How to find a rental in hot real estate markets

Moving is hard enough. But moving involves a new level of pain when trying to hunt down a rental in a competitive market.

I’ve looked for houses and apartments in both Seattle and Los Angeles, two tricky places for finding housing. In Los Angeles, apartments were snapped up almost as fast as they were listed. In Seattle, open houses during limited Saturday hours meant heavy foot traffic – and a mad dash to be first with a security deposit and rental application.

Here are tips to help secure a rental when competition is fierce:

Prep for applications.

credit report

As soon as your relocation is a go, run your credit report to fix errors or remedy negative credit. “Most landlords want to see applicants with credit scores of at least 700 or higher,” said Betty Granoff, president of Relocation Breakthroughs, a San Francisco-based relocation and rental home-finding company. “The higher the better.”

Ask for a recommendation.

Ask your current landlord for a letter of recommendation, and let them know someone may call.

“Landlords will check on you,” Granoff said. “They want to know if you were good tenants.” Bring a checkbook for on-the-spot security deposits and credit check fees.

Use an agent.

use an agent

An agent or broker can assist in finding rentals and securing appointments. Some agents work for free, while others charge a percentage.

Attempting to move from Seattle to Colorado, Shannon Armitage first tried visiting to see a few available rentals – no great picks. When a colleague recommended their real estate agent, Armitage made the call.

“She was absolutely right for us,” Armitage said. “She sent us some video she took on her phone, and we submitted our application from Seattle.”

The association for professionals who support domestic and international employee transfers –Worldwide ERC – can connect anyone with local relocation professionals to act as house-search agents.

Treat viewings like job interviews.

Dress in business casual attire, and offer your best handshake (and manners) while on a viewing. Often, a landlord’s impressions can make or break a deal.

“It’s been a landlord’s market in the Bay area since 2011,” Granoff said. “Landlords collect applications, then decide who they like the best. You have to charm the landlord into renting to you, because there’s so much demand.”

Write a letter.

write a letter

To get an edge in the rental market, you may need to open up a little.

“One thing that our agents have done to win the place over – when several folks are in line for a purchase or rental – is to write a personal letter introducing their family and detailing specifics on how they will enjoy their home,” said Karen Danner, the director of corporate services at Latter & Blum Realtors in New Orleans.

Consider timing.

Spring and summer are the busiest and competitive seasons for moving. In winter, fewer rentals come on the market, but fewer people are looking, too.

However, in some particularly hot markets, such as San Francisco, there is competition year-round, Granoff noted.

Rent short-term.

short-term housing

When John Stone and his partner Liam prepared to move to New York City, an early housing search didn’t turn up any winners. They found a short-term rental on craiglist, near his target neighborhood, and continued the search locally.

Stone says that while he can’t remember the exact cost, it was much less than a hotel. “Having that cushion was helpful,” he said. “The apartment we eventually found was being renovated, so we also couldn’t move in right away.”

Be flexible.

You may need to settle for a studio versus a one-bedroom, or for a less-than-ideal neighborhood, or a noisier street. Every rental comes with tradeoffs, and in a competitive market, you may need to be more flexible. Moving to your ideal city might be worth a bit of compromise.

 If you’re looking for storage while in transition, search for facilities near you. 
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