Home Hudson County Renters’ Guide to Apartment Hunting: How to Spot Red Flags

Renters’ Guide to Apartment Hunting: How to Spot Red Flags

by Cristina Lombardi
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Finding a new apartment can be an exciting new chapter. Whether you’re leaving the nest for the first time or moving in with a significant other, it’s all about finding a space that feels like the right fit. However, with so many options to choose from, apartment hunting can be daunting and more stressful than expected. Deals move very quickly in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Everyone has their preferences and non-negotiables for apartment living in Hoboken and Jersey City, and there are many items to carefully consider before moving — as well as many red flags to be cautious of when apartment hunting. Luckily, we chatted with a local broker to get the inside scoop on apartment hunting red flags to create a renters’ guide for house hunting in Hudson County. Keep reading for a list of tips + what to look out for on your apartment search.

apartment hunting red flags hudson county

Deceptive Advertising

Advertising can be deceptive, and there are definitely some scammers on the internet. They tend to use social media sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to pose as landlords and collect payments from unsuspecting renters. These scammers do not own the property and are simply third-party people who are known to copy and repost information about houses for rent that other people post. They are looking to take your money in any way possible, so proceed with caution if something seems odd — and especially if someone instantly asks for any kind of payment, like a deposit just to view a listing. If it feels off, it probably is.

Read More: The Beloved Point Pleasant Sinatra House is for Sale for $4.4M

Limited Selection of Photos

Photos are one of the most important parts of online apartment searching – and the first thing potential renters see before looking at the features and amenities.  If the space looks beautiful in photos, is staged perfectly, and the lighting is just right, it will likely make you want to see it – even if it’s over budget. However, there are a few things to be wary of when scrolling through imagery. First, if the photos sport an MLS watermark, proceed with caution. Scammers will illegally pull photos from the local multiple listing service, where properties are listed for sale by real estate professionals. When a photo appears with an MLS watermark, this typically indicates that the person who posted the rental doesn’t have the original photo because they are not actually associated with the property. In addition, be cautious if there are only one or two pictures of the place, with odd angles, or if the pictures seem blurry or highly edited. This leads to the possibility that the unit is in awful condition, it’s smaller than described, is dark with no natural sunlight, or has issues that the realtor would rather not talk to you about unless you directly ask. 

Listing Details are Vague and Contain Spelling Errors

Always read the listing details closely. If basic features and information about the apartment seem vague or don’t quite make sense, be cautious. It could be because the person who posted the property has never been there to accurately describe the space. Omitting details on utilities, square footage, property taxes, or the exact address is a major red flag. Always read the listing carefully, looking out for missing information, misspelled words, and confusing or vague terms.

Price is Way Below Market Value

There is a difference between a good deal and an unrealistic one. If the rental price is much lower than similar properties in the area, it’s most likely too good to be true. Become familiar with the going rates of apartments in the area by going to open houses and searching on reputable sites like Realtor.com or Zillow.com. Some prices may be lower or higher depending on the neighborhood, how close it is to mass transit, or if it’s in a flood zone. Also, sources show that ‘sometimes scammers will take existing apartment listings and post them elsewhere at a much cheaper price to collect a deposit from unsuspecting apartment hunters who are excited about scoring a deal.’

Minimal Background Check.

Reputable property management companies and landlords should always require credit and background checks to assess the level of risk involved in leasing to each prospective resident. No matter how trustworthy you may be or how eager you are to sign a lease, landlords should require some personal information from you before signing. If you find that you’re dealing with a person or company that doesn’t inquire about a background check, or brushes past the subject, be wary.

Cash Only Deals

If there’s a big push to pay in cash rather than a check, you should also be hesitant. For instance, if the landlord or property manager strongly insists on an all-cash transaction and doesn’t give you other payment options, this is another serious red flag. In addition, being asked to wire money before signing the lease is a big no.

Absent or Uncommunicative Landlords

Although this is rare, be cognizant if the landlord lives out of state and not nearby. If there are ever issues with your apartment, you will want a responsive landlord who will address any issue you have immediately. Their response time when you first reach out is a reflection of how they will respond to you in the future.  Whether it be to pay for rent or fix a door knob, a leaky ceiling, or any general maintenance, good landlords should be responsive to their tenants, no matter how busy they are. Overall, they should be eager to welcome their potential renters and pick up their calls.

Neglected Maintenance / Poor property Management

In addition to the individual unit you are interested in, it’s important to pay attention to the interior and exterior of the building. It should be well-maintained, and any lack of upkeep should be top of your priority list. If the building you’re walking into is dirty or feels unsafe, that most likely will not change while you inhabit the place. Also, always ask the landlord or property management about what the process is if there’s ever a plumbing or electrical problem – and if you are responsible to pay for your own maintenance.

