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Creating a Rental Wish List: Prioritizing Must-Haves

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One survey reported that 40% of American renters are stressed out when trying to find a new home to rent. Sifting through countless listings, balancing needs versus wants, and sticking to a budget can quickly turn an exciting search into a stressful ordeal. That’s when having a rental wish list becomes handy! 

A rental wish list helps you pinpoint what truly matters to you in a home and which amenities you may be able to do without. It can also help to streamline the search, save your sanity, and help keep your finances in check.

It’s not always easy to differentiate between wants and needs, especially when every feature and amenity promises to enhance your life. In this article, we’ll walk you through the practical steps to help you identify your housing must-haves, all while staying in line with your lifestyle and keeping it within budget.

Needs vs. Wants in a Rental

Needs are the must-haves that you shouldn’t compromise on, things like safety and security. These are also the essential elements that make your daily life functional and comfortable. This can include having enough bedrooms for everyone in the household or being within a reasonable distance from work or school.

Wants, on the other hand, are the nice-to-have extras that make life sweeter. The cherry on top, if you will. These are features you would love to have but can do without, things like a stylish modern kitchen, a private balcony with a nice view, or a state-of-the-art home security system. They’re cool perks, but not deal breakers.

Some needs are obvious, like a home without health hazards or pests. Others depend on individual circumstances and priorities. Air conditioning is necessary for survival in Arizona’s summer heat, while hurricane-proofing could be life-saving in Florida. Your preferences and lifestyle can also influence what’s important to you. For a remote worker, a dedicated home office space is a must-have, whereas someone who loves to entertain might prioritize a spacious kitchen and living area.

In the next section, we’ll guide you through making a rental wish list.

5 Steps to Creating a Rental Wish list

Here are some steps that you’ll want to take when creating a rental wish list:

1. Know Thyself

Consider performing a personal lifestyle assessment. Understanding your lifestyle is important when it comes to creating a rental wish list that matches your needs and preferences. Before diving into property listings, take a moment to reflect on the following.

  • Consider Your Daily Routines and Habits:  Consider the flow of your typical day. Are you an early riser who values quiet mornings? If so, you might prioritize a calm and serene neighborhood away from busy streets and nightlife. On the other hand, if you have a hectic work schedule that extends into the evenings, you may need a rental close to grocery stores, gyms, or even late-night cafes for those after-work meals or productivity bursts. Think about your work setup as well. Do you work from home? A dedicated office space could be essential. If your job requires you to commute, proximity to reliable public transportation or significant highways might be a top priority.

  • Set Preferences for Socializing vs. Solitude:  Your social habits also have a role in determining the right rental for you. Reflect on how often you entertain guests and the kind of space that facilitates your social activities. If you love hosting dinners and gatherings, an open floor plan with a spacious living area or a kitchen with all the bells and whistles might be on your needs list. If you cherish solitude and downtime, look for a quiet, private space to unwind without interruptions. Features like soundproofing, a reading nook, or proximity to parks and nature trails for peaceful walks could be particularly appealing. Understanding these preferences helps ensure your living environment supports your mental and emotional well-being.

Read our tips on Creating a Relaxing "Renter-Friendly" Living Space for Good Mental Health.

2. Identify Your Non-Negotiables

Non-negotiables are the aspects of a property you can’t compromise on because of their massive impact on your daily life. Consider the following when making your wish list:

  • Proximity to Work/School:  One important consideration is how close your potential home is to your workplace or school. A short commute can save you time, reduce stress, and improve your overall quality of life. If you want to avoid the daily grind of long hours in traffic or on public transit, map out the distance and travel time during peak hours.

  • Access to Public Transportation:  Even if you have a car, convenient access to public transportation can be a game-changer. Properties near bus stops, train stations, or bike-sharing stations offer flexibility in your daily commute and can be a lifesaver when you’re having car troubles.

  • Security Features:  Feeling safe in your home is paramount. Look for properties with well-lit outdoor and common areas, as well as secure doors, locks, and windows.

  • Number of Bedrooms and Bathrooms:  A one-bedroom might be just right if you're living solo. However, an extra room becomes essential if you have a family or are planning to have a roommate (just make sure you get your landlord’s permission first). You should also consider the bathroom situation, in a household with multiple occupants, having at least two bathrooms can improve daily routines and reduce stress.

  • In-Unit or On-Site Laundry:  Having laundry facilities in your home or at least your building is an underestimated convenience, especially for large families. It saves you the hassle of hauling your laundry to a laundromat and waiting around for cycles to finish.

  • Heating and Air Conditioning:  Climate control is necessary in regions with extreme temperatures. A home with reliable heating and air conditioning systems helps maintain a pleasant living environment year-round.

  • Storage Space:  Whether it’s closets, cabinets, or an external storage unit, having enough space to store your belongings can impact your day-to-day organization and comfort. Consider properties with built-in storage solutions or the potential to add your own.  Read: Maximizing a Small Space - Making a Tiny Rental Unit Feel Like Home.

