How to Land a Great Rental Home in a Competitive Market
If you are viewing a house or apartment in a popular, high-demand area, how can you make your application stand out, so that you get the home you want? These tips are intended for the rental market, but if you add "get pre-qualified for financing," they work for home buyers as well.
Plan and Prepare
Start by creating a list of features in your ideal home. For example, house or apt? Garage or parking space? How many bedrooms? Outdoor area? Fenced yard? School district? Commuting time? Home office space? Exercise area? Now which of these needs are deal breakers, and which are "nice to haves?" For my husband, for example, it's having a garage large enough to park his truck! When you know your priorities and must-haves, it will be much easier to pick out property listings to fit your criteria.
As you begin your search, gather up proof-of-income documents, so that when you start contacting potential landlords, you’ll be prepared to submit an application without delay. Proof of income can include an month or more of pay stubs, a tax return, an offer letter that includes salary and starting date (on company letterhead,) co-signer information, etc. Save these documents in a pdf format so you can email them easily, and print off a copy to include with your rental application.
To our company, landlord references and employer recommendations are just as important as your credit score, because they indicate dependability and how well you will take care of the house. It's important to provide two landlord references, if possible, plus current and past employers, complete with names, addresses and phone numbers. When I receive an incomplete application, it goes to the bottom of the pile, so do your research and pull the information together at the beginning of your search! Research
Since some neighborhoods may be split between school districts, be extra vigilant on this point if one certain school is a "must-have." If you don’t find many rentals with your must-haves, it may be time to re-think your list or your first-choice neighborhoods. Do you want a neighborhood with a pool or clubhouse? Then don't look at houses in communities without those features. If you are new to the area, spend some time researching the city and identify your top neighborhoods. Ask for recommendations from friends, family, and co-workers! Don't waste your time looking at houses in Marietta, if you work in Gainesville and don't want a long commute! Narrow your list to a couple of neighborhoods. Go online with Trulia.com, HotPads.com or Zillow.com, and start filtering available property listings according to your preferences.
Viewing Houses and Meeting Landlords
Schedule as many viewings as you can for one day to make the best use of your time, but don't overdo it. Plan to be on time, and call ahead if you can't make the appointment or if you're late. If someone stands me up for an appointment, they have blown any opportunity to lease anything from me - ever. Write down questions before you meet the landlord. Jot down features you like about the house, along with the address, and take a few pictures (with permission) so you can keep track of the properties you have viewed. Rank the houses as you view them. At the end of the day, your decision will be easier!
Next, be prepared to act if you see a house you like. The Atlanta market is extremely competitive - I usually lease a property within a day of putting it on the market. I don't think it has EVER taken more than three days to lease out one of my houses; in fact, the last property that went up for rent leased in the first hour of the Open House. I mention this because if you see a property you like, DON'T MESS AROUND! I promise you, if the house is in reasonable condition and the price is competitive, it will NOT be available next week. I had a waiting list of twenty people for the property I just mentioned, all hoping the first application would fall through. (It didn't.)
If you bring your kids along on your rental search, that's fine, but be sure they are supervised as you view the property! I am not anti-kid; I have several of my own. It's hard, however, to discuss business, answer questions and take notes while also keeping the kids under control.
I'll say it again. Leave parts of the rental application blank, and you go to the bottom of the list. Diligent landlords need that information to make good decisions. It is frustrating to meet a promising prospect, only to get an incomplete application. That's why your pre-planning is so important!
To make your application stand out, how about writing a letter about why you're moving? For example, if you have a terrific new job or need to be closer to your family, these are good reasons to move. Stress that you are responsible and will take care of the property. To make your application even more attractive, consider sweetening the deal for the landlord by signing a longer lease, being flexible on your lease's start date, or paying a little more in monthly rent or security deposit. Call to check on the status of your application if it's been more than a day, and reiterate that you love the house and can't wait to move in. In summary, take a tip from the Scouts and be prepared. Make the time to gather your personal information and research the area. Your efforts will pay off by impressing potential landlords with your organization and preparation, and it's all about doing what you need to do to get the house you want!