How much rent is too much?

Everyone seems to have one on television. Magazines are filled with them. Now it's time to get one of your own. That beautiful, bright, stylish apartment you've always dreamed might be out there but wait till you see the rent.

New or renovated apartments and condominiums can offer all the luxurious amenities you might want in a home: a dishwasher, gas fireplace, panoramic view, secure monitored entranceways, new carpet or hardwood and even a concierge. If you are extremely lucky you may get a deal-the building may be desperate to find a tenant or may have some minor flaw that doesn't bother you. Typically, however, you will end up paying for these amenities. Every renter has to consider whether these luxuries merit perhaps an extra $200-300 above the cost of a modest but comfortable dwelling.

How much you want to spend on rent is a personal decision although it is good to consider some basic guidelines. We can all stretch our budgets somewhat by cutting down on extras like clothing or restaurant meals but people tend to fall back into habitual spending patterns. Financial planners usually suggest that people spend no more than 25% of their gross income on rent. If for example you earn $1600 per month you should spend a maximum of $400 on rent. If you earn $2400 per month you should spend no more than $600. (If you live in a large city you will probably already be at or above the 25% figure.)

Don't forget your monthly base of expenses. Telephone, transportation (car insurance and gasoline or fare for public transportation) and food are constants. You may also have to pay for cable, heat, hot water and electricity depending on the building you choose. It's a good idea to check with your local utilities for a list of previous heating and electric costs for the property. Many older buildings lack proper insulation and a quick background check can save you from exorbitant heating bills. Don't forget one of your most important basic expenses-savings. Be sure your budget allows for regular "payments" to your investments.

More hidden expenses

First-time movers are often shocked at the cost of moving. Small local moving companies typically start at $25/hour all the way to $75/hour for professional movers. Even a short cross-town move can cost $200. Long distance moving rates are usually calculated on distance and weight.

Damage deposits can be anywhere from $100 to an entire month's rent. Some apartments require separate deposits for roommates. In some jurisdictions, landlords are required to pay a minimum amount of annual interest on these funds.

If you own a pet you may be required to pay an additional security deposit. Amounts range from $50 to $300 per animal. Check the fine print on these deposits-they may be partially or completely non-refundable. Your building policy may state that the non-refundable portion covers cleaning and maintenance specifically related to pets. The first month at a new home can be the most expensive since it will include moving expenses and deposits. Ensure you have adequate cash flow to cover emergencies.

Consider these factors when making your final decision on your dream home:

  • Is it safe to walk alone in the neighbourhood?
  • Is it close to work? Is it close to public transportation?
  • Does it include secure parking or a parking space on the street?
  • Are stores, banks and other essentials nearby?

ometimes, regardless of your income, high rents can be a financial step backwards. At a certain level it makes more sense to purchase and build equity. Many factors need to be considered before you buy: interest rates, location, job security and mobility among others. Speak to a financial planner to discuss your personal situation or to real estate agent to determine the characteristics of your local market. Living in a modest home for now may help you eventually get your luxury dream home-with your name on the deed!