  • Parking:  Vehicle theft is rising across the United States, with more than one million cars stolen in 2023. If you own a car, secure and convenient parking is a need. To avoid daily parking hassles, look for properties with designated parking spots, garages, or easy street parking.

  • Internet and Cable Access:  A reliable internet connection is often necessary, especially if you work from home or are a student. If the property doesn’t have an existing connection, ask the landlord if it’s possible to get one and check into pricing to see how much it will cost. 

  • Pet Policies:  A pet-friendly policy is a must for pet parents. Other features you should consider, but are not deal-breakers, are a fenced yard, access to nearby parks, or pet-friendly flooring.

  • Accessibility Features:  For renters with mobility issues or disabilities, accessibility features such as ramps, elevators, wide doorways, and grab bars in the bathroom are essential for safety and ease of living.

3. Consider the Comforts and Conveniences

While the features below aren’t essential for meeting basic needs, they can enhance your daily life and make your rental property feel like a sanctuary where you can relax, recharge, and enjoy the comforts of home. Here are some examples of nice-to-have amenities.

  • Modern kitchen appliances

  • Private patio, deck, large backyard, or garden space

  • Walk-in closets

  • Hardwood floors

  • Fireplace

  • Smart home technology

  • Scenic views

  • Updated bathroom fixtures

  • Home office or study

  • Central air conditioning and heating (in areas without extreme temperatures)

  • Outdoor kitchen or BBQ area

  • Swimming pool or a hot tub

  • Proximity to parks or recreational areas

  • Built-in shelving or storage units

  • Security system

  • Energy-efficient appliances and windows

4. Look Into Lease Flexibility

Life is unpredictable, so it’s essential to consider the flexibility of your lease when making your rental wish list. That way, if life throws you a curveball, you’re not stuck in a long-term commitment. Some examples of flexibility can be short-term lease options, the potential for subletting options or even decorating agreements. Knowing what is and isn’t possible can help narrow down your options.

Don’t sign a lease before reading this: Things to Consider Before Signing a Lease

5. Set a Budget

Including a rental price cap in your wish list ensures you’re finding a place that fits comfortably within your financial means. Besides rent, extra costs like pet rent or parking fees can impact how much you’ll be spending. You’ll also need to budget for utilities such as electricity, gas, water, and trash removal.

Here are more in-depth tips on How to Create a Rental Budget as a tenant.

Rental Wish List Questionnaire

Ready to create your rental wish list? Use the questionnaire below to help you get clarity on must-haves and deal-breakers. The answers to these questions can give you some parameters that you can refer to when looking at rental listings.

Length of Rental Desired

How many months will you stay in the rental? Do you prefer a short-term, long-term, or month-to-month lease?

Current Living Situation

  • Consider your current living situation (type of rental, with roommates, number of rooms, and current amenities).

  • What do you like most about your current living situation?

  • What do you dislike about your current living situation?

  • What are the main reasons you’re looking for a new place to rent?

Location Preferences

  • What are your preferred neighborhoods or areas for renting? List any specific preferences or requirements.

  • Are there specific factors influencing your location preferences, such as proximity to work, school, family, and public transportation?

  • Would you consider areas outside your preferred locations if they meet your other criteria?

Needs and Non-Negotiables

  • How many bedrooms do you need? Specify if any are required for specific purposes, like a home office or guest room.

  • How many bathrooms do you need?

  • Do you require in-unit laundry facilities? If not, is access to on-site laundry acceptable?

  • How important is quiet to you? What noise levels can you tolerate?

  • Is a pet-friendly policy a necessity? If so, specify the type and size of pets.

  • Are there any accessibility requirements or considerations?

Wants and Desires

  • Are there any additional features or amenities you would like to have but are not essential? Refer to the list of nice-to-have features above, and feel free to add some of your own if needed.

  • Rank the importance of each desired feature or amenity on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being least important, 5 being most important).

Budget and Financial Considerations

  • What is your maximum rent budget per month? Include any additional fees or utilities not covered in the rent.

  • Are you willing to pay more for certain amenities or features?

  • Do you have any flexibility in your budget for the right property?

Future Plans and Flexibility

  • Are there any anticipated life changes or plans that may impact your rental needs (starting a family, changing jobs, pursuing further education)?

  • How important is flexibility in lease terms for potential changes in your circumstances?

Separating your needs from your wants helps you focus on properties that meet your essential criteria first. Once the needs are covered, you can always add those nice extras if they’re still within your budget. With a rental wish list in hand, you’ll find it easier to turn that vision of your ideal home into a reality. 

Searching for the perfect rental home? Check out Renters Warehouse’s available rental properties in your target neighborhood. And don’t forget to use your wish list criteria when filtering listings.

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