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New year, new lease: expert advice to make the move manageable 

Four tips for your fresh start

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Let old, lackluster landlords be forgot. The new year often means a fresh start on any number of life changes, including trading up for a new home or apartment. But in the post-holiday haze, moving may seem daunting — and some tasks are liable to fall by the wayside in the inevitable chaos (especially as Mardi Gras gets closer). But, unlike your other wishes for the new year (win the lottery, get discovered at karaoke night), luck's got little to do with it. Make sure you're setting yourself up for a great 2018 when finding a new place to call home.

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A recon mission

You've toured a property and fallen in love with it — but don't go looking to sign the dotted line just yet. A bad landlord can make even your dream home a nightmare, so do a little extra legwork. Many property owners live in other states, so it's important to determine the contact for day-to-day issues.

 "If the owner is from out of town, find out who manages the property," says Michelle LaBanca, real estate agent at French Quarter Realty. "Who do you contact for issues? How responsive are they usually?"

 For an answer to that last question, speak to a neighbor to get the inside scoop. "Feel free to say hi to the neighbors and ask them how they like living in the area," says real estate agent Steve Richards of Steve Richards Properties. Neighborhood Facebook groups and local postings on Reddit also are great places to get a sense of how a landlord interacts with tenants.

The lease

If you don't find any red flags, you're ready to proceed to the next step: the lease. If no paper lease materializes, that could be another signal that something's amiss. LaBanca says the lessee and the landlord both should sign and keep a copy of the document.

 Be sure to ask about the terms for when your lease is up. Some leases automatically renew at the end of the lease, while some become month to month. It's important to know how much notice you need to give before vacating. "It's not always 30 days," LaBanca cautions.

 Above all, remember to communicate — and expect your landlord to do the same. "Communication is key," LaBanca says. Richards agrees.

 "We always suggest you call the landlord as soon as you sign the lease to open the line of communication," he says. "Remember, you're starting a new relationship — being open-minded and just chatting can break the ice and make your stay an enjoyable one."

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Proceed with caution ...

If you're considering subleasing your place while you take an extended vacation, consult your landlord first. "Most, if not all, leases have a 'no subleasing' clause," Richards says. "That means no profiting off the property."

 If your lease does allow it, "get your landlord's permission to host a short-term rental in writing," LaBanca says. "You may want to make this a part of your lease terms." It's a good idea to thoroughly screen any prospective tenant, and to keep an open, honest channel of communication with your neighbors — otherwise you'll be the one they're talking about on those Facebook groups.

 "Discuss the rental with your neighbors and determine the type of landlord you plan to be," LaBanca says. "No one wants to live next to a loud party house."

Break out the bubble wrap

Even after signing a lease and starting to pack, there are a few more tasks to tackle before the moving truck arrives. While the property is empty, inspect it from top to bottom.

 "Make notes of the property condition before moving in," LaBanca says. "If there are delayed maintenance issues, such as peeling paint, cracks in the walls, stains on the ceiling (or) water stains under sinks, note these items and discuss them with the owner or Realtor beforehand."

 Walk through with a notepad and take photos of any concerns. That timestamped photo also will come in handy when you move out; if there are any discrepancies about who caused what damage, dated photos can help you get back your security deposit.

 After any necessary repairs are made, pivot to cleaning. Landlords should ensure that the property is clean and ready for your arrival, but everyone's definition of "clean" is different. You could find yourself at the mercy of how the last tenant left the space.

 "If you can afford to do so, hire a professional cleaner to thoroughly clean the space — baseboards, ceiling fans, oven, refrigerator, et cetera," LaBanca says. "The fee for cleaning an empty space is a lot more affordable than you'd think."

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Calm the chaos with these checklists

Before you sign

Clarify duration of lease and end-of-lease terms.

Clarify pet policy and provide photos and vet records.

Clarify sublease policy.

Research landlord.

Meet the neighbors.

Determine flood zone and get an insurance quote.

Confirm which utilities are paid by landlord.

Confirm which appliances are provided.

Before you move in

Complete walk-through and note and photograph damages.

Request repairs.

Hire a cleaning service or do a deep clean.

Test smoke detectors.

Change utilities into your name.

Change mailing address on bills, credit cards, etc.

Set up mail forwarding with the post office.


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