Question: “It’s only three months. Or six months. Or a year. How bad can it be?”
Answer: Truly, truly awful. You may need a temporary move because your career calls for a short-term assignment. You may be renting while you build your dream house. You may have relocated temporarily to help a close friend or family member.
Short-term moves can be more difficult – and can cost you more money – than a “permanent” move. Why?
First, many communities are designed for home buyers and vacationers.
When Geraldine Ferraro’s son was sentenced to a year’s probation on a drug charge, he was criticized for serving his sentence in a luxury apartment. His mother pointed out that there were simply no low-cost, short-term rental options in that wealthy community. I believe her.
Second, even when short-term options exist, they may be less desirable. College towns tend to offer short-term student housing and longer-term faculty housing. Short-term leases may be located in noisy student complexes or less desirable neighborhoods.
Sometimes you can lease from someone who is also going away. These situations can be ideal. However, you will be living among someone else’s treasured possessions.
Jennifer rented a house in the midwest while the owners spent a happy year in Italy. “They claimed that all their furniture was antique, even though it wasn’t. I had to tiptoe around their junk and they took all my deposit to remove the non-existent cat hair.”
You may be asked to give monthly rides to a needy relative, water the plants or take care of the pets. Inevitably, the rides will switch to weekly, the plants will die and the pets will take their cues from the stars of the movie, The Incredible Journey.
I’d like to tell you to get everything in writing and refuse special requests, but you probably won’t do it. I wouldn’t either.
What can you do?
First, if at all possible, take a house-hunting trip. Spend a minimum of two full days. It will be expensive, but the alternatives are worse.
Second, visit at least three rental options, if indeed three options exist. If a friend or leasing agent shows you around, do not make any commitment, even if the friend tells you that the park is your only other option. The next day, get a local paper and explore additional options, by yourself or with another agent.
Often you will find that the first friend or agent was terrific and you can’t do better on your own. Well, now you have built a relationship of trust and you’re no worse off. But be ready for downside surprises too.
Third, try to find a month-to-month rental. Do not sign a full year’s lease until you have absolutely ruled out other options.
Fourth, if you leave a security deposit, ask the landlord for references. Many landlords are honest, but others will realize you won’t buy a plane ticket to file a claim for a $500 deposit. Explore your options if you find yourself in a dispute: Small Claims Court, Real Estate Board, Consumer Affairs agencies. Often the threat of a report will encourage a recalcitrant landlord to start thinking good thoughts about good karma.
Never say, “It’s only…”
Regardless, I’ve learned not to say, “It’s only a year,” or, “It’s only six months.” Six months can seem like forever. Worse, you can lose large sums of money if you have to leave early or if you find your rental is not habitable. And you want to look back on your temporary move as a fun time and not a series of hassles.
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