Make a list of your wants and needs for a rental house before beginning your search. Be as specific as possible, especially if you're planning on renting a house for at least a year; you want the house to serve your needs for at least that long. Being specific will also save you time when you're browsing rental house ads and while you're out in the neighborhoods looking.
Before Your Rental House Search
Keep the following realities in mind:
- Although there are exceptions, most homeowners who rent their houses look for tenants with good credit.
- Have a co-signer lined up if you don't have good credit.
- Homeowners usually require a deposit equal to one month's rent plus the first month's rent at minimum; individual homeowners don't offer specials like free month's rent and reduced deposits like corporate-owned apartments sometimes do.
To avoid run-ins with your future landlord, on your rental application for a rental house, accurately report the number of people who will live in the house with you, the number of vehicles you have and any equipment you'll keep on the grounds such as construction equipment, boats and motorcycles.
Best Places to Search Rental House Listings
- Online classified ads
- Newspaper ads -- free and paid newspapers
- Real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, Rent.com and Realtor.com -- such websites make an effective source for local and relocation rental house hunters
- Property management companies -- these businesses usually are listed in local business directories.
If you're looking for a rental house locally, also check "House for Rent" postings on community bulletin boards in neighborhoods of interest -- typically found in grocery stores, coffee shops and community centers near the entrance -- for houses not listed in newspapers and online.
MarketWatch's Amy Hoak notes that when looking for a rental house "it's important to be persistent." Browse ads daily by house type, size and neighborhood until you find the house that's best for you.
In browsing ads, you may find the perfect house, but it's listed for sale rather than for rent. Here's where you might want to hire an agent to research the house and make a rental offer. The owner may surprise you with a "yes."
With your list of wants and needs for a rental house, call any classified ad listings of interest to make an appointment.
For personal safety, visit houses for rent during the day and go with at least one other person.
Take pictures of the property to refer to later, but ask before taking out your camera.
Property management companies can be effective resources when it comes to finding rental houses. But if you choose to work with one, know that the company's agent may only show you its listings and not the broad range of houses for rent available.
Working With a Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents know the neighborhoods and can show you houses listed for rent in the multiple listing service, or MLS. Landlords typically pay the agent's commission for finding a tenant. To hire a real estate agent:
- Call a brokerage firm of your choice and ask to speak to a real estate agent who specializes in rental houses. You can also contact agents whose rental listings you browse on real estate websites.
- Discuss your house wants and needs with the agent. This allows her to pull listings tailored specifically for you.
- A real estate agent may ask you to sign a representation agreement before showing you rental houses. Negotiate the terms of the agreement -- such as the length of time the representation agreement is good for -- before you sign it.
If you're uncomfortable working with private landlords by yourself, hire a real estate agent to work with you. You'll have to pay his commission out of your own pocket, though.
Signing a Rental House Lease
A rental house lease is no different than any other type of rental lease. If you're working with a real estate agent, know that his license allows him to explain the rental lease to you -- usually a boilerplate contract produced by the local real estate board -- before you sign it, and to collect the deposit and any rental application fees. If you're working solo, though, consider hiring a local real estate attorney to review the lease with you before you sign it.
Maya Black has been covering business, food, travel, cultural topics and decorating since 1992. She has bachelor's degree in art and a master's degree in cultural studies from University of Texas, a culinary arts certificate and a real estate license. Her articles appear in magazines such as Virginia Living and Albemarle.