STATEPOINT-- The number of U.S. renters has expanded significantly since the burst of the housing bubble, and renters now represent 34 percent of all households, according to government statistics. Meanwhile, rents climbed 3.2 percent last year.

Now that the rental market has gotten more crowded, the better prepared people are, the more likely they are to secure the property they desire. The real estate experts at Homes.com, along with partner ForRent.com, have created a comprehensive checklist for stress-free renting:

Preparation: For a smooth approval process, be prepared with a completed rental application, written references from a previous property owner or employer and an apartment hunting checklist to remember everything from fees to appliances.

Budget: No more than 25-to-30 percent of income should be spent on housing, say experts. Create a budget that considers extras like commute and lifestyle amenities. Confirm who bears responsibility for utilities and maintenance, as costs can vary by lease.

Amenities: Many amenities will be enticing, so be honest about what’s essential.  Compromise may result in finding a home in a better location. 

Location: Use free search features on real estate sites like Homes.com to easily search for rentals by zip code. People will ensure they don’t miss a dream home in a dream neighborhood.

Search outside the box: Extend a search to single-family homes and townhomes. There are deals to uncover, especially if people are splitting rent. Also, review for-sale listings. Some people may be willing to rent instead.

Walk-through: Do a walk-through of the entire space before signing any paperwork, ensuring all faucets and appliances work. Open cabinets and closets and be aware of issues that need to be taken care of prior to moving in.

Review the lease: Understand all lease terms before signing. Pay attention to details such as termination. Ask the leasing agent or property owner plenty of questions to make sure there is a solid understanding.

Renters insurance: Personal belongings aren’t necessarily covered by the property owner’s insurance policy. Renters insurance covers renters and their belongings in most instances of theft and damage, and protects them from anyone claiming to have been injured in a rental due to negligence. The average cost for renters insurance is about $12 per month to cover $30,000 worth of property.

Security deposits: Take pictures the day of the move in and the move out day. Document repairs and modifications made while living there. When a lease ends, insist on a final walk-through with the leasing staff or property owner. Know the terms of the lease.

For the best experience possible, be a savvy renter.

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