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Seven Questions to Ask Before You Sign the Lease

by John Adams

Every state has slightly different laws and customs regarding leases, so it’s important to know how these laws affect you. The best way to do just that is to read your lease carefully.

Your lease isn’t just a piece of paper – it’s a legally binding contract. That’s why the right time to get essential information from your landlord and negotiate details isn’t while the ink is drying – it’s before you sign your name on the dotted line.
1. How long is the lease & what happens at the end?

A lease is most often for one year, sometimes 6 months. It’s important to know the length of your term because you’re locked into that time frame once you sign a lease.

You should also find out what the penalties are for breaking your lease in an emergency situation. For example, if you get married or you’re transferred, can you get out of the lease? Unless you get the landlord to include an early termination clause, you could end up losing your security deposit and still be on the hook for the rest of the rent.
2. What about utilities – are they included?

The types of utilities paid by landlords vary considerably, so it’s best to know about them ahead of time. That means finding out what you’re responsible for and what your landlord covers, like water and sewer, electricity, gas, internet, cable, trash pickup, and so on.

Many landlords are now including a “water & sanitation” surcharge to help cover increasing costs. These types of additional fees can add up, but if they are not mentioned in the lease, you don’t have to pay them.

3. Can I have a dog or cat?

If you have a pet (or plan to get one), ask your landlord about their pet policy now.

Landlords are appropriately worried about anything that could damage a unit, so some owners prohibit all pets. Other landlords may allow all pets, but ask for a separate pet deposit or “pet rent” (a monthly fee for having a pet), or accept pets up to a certain weight (or other stipulations).
4. When is rent due and how do i pay it?

In Georgia, there is no legal “grace period” for rent unless it is written in the lease.

This is in contrast to most mortgages, which include a 15 day grace period. In addition, rent is payable in advance, whereas interest is paid in arrears.

Whether your landlord lives next door or you mail a check to a property manager, it’s important to find out when and how your rent payment should be sent every month.

And even if you don’t think you’ll be late with rent, it’s smart to ask your landlord when a payment is considered late, and if there are any charges.

5. Exactly what must I do to get a full refund of my security deposit?

By law, all security deposits are refundable in theory. Your landlord can withhold part of your deposit for damages you caused beyond normal wear and tear or if you break the lease. Deductions can also be made against your deposit for unpaid rent or fees.

Georgia has very specific laws on security deposits, so make sure you understand this issue.

6. What is the procedure for maintenance & repairs?

The heart of Georgia Landlord-Tenant law is this:

“The tenant’s duty is to pay rent, and the landlord’s duty is to repair.”

That means your landlord must make reasonable attempts to make repairs in a timely manner. But what is “reasonable and timely” to one person may be stupid and slow to another.

For that reason, it is imperative that you know how to report issues and how soon to expect a response. Open communication here is critical.

Depending on your rental situation, your building might have on-site property management. But it is rare to find around the clock repairs. In any case, before you sign the lease, it’s good to know the procedure.
Also ask if renter’s insurance is required. Even if it’s not, I always recommend that you be covered. It’s cheap, and covers your personal possessions in case of fire or loss.
And finally
7. What are the rules for painting or improvements?

If you want to paint your bedroom walls or install curtain rods in the living room, you should check now on what kind of changes are OK and which are forbidden. Getting it all in writing can avoid potential major expenses at the end of your lease.

In most cases, you’re expected to leave your apartment in its original state when your lease is up. If you make unapproved cosmetic changes, a portion of your security deposit could be withheld in order for your landlord to restore the house or apartment.


You lease agreement governs most of the terms between you and your landlord, so it’s a very important document. Make sure you read it before you sign it, and ask all the questions you can think of before you sign on the dotted line.



AJC 2015 DEC 13 John Adams Real Estate Column

Check Your Credit Score & Seek Professional Help
by John Adams

Owning your own home has always been an important part of the American Dream. But if you’re new to the market and just getting started, the entire process can be overwhelming.  Breaking the process down into single steps can help us to better understand how to begin:

Step One: Review your credit
Go to and request free copies of each of your three credit reports from the national credit repositories: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.   This is the only official source of free credit reports available online.  In addition, you can review your three digit FICO credit score for free at This is a non­governmental, unofficial site that offers free credit scores online, that I personally use myself.
Your 3 digit credit score is critical in the process of being approved for a home loan.
If your score is above 700, you will do fine. If your score is below 600, you may encounter problem. In between, you may pay higher interest rates and fees.

By focusing on your credit report now, you can address and correct errors or omissions now instead of
later. Doing this now will make sure your loan application is as strong as it can be.

Step Two: Get pre­qualified with a lender
Find a reputable and local mortgage lender, such as your community bank or credit union, and ask to get pre­qualified for a 30 year fixed rate home loan at current rates.

At this point, you shouldn’t commit to any specific lender or loan program. This prequalification process should cost you absolutely nothing.
This mortgage lender will explain different loan programs with different terms and different down payment requirements, and help you find the program that may be best for you. Once you have been pre-­qualified, you will have a very specific idea of your price range and buying power.

Step Three: Find a Realtor
Interview at least three real estate professionals to determine if they are a good fit in helping you look for your first home. You will want an agent who has at least several years experience, is active in listing and selling homes in the area you seek, and is recommended by others you trust.
Begin by asking your lawyer, accountant, friends and others whom they might recommend. Select the agent who feels like the most comfortable fit.

Step Four: See a lot of houses
Ask your agent to begin showing you homes which meet your wants and needs on a weekly basis.  The average buyer sees 12 to 15 homes before purchasing.  My advice is that you see at least that many homes before you even make an offer.
Determine where do you want to be, then saturate yourself with homes for sale in that area. Only by  seeing a variety of homes can you be sure that you gained a full exposure to the marketplace in your
desired price range and location.

Step Five: Make an offer
One of the questions I am most often asked is this:
“What percent of the asking price should I offer at the beginning of contract negotiations?”  This question presumes that all available homes are priced at a certain percentage above actual market value. That is simply not the case.
In reality, some homes will be reasonably priced, and others may be set at an unrealistic asking price.
Realize that any home that is reasonably priced and in good condition will not sell at a significant discount. The residential real estate market is an efficient pricing engine.

When you find a home you think you would like to buy, ask your agent to perform a Competitive Market Analysis, also known as a CMA, detailing comparable homes nearby which have sold recently.  This report will give you insight into market trends and values in the neighborhood surrounding your target property.

These five steps are a good start on the road to home ownership. Additional helpful information can be found in the STEPS TO HOME OWNERSHIP brochure found on my website
available for free download.