Monday, January 18, 2010

Sticker Price

Sticker Price

Don't really feel like running a bunch of numbers today, so I thought I'd mix it up and write something of a guide to comparing rentals. Not because I'm an expert by any means, but I have made some errors and learned some lessons over the years... and thus, probably would have found this at least a little helpful. Obvious much of picking a place to live boils down to individual taste/preference, but we're going to focus on the more quantitative elements... and that you often need to look deeper than just the monthly rent.

When comparing rentals from a monetary perspective once you know the monthly charge, the first thing you need to look at are utilities (power, water and gas/heat). Some units will include all three in your rent... others will include none... and yet others, any combination in between. So this can make a big difference beyond just looking at the sticker price.

These can be difficult to account for if you've never had to cover them before. I know in my case while in university both the apartments I had included water and gas, so when I was looking for my last place I really didn't know how much to budget those for as it included none. But over the last couple years I have tracked my payments, and while they obviously fluctuate to varying degrees depending on the season, I found that a good rule of thumb for an average apartment is about $50 a month each.

So if you were comparing two otherwise equal apartments, one including all utilities for $1,000 a month, against one not including any utilities buy renting for $900... you'd probably end up about $50 a month better off renting the $1,000/month unit, as after utilities you'd be paying about $1,050/month on the other unit.

This is as stated talking about apartments, mine being about 1,000 sqft it's a fairly average two-bedroom size. If one was renting a house though, gas would certainly be more expensive, and increasingly so the larger the place is. Power would also cost you a bit more, and water is really more dependent on how many are living there so it wouldn't really change. If you're renting an entire house though, I doubt there would be many the did include utilities anyway.

I've never rented a basement suite, but looking at the ads online it seems many of them offer a deal where utilities are split along some lines with those living upstairs. As service charges make up a significant portion of monthly utilities, these should save you some money over paying them yourself. Like I said, I don't know from experience, but as a guesstimation I'd say your monthly costs will be about $25-30 per utility.

Some buildings also include items like cable/satellite television and internet access with rents. These you know of have to factor for yourself, as if you don't watch much tv, that obviously wouldn't be worth anything to you. For someone like me though who would take advantage of both tv and internet, that could represent a value added of $100 or so. In some cases you'd have to make sure the packages were to your liking though... just in my case I have a Shaw PVR, which when not connected to Shaw doesn't do a damn thing. And as anyone who has used a PVR can attest, once you start watching tv that way, you cannot go back to the old way. So, you need to find out those things and budget in cost of new equipment, and even that you're losing a degree of control over those elements.

Then of course there are the other tangibles like location, parking, laundry facilities. Those a little harder to quantify, and higher dependent on personal valuations... but they are considerations you should try to account for when making your decision. In my case, when I was younger I lived in a couple places with common laundry rooms, and while they served their purpose I much prefer to have it in-suite.

And finally, with the market being pretty soft we're starting to see significant incentives offered. Just in my complex they've offered all sorts of things, Oilers tickets, televisions, first month free, and now they're just flat out offering $200 off per month (if you don't know why they don't just drop the price, go take a marketing class).

I don't know if I'd call it a strategy, but I can't think of anything better to call it, so here it is. First, figure out what you want in way of size, location and amenities, and find your target properties that share those. Then you compare costs, and remember base cost is only part of the story. You need to know what's included, what's not, and what incentives are offered for each, and allocate costs accordingly.

Once you've done that, you should have a very good idea of what costs come with each property and can make a sound decision based on total cost, rather than just the sticker price.