Secrets to Getting Your Deposit Back

Secrets to Getting Your Deposit Back

Hi! I'm Carmen, an experienced real estate agent and property manager dedicated to making real estate simple!

So, you’re buying a home for the first time. Congratulations! You’d probably like to find a way to maximize your cash on hand after forking over the down payment funds and closing fees, right? I get it. It can be a shock to even the most prepared among us to see that savings account balance drop. I mean you probably spent years squirreling away every spare penny to purchase a home. If you’re wondering how to start to rebuild that account balance quickly, getting your deposit back from your rental home can be a great start! 

First the not-so-great news: you cannot assume that you will receive back every deposit you paid at move-in. But there are some ways to ensure you get as much back as possible. The biggest source of information regarding all of these tips will be your actual lease or retail agreement, so have it handy as you read and let’s get going. 

Here are some keys to getting your deposit back:

Understand your deposits.

When you signed your rental agreement, you agreed to certain terms and conditions, and you handed over various fees and deposits. Some of these might be refundable and some might not be. Read through your lease to remind yourself what deposits you paid, and which of those payments are eligible for refund. Here are some common deposits you may have paid:

  • Damage deposit
  • Security deposit
  • Pet deposit 
  • Last month’s rent 

I cannot speak to the terms of your specific lease, but pet deposits, for instance, are generally nonrefundable; damage and security deposits, on the other hand, generally are--if specific conditions are met. Which leads me to my other tips…

Give proper notice.

Your lease should tell you the required minimum timeline and proper procedures you must follow when you move. Different jurisdictions have varying rules about the amount of time required to give notice, so I won’t speak to those here. 

However, if you are still under lease and you want to move early (commonly called “breaking a lease”) you will probably be responsible for paying for the remainder of that lease. You will need to discuss the specifics of your situation with your landlord.

If your lease is still active, you should make note of when it will expire. Also note if and how it renews or converts automatically to a month-to-month contract. If you are already in this month-to-month status, you will still need to adhere to the requirements for timely and proper notice, but you may have a little more flexibility in timing your move

The bottom line is that if you move out without proper notice or you break your lease, you risk not getting your deposits back. So know the terms of your lease and follow it to maximize your deposit refunds.

Honestly access the current condition.

A good rule of renting is to behave like a Girl Scout and “leave it better than you found it.” By better I mean leave the property cleaner and better maintained than you received it, with minimal to no new damage. Of course, normal wear and tear of a rental home is expected. For instance, foot traffic will wear down carpet, corners of cabinets and walls will get minor dings, and the shine and sheen of flooring will fade over time. 

However, if there is more than wear and tear, you will need to either repair it or pay for the repairs out of your deposit. For minor issues, you might be better off to take care of them yourself; however, you should look at your lease before embarking on any repairs--there may be restrictions on what, if any repairs, you are allowed to do on your own as a tenant.

One of the most important documents when you are a renter, second only to your actual lease, is your Move-in Walk Through form. Hopefully you have that, since it should itemize (and have pictures of) any damage that existed in the property when you moved in, and proves that you are not responsible for it. This includes appliances like the refrigerator and microwave. Use this document to make sure you are not putting time and energy into repairs that are not your problem. Knowledge is power! 

Clean it up.

If possible, try to build in a day or two at the end of your rental period before you hand over the keys to do a deep clean and complete yard clean up. Seriously, this elbow grease will pay off when it comes to getting back more of your deposit. Scrub or wipe every surface in the entire house, wipe down and/or degrease all appliances, wash hand prints and smudges from the walls, clean the windows and window tracks--I mean do a full-on, top-to-bottom cleaning. Making the place sparkle is one of the easiest ways (well, maybe not easy, but you know what I mean) and often overlooked tricks to getting your deposit back.

One note regarding cleaning: check your lease. There is likely some sort of stipulation regarding carpet cleaning. You may be required to pay for the service to be performed before you turn over the keys, or you may have paid a nonrefundable fee for the property manager to facilitate the move-out cleaning. Also look for mentions of requirements to clean the exterior windows, gutters, etc. Make sure you do everything required, or you can say goodbye to at least a portion of your deposit.

Show up for the move out inspection.

Not everyone does this, but you are entitled to attend. Request an appointment with your property manager to accompany them on the move-out inspection when you hand over your keys. That way if there are any questions about the condition of the property and whether or not you will be charged for specific issues, you can discuss those issues on the spot. But please be respectful. Most property managers are not there for a shake down, so to speak. They know that things happen, and if you are polite, have been a good tenant, and have done the other items on this list already, they may show some grace on the small stuff.

