First-time renters navigating a crowded rental market have the best chances of finding a suitable apartment within their budget when they prepare themselves for the journey ahead of time.
In 2018, renters became the majority population in 22 major U.S. cities, and Rentership growth outpaced home ownership in 97 of 100 large cities according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To first-time renters, the competition could not be fiercer.
Having no rental history does not preclude one’s chances of securing a place, but the goal is to secure the right apartment. Do your homework before you begin viewing apartments so you’re armed with all the pertinent information both you and potential landlords will need to make a decision on your tenancy.
Start with your monthly income. Factor in savings, debt, and recurring bills. The rule of thumb is to earmark 28 to 35 percent on your income for rent.
First, estimate what your monthly income will be, and factor in savings, debt and recurring bills. Financial experts will often cite that around 28% to 35% of income can go to rent. Take advantage of online rent affordability calculators like this one from Zillow to help you establish a budget estimate.
Next, begin looking for rentals within your budget using vetted sources such as websites that cater to rental searchers such as Zillow.com, Rent.com, and StreetEasy.com.
Be aware that broker’ fees may be involved, something that often takes first-time renters by surprise. Occasionally the landlords will pay the broker’s fee, but in competitive rental markets like New York, Boston, and San Francisco, apartment seekers should consider them an expected cost for which they will be responsible.
The broker’s fee is based on a percentage of the apartment’s one-year lease—typically around one month’s rent. The price of a broker’s fee could be money well spent since working with a reputable broker will enable you to view multiple legitimate properties at once. Scam rental listings are a real threat to first-time renters. A 2016 New York University study identified as many as 29,000 fake Craigslist rental listings in 20 major cities over a five-month period, which is why enlisting a broker may be a good investment.
It’s possible to negotiate down a broker’s fee as well. During slow-moving seasons such as winter, demand for broker’s services drop and they may be more willing to haggle when business is slack. Since a broker’s fee can be as much as one month’s rent, make sure to budget in that extra cost when determining your total up-front costs to move into an apartment.
Landlords will request a credit application to verify your income and financial status. Young college graduates carrying student loan debt and with little work experience under their belts may be required to have a parent or guardian co-sign the lease if the landlord or property manager is concerned that the prospective tenant may be a financial risk. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a fee for a background check, something many landlords require.
While not every situation is the same, generally a new tenant is required to pay the first and last month’s rent upfront, plus a security deposit that may be another month’s rent at the time of the lease signing.
Once you’ve found an apartment and you’re preparing to move in, take photos of the empty space and document any damage you find. Ask the property manager or landlord to accompany you through the unit and have them initial any photographs of damage you take. If you have roommates, make sure they included on the lease and review the lease’s policy on subletting. Keep all your rental documents and photos in a safe, accessible place.
Ask the property manager or landlord about renter’s insurance and clarify what is and is not covered by the property owner’s insurance. The property owner’s insurance will most likely not cover your personal belongings if they are lost or stolen, and any damage to the apartment caused by your negligence—say you forgot the bathtub was running and it overflowed and leaks into the apartment below yours, you will be responsible for all damage repairs. This is why it’s a good idea to look into getting a renter’s insurance policy.