Here Are 9 Ways You Can Score a Great Apartment in a Hot Market

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

The blistering 2022 real estate market has extended to apartment shopping, and how to rent an apartment has now become a test of research and will. Oh, and also your credit score and employment history.

Renting an apartment with all of the comforts and amenities you want, at a price you can afford, has become challenging, especially in the nation’s most popular urban areas.

Yes, the usual markets of New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles remain pricey, but joining the high rent district for a dream apartment are the Tampa Bay area and Jacksonville in Florida, plus Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina and San Antonio, Texas. House prices are soaring there along with the cost of a month’s rent.

Here’s how to compete and get the apartment you want.

People — and Renters — Are on the Move

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More than a decade removed from the Great Recession, and two years into a historic life-altering pandemic, people are relocating at an astounding rate.

Some are downsizing, some are moving out. Some are relocating for a particular job, and others are relocating because they can live anywhere they want and maintain their job remotely. And the monthly rent payment is moving, too. Mostly up.

Homes are selling fast and at top prices. That trend is then reflected in the popularity of apartments as many younger people find themselves priced out of the market for a house.

The competition for apartments in hot urban areas is the strongest it has ever been, and potential renters are paying the price in higher rent payments, plus possibly bigger deposits. They are paying more for every square inch and they are being required to jump on properties as soon as they become available in just about every apartment complex with openings.

Renters are also being required to sell themselves to landlords and the property management company.

Here are tips on how to rent an apartment by gathering as much information as you can about your finances and your potential new apartment before you apply. To start, get those personal references ready along with contact information of previous landlords.

1. Know What You Can Afford for Monthly Rent

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While you may get to haggle over some amenities, you are not likely going to be able to negotiate your monthly rent. (Before the pandemic, what you paid for a rental unit could be negotiated, but that’s before the markets were so hot.)

Landlords and the property management company likely know they can get what they are asking from someone and that someone does not need to be you.

Therefore, it is necessary to know what you are willing to spend in terms of rent payments. There are myriad online tools that can help you decide what you can afford in terms of the month’s rent and utilities. Consider any new expenses that will come as a result of your move, as well as any potential savings (transportation being tops on the list in either case). But know your rent budget so that you can enter the process with confidence.

2. Have Money on Hand for a Security Deposit and More

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You should not be fully dependent on your salary to pay rent, plus security deposit, plus moving expenses. You want to have enough cash on hand for the first month’s rent and beyond, as well as a month or two in security deposit, without stretching your budget. You don’t want to get into an argument with the property manager over when rent is due or being able to offer the deposit immediately.

You have expenses to consider (moving costs, new furniture, etc.) and you want to be able to make the move without extending your credit. In layman’s terms, you need to have extra money to be attractive to landlords.

3. Clean Up Your Credit

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Landlords are going to check your credit history, and may go back as far as 10 years. They are looking for missed or late loan payments, credit card balances, and any other loans or financial obligations you have. They won’t so much look at the amounts as they will your consistency in paying your bills on time. Your credit score, specifically a low credit score, might come into play.

The three best-known credit-reporting services — Experian, Equifax and Transunion — will work with you to eliminate incorrect information on your credit report and may remove old past-due information from your account. This will make your credit history look more appealing when it is time for the landlord or rental agency to consider you.

4. Have Your References Ready

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In today’s apartment market, you are being interviewed for the position of tenant. As such, you are going to need to provide references. Your landlord is going to want to get references from you to determine what kind of tenant you are going to be. This can be a landlord from a previous apartment, or an employer if this is your first apartment. If you have a rental history that you are proud of, make sure to get references from your previous landlord for that time period. The management company may do both a background and credit check.

But this is a two-sided topic. You are going to want to know your landlord as well as possible. If you find a building or complex that you particularly like, there is nothing wrong with sitting outside on a bench near the building and asking current tenants if the landlord is responsive and fair.

5. Survey the Neighborhood

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So, you know what you want in the space where you will live, but do you know where you want that space to be? An apartment search is in order but so is a look at the neighborhood surrounding the complex.

Often, in urban settings, any location will serve your needs in getting to your office if you happen to be working in one. Public transportation can get you from Point A to Point B. Therefore, you want to do some shopping for a neighborhood that offers the amenities you seek. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there grocery shopping in the neighborhood?
  • Do you want a quiet neighborhood or an active one?
  • Do you require a park or other outside location for recreation?
  • Are you a walker or a biker?
  • Do you need a parking spot or maybe two? Depending on where you are, the parking spot could be an additional cost and the leasing office can help with this information.

You will likely need to have a couple of neighborhoods in mind to compare and contrast costs and apartment size against the amenities the neighborhoods offer.

6. Do Research Online

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In order to find the apartment you want and be able to respond to sudden availability, you need to use online search platforms that update frequently. Many of the factors you are using to determine which apartments you want to look at can be input into the search parameters on these sites so you can whittle down your list.

Sites better known for home sales, such as Trulia and Zillow, also offer information on available apartments. Apartments.com is specifically structured for people who are shopping around for the best apartment deal. Craigslist is an option as well, although it has little in the way of oversight or verification and ads on that site need to be considered with a large grain of salt.

7. Submit an Advance Application

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Unfortunately, the best apartments go quickly and there is a race between potential tenants to get their application in and approved ahead of others. One way to facilitate your hunting process for the ideal apartment is to apply in advance to an apartment complex manager or rental agency you are working with.

You are not applying for a specific apartment in this case; you are just allowing the agency to put your application through the credit check process in advance of finding the apartment in the ideal location. Then, when you find that perfect space, you will be preapproved, and you become a more likely choice for the landlord or agency to select.

8. Renting When You Have a Pet

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If you are bringing a pet with you, that will certainly limit the apartment complexes or buildings you can choose from. But you need to know that your pet is going to undergo a background check of sorts as well.

You need to ensure that your pet has all of its shots and treatments required to live in a building with others. Your veterinarian can tell you what shots rental agencies look for when they check pet medical records.

There will be details spelled out on the rental agreement.

9. Be Flexible

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Someone else already has your perfect apartment, so you need to be flexible in terms of your needs and wants if it is your first apartment or you have already rented multiple apartments. You should prioritize what you want, but know that you may be required to make some hard choices about those amenities farther down on your list.

Is the fact that there’s no wash and dryer in the unit a deal breaker? Then move on if the complex doesn’t offer that. However, if the apartment is in a great location and the communal laundry facilities are clean and well-lit, you might want to sign on the dotted line.

This is also true about neighborhoods. It is likely the top two neighborhoods on your list are going to be pricey, and you should consider a third or fourth neighborhood that is not exactly what you want, but will perhaps offer you a larger living space in return for fewer shopping or recreational opportunities. You can always walk, bike or take public transportation to those other neighborhoods when you need to.

The Final Assessment

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If you do this advance work, you will be able to snag that new apartment more easily than if you take your time to collect this information after you find the listing.

Remember, there are plenty of people like you who want an apartment in the city center and within walking distance of work or your favorite coffee joint. They will be ready and so should you.