Brought to you by Penelope Graham from Zoocasa.
Trying to find an affordable rental apartment or house in a particularly tough market? When you live in a popular town or city, finding a rental home that fits your budget, location and lifestyle can seem an overwhelming task—and it certainly doesn’t help when you show up to view a listing and find a lineup out the door.
Fortunately, there are a few ways prospective tenants can gain an edge—here are five tips for standing out, even in the most competitive of rental markets:
Come with Paperwork in Hand
When a unit is in particularly high demand, you need to be prepared to snap it up immediately—and that means doing your homework before viewing it and meeting the landlord. Not only should you fill out the rental application ahead of time, but take the time to square away important verification details such as your record of employment and credit score.
“I personally won’t take anybody out unless they give me those documents first,” says Emma Pace, an agent with Zoocasa Realty who helps place tenants as well as buyers. “If you don’t have all your documents prepared, you’re just going to lose the rental. There’s really no point of you searching until you have that.”
Essentially, you should do what you can to make the task of assessing your eligibility as painless as possible for the landlord. Even a brief delay, such as failure to contact your personal or employment references, can put you at a disadvantage.
Have a Solid Job Situation
If you can help it, avoid hunting for your new rental while in between jobs; just like when applying for a mortgage, the stability of your employment, and your ability to service your debt obligations (i.e. pay your rent) will be scrutinized by your prospective landlord. Lack of a concrete employment history (or its equivalent if you’re self-employed) will be an immediate red flag, even if you’re within a temporary probation period at a new position.
“If you’re (the landlord) getting multiple applicants, and one of them has been bouncing from job to job every six months, or maybe they’re still on their three-month probation, that’s not ideal,” says Zoocasa Realty agent Brittany Kostov. “But at the end of the day, it’s all just down to that specific landlord and what they would prefer.”
Check in with Your Credit
Make sure your credit score is in the best possible condition before you start your rental home hunt. Since this is a clear indicator on whether you have a history of paying your bills on time, it’ll be a major deciding factor from a landlord’s perspective. Take the opportunity to order your report beforehand and comb through for any potential issues; pay off any outstanding items, or investigate anything that looks amiss.
According to Kostov, a healthy score and ability to pay debt can often be the deciding factor, even between two similar rental applicants. “I had a client that went up against another rental application—that other applicant had a car, my client did not, and they made similar income,” she says. “The landlord eventually chose my client because she really did a total picture of, ‘Ok, how much can they actually afford? If rent is $1,500 a month, and your car payment is $600 per month and you’re making $60,000, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room there.’ They’re really taking everything into account.”
Pay to Get Ahead
The truth is, cash is king. Offering to sweeten a rental deal by offering more than first and last month up front or a damage deposit (where legal) will often put you ahead of other rental hopefuls. This can also be an effective way to offset a less-than-great credit score.
“Let’s say they’ve got a wonky charge on their credit card, they missed on a payment—there’s a story behind everything—and that can affect their credit score,” says Kostov. “They can say, ‘That was a one-off, I can provide six months of rent up front and give it all to you in cash.’ That’ll level the playing field a bit more.”
Be On Your Best Social Behavior
Applying for a non-pet rental, but have an Instagram full of pictures of your pooch? That can be a big turnoff of landlords who may think you’re fudging the details. In fact, scoping out a prospective tenant’s social media presence is often the first step in the vetting process.
Says Kostov, “The first thing that I do when I’m on the listing lease side representing the landlord, is Google them (the prospective tenant) or search them on social media. That’s going to tell us more than any rental application will.”
Pace adds that most landlords are most concerned that you won’t damage the unit, especially if they’re subletting a lease of their own, or a private condo unit. In fact, finding a great tenant is the main reason many prospective landlords connect with a realtor in the first place.
“Our goal is to try to make it as easy as possible for them to get someone who they’re comfortable with living there, that they don’t feel they’re going to need to chase down for money, they don’t feel is going to ruin their place,” she says.