Loud Neighborhood

Always take a walk around the neighborhood and take note of restaurants, bars and even fire stations on your block. The more restaurants and bars, although super convenient, will mean the area will likely be louder. Smells/odors from the restaurants’ kitchens may even seep into your apartment unit if you live above one. In addition, if you choose a place close to a college campus such as Stevens, it could be noisy late into the night.. 

Flood Zones

Be wary of flood zones. Especially in our area, which is prone to flooding, you should always inquire about the location and whether it’s in a flood zone or not. Southwest Hoboken and Jersey City sit at sea level and experience the most significant rainfall flooding. Journal Square has a handful of neighborhoods situated within the FEMA flood zone, and residents pay a good amount for flood insurance, so tenants should be prepared if there’s ever flooding and water damage to their belongings.  

A Rushed Tour

If you have a landlord rushing you through the tour, or only letting you see the apartment at certain times of the day, it could be that something about the apartment is deceiving. Maybe the neighborhood is noisy or not safe after dark, or transportation noises are bad during rush hour. In addition, never agree to mid-lease changes. If you’re asked to sign something that gives the owner or manager the ability to change anything at any time – don’t be surprised if your rent suddenly goes up for no reason.

HG Tip: Create a checklist for yourself to keep track of any current damage you see while touring the apartment – such as holes in the wall, stains, odors, or water damage. Oftentimes, you’ll be asked to do this upon moving in, and it’s important to be thorough. Otherwise, the landlord could later blame you for issues that were there before you moved in. In addition, always be sure to check the water pressure, make sure the windows are properly insulated, smoke + CO2 detectors are properly installed and fire extinguishers/fire escapes are hooked up in the building.  Also, always consult a real estate agent if you sense something is odd.   

Brokers Know Best: Advice from a Hoboken Real Estate Broker

Meet Stacey Kolmer, who not only grew up in Hoboken but has also been a real estate broker in Hudson County for over 25 years. She currently works as a Broker Associate at Triplemint and previously worked at Keller WIlliams Realty, Inc. in Hoboken. 

Hoboken Girl: What are some of the biggest red flags you look out for when showing apartments to potential renters?

Stacey Kolmer:  ‘I personally have a huge fear of bugs and mice, and while most landlords do take careful consideration of hiring a pest company on a monthly basis to exterminate and set traps to be proactive, that doesn’t mean that the building has those issues constantly. The way to find out if there is really an ongoing issue would be to check for traps under the sink, behind furniture, places where a pest company wouldn’t leave them. And of course, don’t be afraid to ask the current occupant what their experiences have been — they are the ones who would be totally honest since they have been there for at least a year and have no skin in the game.

HG: Any tips or pieces of advice for those apartment hunting?

SK: Since the rental market in Hoboken is on fire, don’t be alarmed by agents telling you that you have literally hours to make a decision and submit an application. This is for your own good, especially if you love an apartment. The agent is not trying to fool you with trickery to get you to commit to a place that has something wrong with it. It is simply to try to help you have the best chance of securing the apartment that you want – and probably many apartment hunters want, too. 

See More: A Guide to Luxury Apartment Rentals in Essex County 

Some Top Real Estate Agencies in Hoboken and Jersey City:

  • The Agency – 331 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • PRIME Real Estate Group – 98 Park Avenue, Hoboken + 351 Palisade Avenue, Jersey City
  • Coldwell Banker Realty – Hoboken Office – 323 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • Weichert Realtors – 1101 Hudson Street, Hoboken 
  • Boutique Realty LLC – 537 Garden Street, Hoboken 
  • Keller Williams City Life Realty – Hoboken 
  • Christies International Real Estate Group – 80 Hudson Street, Hoboken 
  • Liberty Realty – 1 Marine View Plaza, Hoboken 
  • Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International – 306 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • Century 21 Preferred Realty – 220 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • Elite Brokers LLC – 162 1st Street, Hoboken 
  • Howard Hanna Rand Realty Hoboken – 209 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • Midtown Realty – 992 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • Corporate Realty Inc. — 265 1st St, Hoboken, NJ
  • BCD Realty – 34 Newark Street, Hoboken 
  • Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Hudson River Properties – 626 Washington Street, Hoboken  
  • Remaxx on the Hudson – 423 Washington Street, Hoboken 
  • Minni Chalana EXP Realty LLC  1 River Ct Suite# 1803, Jersey City
  • Jcity Realty LLC —  155 2nd St, Jersey City
  • The Jersey City Realtor, Alexander Calle – 88 Morgan St, Jersey City 
  • Gregory Taylor & Kimberli Taylor Real Estate – 30 Montgomery Street Suite 420, Jersey City
  • Silver and Oak Realty – 201 Montgomery Street, Jersey City
  • Meng Wang Realtor – 273 Grove Street, Jersey City 
  • Del Forno Real Estate – 493 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City
  • Trompeter Real Estate – 355 Varick Street, Jersey City
  • Boutique Realty LLC – 215 Newark Avenue, Jersey City
  • Keller Williams City Life JC – 190 Christopher Columbus Drive, Jersey City

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