It’s no secret that rents are high in many areas of the country due in part to millennials’ affinity for renting combined with the impact of Great Recession foreclosures that sent some homeowners looking for leases. Boomers, for a variety of reasons, have also become more likely to rent.
The bottom line is that high demand for rentals has driven up the costs. Even so, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good deal, or at least avoid paying more than you should.
Consider these tips for tracking down an affordable rental:
1. Avoid the giant, corporate complexes
Instead, look for apartments where you will deal directly with the owner or a manager. Those landlords generally place more value on long-term, reliable renters than those who work at corporate complexes, reports The Fiscal Times. They are also less likely to raise rent quickly.
2. Know the neighborhood
Even in a seller’s market, landlords are anxious to rent their properties to qualified tenants as quickly as possible. Use that to your advantage by scouring the neighborhood and targeting the properties for rent. Consider looking for housing that’s a bit older, and you may have a solid shot at negotiating rent, reported Daily Finance.com.
3. Show them your ‘perfect tenant’ persona
It’s easy to forget that in many ways landlords are entrusting their valuable property to your care. That’s why they look for those with good credit scores, stable employment and solid past rental histories. Sure, it’s tempting to wear sweats and sneakers when apartment hunting, but remember — leasing is a business transaction. You needn’t dress as if you stepped out of a corporate boardroom, but having a clean, professional appearance is a good idea. Landlords also want you to look good on paper — meaning a good credit score, a stable job history and stable rental history. If one of these things is going to set off alarms, be prepared to address it. For instance, a landlord I know was willing to rent to a couple even though the husband had a marginal credit score, because they were recently married and the wife was now in charge of finances for herself and her (admittedly) disorganized spouse. They were prepared for questions and got the rental.
4. Prepare to negotiate for savings
Renters are often surprised at how easily they can reap significant savings by negotiating. Be prepared to ask for one month free, or for a lower monthly rate in exchange for a longer lease. Ask for a two-bedroom apartment for a one-bedroom price. Ask for free fitness membership or a break on utilities or parking. You might even ask if there’s some service you could perform – lawn mowing, snow shoveling or even general maintenance on your own unit – for a reduction in rent. The time to speak up is, of course, before you sign or renew a lease.
5. Weigh everything that is covered by your rent
Is it vital that you live in an apartment with the “right” address? Consider that at a slightly less prestigious location your rent might also cover the costs of parking, a doorman, on-site fitness facilities, utilities and more.
6. Shop at off-peak times
Landlords are especially anxious to rent between October and February. You’ll find more specials and choices when you shop for a rental at a nonpeak time, reports The Washington Post.
7. Read the lease first, then sign
Sure, that sounds like a no-brainer, but in the frenetic, time-consuming rush to rent an apartment many of us sign first and ask questions later. Check the lease, and read all fine print. Do you pay extra for utilities? Is water included? Are there parking restrictions? Can you sublet? And even if everything looks OK but you have misgivings, don’t sign, recommends The Fiscal Times.
8. Ask about referral bonuses
It’s sometimes difficult to find qualified renters for properties, which is why apartment managers often value referrals. Ask if the apartment complex has a referral program or if they would consider paying a “finder’s fee” if you refer a prospective tenant who becomes an actual resident. I’ve heard of referrals ranging from $50 to $250, depending on time of year, location and other variables.
9. Don’t forget about pro-rated rents
If you rent an apartment but don’t plan to move in on the first of the month, find out if the landlord will pro-rate your rent – just allow you to pay for the weeks you are there. Although some property managers of highly desirable units might insist on the full first month’s rent, many will likely be more than willing to discount.
10. Consider your gut reaction to the property
Rental notices can be misleading, and rental layouts can make a big difference. A 750-square-foot apartment that includes a long hallway might feel smaller than a 600-square-foot apartment with a more open layout. A cheaper apartment in a neighborhood where parking is scarce and tickets are commonplace might end up costing you more than a more expensive place where parking is plentiful, or included in the cost of renting. An awesome deal in a crime-infested area might not feel so awesome when you’re trying to catch a taxi late at night. Be realistic about your budget and your lifestyle.
What rental wisdom do you have to offer home hunters? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.