Bonus Pro Tip

Your refundable deposits will probably not be handed to you in exchange for the keys. The property manager or landlord has to do the move out inspection, compare the move-out to the move-in, and get bids for any needed repairs. That takes some time--and just like guidelines for giving notice, different cities, counties, or states have varying rules for how much time a landlord has to return money owed to you. And don’t forget to make sure to give them the best address for them to send the refund to you once it’s ready! 

Not all of us have security deposits to lean on but if you have a lease and paid deposits at move in, I’d encourage you to look closely at what steps you need to take to get your deposit.

If you are looking to go from renter status to home ownership status, check out my easy 6 easy steps to become a homeowner.

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All the best,

Love the Place You Live

My green-on-green house before we started updating it.

Love the Place You Live

My green-on-green house before we started updating it.

Do you love the place you live? I have learned to love my current house, one project at a time, but it wasn’t always this way. I've not shared my home ownership journey with many people, but lets just say it has not all been smooth sailing. My hope is that no matter what your current circumstances are that my story might help you learn to love the place you live, too.

Our First Home

Call me crazy, but I felt driven to own real estate instead of rent when I was in my early 20s. 

Sure, it could have been from the fact that I grew up in the back of a real estate school but honestly, I never really wanted to be an agent when I was growing up. I really just wanted to own real estate because I knew the financial benefits, and I am naturally a driven person. So when I was a 19-year-old newlywed, and found out we were expecting our first baby, things got real! 

We hunted for what felt like forever and finally settled on a great little condo in Milton, WA. We were officially homeowners!

Back to Renters

That 2-bedroom townhouse condo felt so right at the beginning. That is, until baby #2 and the 2008 recession surprised us. Our perfect 2-bedroom turned into a too-small, drowning investment. We moved into a slightly larger rental home. and rented out our condo for quite a while. We hoped that the market would turn and that we would be able to sell for at least what we owed.

But when the identical  property next to to ours sold for $180,000 less than we owed, we knew we were in too deep. We reluctantly let our condo go back to the bank. We were officially no longer homeowners...

As hard as it was to allow that to happen, the empowering truth settled into my heart during that difficult season of life was that IT’S NOT A SIN TO BE A RENTER! 

After a few years the internal chatter about owning v. renting finally silenced, and I was in a really peaceful place. We were in a perfect location for us. The rental house was big enough for our needs, but still small enough to clean quickly. The landlord handled the yard maintenance, and the rent was so reasonable we were able to start saving some money again.  

Buyer's Itch

Even with all of that chaos behind us, about two years into our lease Josh started to get the buyer’s itch, and started window shopping for a house. I, however, was not ready to go down that path again. I had seen and learned so much since our 2008 experiences, and I was content where we were.

For the first time in my life I was happy with where I was physically positioned in the world. I had learned to be okay with the uncertainty of renting. My two babies were growing by the day, and the Trace Adkins song “You're Gonna Miss This” was constantly playing in my head. I knew we were in a precious season of life, and I just did not want to do anything to upset it, including moving! 

One morning I got a text message from Josh with a picture of a green-on-green house down the street from our rental. Even though Josh couldn’t make it to the showing, he insisted that I go check it out with my mom.

I did NOT love this green-on-green house, nicknamed "Minty House," at first sight!

While we went through the house I gave him a call. I let him know that it needed a lot of work. Although it had four of our five needs and wants, I did not think this was the place for us. 

Let’s just say that I was less than thrilled, but according to Josh’s numbers he knew exactly what we were willing to pay. And because of my housing background I knew exactly what our family needed. We ended up buying the place, dubbed “Minty House,” and we have been working on it ever since. Some projects have been more enjoyable than others, but all in all I am learning how to love this place, too.

Minty house not so green anymore, with my children playing on the expanded front porch.
Minty house is no longer green!

Lessons Learned

Here are some of the limiting beliefs I’ve wrestled with over the years--and learned to turn into empowering truths--while both renting and settling into a house I didn’t think I wanted:

  • Limiting belief #1: I don't deserve to be successful.
  • Empowering truth: Success is in the eye of the beholder and I am grateful for the opportunities I have.

 

  • Limiting belief #2: I’m stuck in a rut and can’t get out.
  • Empowering truth: My current circumstances do not define me.

 

  • Limiting belief #3: I can't share my excitement because others will think I’m boastful.
  • Empowering truth: The people that care about me will rejoice alongside me.

 

  • Limiting belief #4: There are just not enough hours in the day.
  • Empowering truth: Being intentional with my time and resources will help me achieve my goals.

 

  • Limiting belief #5: We’ll never be in our dream home.
  • Empowering truth: There are areas of joy in our home, and I am going to replicate them.

 

Looking for some inspiration on where to start making your home uniquely yours? Learning to love the place I live, even with it’s imperfections, will be a lifelong journey for me, but I created this fun fill-in-the-blank to help us narrow down what brings us joy. I encourage you to give it a try!

 

All the best,

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