Housing Advice, Renting

The REAL Cost of Renting

If you’re renting for the first time, you should be aware of what utilities you will have to pay, along with your monthly rent payment.  While some apartments have utilities included in the cost, others only cover some of the utilities, and some don’t cover any.  If you’re looking at apartments with either of the latter options, you want to know what those utilities will be and what they will cost.

Heat:  The three most common options you will have for heating will either be gas, electric, or oil.  The major difference between these three is that gas and electric heat will be billed monthly, while oil heat, in some cases, will be billed when the oil tank needs to be filled.  This means that you will be billed only once or twice to fill the tank, however, this bill will be reasonably large as oil is expensive.

One common misconception about oil heat is that it is the most expensive option of the three (oil, gas, electric).  This is actually false; according to an article we read by the U.S. Department of Energy, electric heat will actually tend to be more expensive, despite its high efficiency.  However, natural gas comes out to be the cheapest, as it is roughly three times less than oil heat.

While you don’t get much of choice when it comes to choosing your apartment’s heating system, you should be aware that, in many cases, your landlord may request that you keep the heat at a minimum temperature.  This is generally meant to prevent the pipes from freezing, however, this should be factored into your heating budget.

Water and Sewer:  In most cases your landlord will cover the bill, and may even factor this into your rent.  However, if they don’t cover this expense, there are some things you need to know.  First off, your water and sewer bill will come together on one bill and your average monthly cost will depend on the area in which you reside.  For example, according to the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, the average one family customer used about 180 gallons per day in 2012 and was charged around $73.70 per month.  While this price will not be the same for most states, in an article we read by Brett Walton at Circle of Blue, in 2010, rain-scarce regions actually had the lowest residential water rates and the highest water use.

Secondly, you also have to be aware that your water bill will depend on a lot of things, including how you pay the bill (does your landlord split the bill, do you pay per apartment, etc.) and how many people live with you.  You may want to factor in at least $100 per month if you live alone and about $50 per month if you live with roommates.  This way you can budget for those months where your water use was high.

Trash:  This is another expense that, in most cases, your landlord will cover.  However, if they don’t and you’re on your own, your monthly trash collection bill will depend where you are living and how many roommates you have.  For example, your bill may be around $50 if you are living in an apartment building.  If you’re renting an entire house, it may be a little higher.  This a very specific question, as it varies greatly from one town to the next, so this a good question to ask any potential landlord.

Electricity:  In an article we read at AverageElectricBill.org, your bill will depend on your consumption and the rate charged by your provider in kilowatts per hour.  The quality of your appliances will play into the average cost, as well as how often you use each appliance.

Like many of your other utilities, your state and your provider will determine your average rate.  For example, the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs reported recently that the average bill for its residential customers was about $112 per month.   However, according to reports distributed by U.S. Energy Information Administration, average electric bills can range from $80 to $200 per month, depending on where you live.  This is why it’s good to ask your landlord what is the average monthly cost of electricity for your apartment.

Internet/Cable:  If you’re a student, cable may be a luxury but Internet is a necessity if you hope to do your schoolwork at home.  You’ll have to see first what your apartment is wired for, as some units are only wired for one particular service provider (Cox, Verizon, Comcast, etc.).  While each provider offers different packages, the basic packages will run from about $50 to $70 per month.  In some instances you may find that one person in the building has purchased an Internet package and is willing to share the connection with others for a lesser monthly payment.

You will also need to factor in other added costs associated with Internet and/or cable.  In an article we read by Amy Hoak at Marketwatch by the Wall Street Journal, she explains that you want to be sure to factor in costs associated with set up.  Many providers will actually tack on a cost to set up an Internet and/or cable service in your place.

In terms of paying utilities, the most important thing is to understand how they will be billed, explains Hoak.  You want to ask your landlord what utilities you will need to cover, and how the bill will be distributed.  You’ll also want to ask what the average prices will be per month so that you can get a better idea of how much money you should factor into your budget for those utilities.  You may even want to ask them what the highest price they’ve paid before so you can prepare.  The main thing is not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.  It’s better to ask a lot of questions now rather than not having trash pickup, having no water, no electricity, and getting to winter and not having heat.

Other articles we referenced:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=oil-versus-natural-gas-home-heating

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