6 steps to finding the perfect rental home

Homeownership rates have been falling for the past eight years, according to a report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. That means more people are renting, making it harder to find a rental home.

The secret is to plan ahead. Often renters wait until the last minute to look for another apartment. However, when renters are in a hurry they tend to take apartments they don’t really want.

Here are 6 tips for finding the best rental homes and apartments in your area.

1. Start your search early in the month

The best rentals, in terms of price, location and amenities, go earlier in the month, so don’t wait until midmonth to look for a new place to live. It’s best to start searching 60 days before you need to move, especially if you are looking for a rental property where the market is tight.

The second and third weekends of the month tend to be the busiest. If you start your search the first weekend of the month, there will be less competition and the best properties will still be available.

2. Begin online but don’t rely on it

About 90% of renters will start their apartment search on Craigslist or Zillow, Macon says. Looking online is a good way to start your search. You can get a sense of pricing and apartment amenities. However, if you’re moving to a new city, looking online won’t tell you enough about neighborhoods and the local amenities of each, such as public transportation or grocery stores.

3. Use a real estate agent

In most cases, real estate agents can help renters find properties free of charge. The key is to find an agent who specializes in rental properties, not home sales.

If you’re looking in areas where there is generally tight competition for rentals, you’ll need to talk with a number of real estate agents, because different agents have different relationships with different buildings. 

Make sure you are talking with an agent who has access to the apartment buildings in neighborhoods where you want to rent.

4. Don’t be fooled by scams

Be aware of online scams, particularly ads on Craigslist that require you to provide your credit card to pay a deposit fee to be shown the apartment. No one should require a deposit to show you an apartment.

Also, be careful if you are renting an apartment directly from a private person because you will be giving a total stranger your Social Security number and your bank account information, and they will likely run a credit check on you. It’s safer to work with a licensed and bonded real estate broker.

5. Offer to take a 2-year lease

If you’re in a competitive marketplace, one way to get a landlord’s attention is to offer to sign an 18 to 24-month lease. This is particularly helpful if a traditional 12-month lease would expire in November or December because it is often difficult to rent properties in those months.

6. Consider a smaller building

Generally, an apartment in a 300-unit managed building with a swimming pool, 24-hour front desk, computer lounge and weight room will cost significantly more than the same size apartment in a six- to eight-unit building. If you’re paying for amenities make sure you will use them.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Even in a tight market, you can boost your chances of finding the right rental home for you and your family if you’ll begin the process well in advance.