landed in the USA with a visa in-hand, ready to start your new life? Immigration can be
stressful, living abroad a real challenge. Here are some basics to help you get started on
the right path.Part Four: Finding a Home: Rent, Buy, Sublet or Find a
refers to a monthly fee that you pay a landlord to live in a home he owns. An apartment is
a small unit consisting of several rooms that is normally attached to other such units.
Sometimes it's a subsection of a house. Houses, cottages and town houses can also be
What does a rental include?
Most rentals come with kitchen and bathroom appliances, such as a stove, refrigerator,
bathtub and sinks. Some also come with laundry and dishwashing machines, air conditioners
and other specialties. You need to check out the details of each rental you look at.
What are the legal and financial details of renting?
Renting an apartment requires a fairly simple contract and a small outlay of cash, usually
first month and a payment equal to one month's rent, for "security." The
monthly payment is smaller, you will have to real estate taxes and the landlord is
responsible for maintenance and repairs. Most of the time, heat and water are included in
the rent payment. Sometimes other utilities, such as cable or electricity are also
Before you begin your search, be aware that the landlord (owner of the rental) may want a
credit history. If you are new to the US, and don't have a credit history, gather
references and letters of recommendation from your own country if you can, and be prepared
to give a larger security deposit. You may not need to, but it's good to be prepared for
Finding the apartment
There are three main ways to apartment hunt: local real estate/rental guides, online, or
the main newspaper's classified sections. Check local supermarkets and convenience stores
for publications. You can also visit the Born Abroad site on Apartments and Rental Living for a full spectrum of
tips and resources on finding a rental. Once you identify living places that you'll want
to see, call to schedule a time to do so.
Check the home, neighborhood and community, then act quickly
Do a thorough check on appliances, security,
neighborhood reputation, local services, community to make sure you will be safe and
comfortable living there. But try to do all that as quickly as possible because in many
areas, rentals go very quickly. Once you decide hat you like a place, you will need to
submit an application, often with a reasonable application fee, and--if approved--sign a
lease, which is a legally binding contract that promises you will live in the apartment
and pay the rent for a certain, fixed period of time. The lease also protects you and
ensures that you can stay in the home. If you get a rent stabilized or rent controlled
apartment (ask if it is), your rent is guaranteed to stay at a certain rate, or to
increase from lease to lease or year to year at a small, fair rate.
The advantages of buying a home include the investment and equity factor. If you later
sell the home, you can end up making a profit. In the meantime, equity--meaning real
estate collateral--can help you get good credit lines at low interest rates. You will get
a tax break on your mortgage payments, and on real estate and other homeowner taxes. The
mortgage is the monthly payment you make on the house. It can feel a lot like rent, except
that a house comes with additional payments, such as the taxes, and any maintenance needs
that come up. Don't underestimate maintenance needs. If a toilet springs a leak, or the
heating goes, you will need to fix it, and pay for the repair. Some brand new homes come
with warranties that guarantee most things will not break for a certain period of time. If
they do, the outfit who sold you the house will do the repairs free of charge.
Funding a home purchase
To buy a house, you generally need a substantial amount of money to put down. If you explore options
with agencies such as HUD, which helps low income families get a mortgage with low
interest, you can put down as little as 3 percent plus closing (administrative/sale) fees. Most
people pay at least 20% as a down payment though. You also generally need excellent credit
and a good job history to purchase a home. If you are lacking either, you may want to rent
for a while until you can build up a savings and good credit.
Inspecting your investment
Every community has a real estate guide, at least one real estate office and classified
listings for home sales in the area. You should inspect a home for sale even more
thoroughly than you would a rental. A home is an investment, either in your own future,
living there, or in terms of resale value later on. Do a lot of research on your local
market and home buying strategies before you buy.
Sometimes, a person who rents an apartment or home will move elsewhere, or go on an
extended trip, but still want to keep their lease. In the meantime, they may rent the
apartment or home to someone else (maybe you?) while they are not using it. This is often
a good arrangement because approval can be quicker and easier, and the term of the lease
may be shorter, or open-ended. Use all the guidelines for renting or buying when you check
for a sublet, and make sure the sublet is legally allowed before you move in.
Finding a roommate
Perhaps the least contractually obligated form of home hunting involves renting a room or
part of a home from someone who already lives there. If you are single, or even just a
couple, with little cash, credit or furniture, this may be just the thing for you. It
usually doesn't require credit checks, it's generally inexpensive, and often includes many
furnishings. It's one of the fastest ways to get into a home and start getting established
in your new community.