled-student status. Of course a form of picture identification is a must, just in case they think you’ve stolen an ideal candidate’s identity.

Snagging a place is more challenging than a blind date.

After all, you’re presenting yourself in hopes of being in a lasting and harmonious relationship.

Start by dressing decently, since looking presentable couldn’t hurt first impressions. Don’t bombard the tour guide with questions when you first walk in; instead, pay attention to the details, including promises made. Promises made may be promises forgotten later.

Common-sense questions such as “How many other tenants occupy the building?” or “Where is the parking allocated?” are good. Expect to need to be flexible regarding the move-in date. “Available now” means the place is sitting vacant and collecting dust instead of rent. Naturally, landlords favor the renter willing to take the unit as soon as possible.

Asking what will be replaced and/or cleaned is fair game. If there’s a feature such as window coverings or appliances, inquire if they remain with the unit.

If you really like the place, be upfront and tell the landlord as soon as possible. Offer to put a deposit on the place to secure it until your credit and application is approved.