It’s no secret that rents are high in many areas of the country. In recent years, high demand for rental properties — even among baby boomers — has driven up the costs.
However, that 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
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Look for apartments where you will deal directly with the owner or a manager. Those landlords generally place a high value on long-term, reliable renters. They are also less likely to raise rents quickly.
2. Know the neighborhood
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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 your desired 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.
3. Show them your ‘perfect tenant’ persona
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Leasing is a business transaction. You don’t need to 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. The landlord was willing to take a chance because the couple recently married and the wife was now in charge of finances.
4. Prepare to negotiate for savings
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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. 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 before you sign or renew a lease.
Check out: “13 Tips for Success in Any Negotiation.”
5. Weigh everything that is covered by your rent
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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, a pool, utilities and more.
6. Shop at off-peak times
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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 non-peak time.
7. Read the lease first, then sign
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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?
8. Ask about referral bonuses
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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
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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 — in other words, allow you to pay just for the weeks you are actually 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
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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. 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 .