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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

It’s a fact of life: finding a perfect apartment for your family is nearly impossible. Compromises are inevitable – like settling for a smaller apartment in order to live in the best neighborhood. But when it comes to the functionality, comfort and safety of a new apartment, prospective families should decide what factors are non-negotiable.

Many families can identify with the stress of living in a bad rental situation, and more often than not, this is a product of insufficient research. You’re bound to find plenty of apartments that seem to fit your needs, but it can be hard to visualize day-to-day life before you settle in. A little detective work goes a long way toward answering those lingering questions.

Following are some tips for finding the right place to call home.

Read online reviews
living room with sofa, tv, lampLet social media and online review sites work for you. See what current and former renters have to say about the building or complex you’re considering. You may notice a trend – such as 20 former tenants complaining about poor maintenance – that could save you from moving into a nightmare rental.

Listen carefully
If you’re arranging a tour of rental properties, ask if you can visit apartments in the early evening, when people are typically home from work, or if you can visit on a weekend. An apartment may seem quiet during the day, when people aren’t around, but you could move in to find you can hear neighbors through the walls, or hear every footstep that occurs above you.

Many people prefer an apartment on the top floor, which eliminates the problem of noisy footsteps. And you may also ask the property manager if units are available that share only one wall with a neighbor.

Also, consider how outside noise might affect the enjoyment of your new apartment. For example, many Houston apartments have swimming pools – an excellent way to beat the heat, but potentially bothersome to noise-intolerant people who live nearby. If the complex has a playground, are units available that are far enough away you won’t hear children playing all day on the weekends?

Take a look around
How does the building look from the outside? Do you see peeling paint, broken screens and banged-up common entryway doors? Properties that are poorly maintained outside are often the same inside – even if the apartment you’re considering appears to be in good condition. Other warning signs include crumbling parking lots, overflowing dumpsters and overgrown landscaping – all indicators that management isn’t too concerned about maintenance.

Read the fine print
Some tenants simply don’t read the terms of their lease before they sign on the dotted line. As a result, they might not know what their rights are, or what the landlord’s obligations are. In some cases, property managers might even work unscrupulous clauses into the lease in hopes that tenants don’t spot them before signing. Review the terms of the lease, and ask questions if something seems unclear. If a landlord tells you about a condition of your rental agreement that you don’t see in the lease, ask for the lease to be revised to include that. When you understand your lease and make good observations during your inspection of the property, you’re more likely to find the best apartment – even if it’s not perfect.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to rent wisely.