According to the U.S. Census Bureau, homeownership has been on a steady decline since 2005 - dropping to the lowest rate in nearly two decades in the first quarter of this year. With an increasing number of Americans deciding to rent rather than buy a home, rental vacancy rates are also low.
More renters and fewer apartment vacancies make finding the perfect apartment increasingly difficult. Take these steps to find the right rental space for you, and make sure you're the landlord's first choice in tenants.
Search within your means. Before beginning the apartment search, set a budget. It's important to know what you can realistically afford to pay each month on rent. Many experts say you shouldn't spend more than 30 percent of your net income on rent. Don't waste your time or money submitting applications for apartments that are out of your price range.
The most important rule when budgeting is to be honest with yourself. If you can't afford to spend an extra 10 percent of your income on rent, don't. Take a look at your income and expenses to determine an affordable price range. Don't forget to factor in the security deposit and other monthly expenses, such as loan and credit card bills, utilities, groceries and transportation. If you have trouble, take advantage of free online budgeting tools like Mint.com.
Be professional. Applying for an apartment is like applying for a job - you want to show you're the best candidate. Landlords want responsible tenants who pay rent on time each month and take care of their rental unit. Nailing your first impression is crucial. When you contact a property owner about seeing an apartment, be courteous. If you reach out online, take a minute to proofread your message for typos. Show up to the appointment on time (or a few minutes early) in business casual attire.
Come prepared. Property owners and managers are subject to follow Fair Housing laws, which prohibit any preference, limitation or discrimination on behalf of the landlord when choosing tenants. As such, many landlords will pick the first candidate who meets their requirements, so streamline the process by arriving to the apartment viewing fully prepared and ready to submit an application. Bring with you:
-- Your residential history. This must include your current and past addresses, contact information for past landlords, rental rates and dates of residency. Having trouble locating some of this information? Rent.com recommends keeping a file that contains all of the documents related to your current and past apartment leases. Keeping all of this information in one place will save you headaches down the line.
-- Your employment history. You'll need to present your current and past employers' names, addresses, phone numbers, supervisors' names, salary history and dates of employment.
-- Vehicle information. If you plan to take advantage of a landlord's parking offer, make sure you have your vehicle's model, year and license plate number on hand.
-- References. Some landlords ask for personal references. Bring names and contact information for three with you just in case.
You should also know your credit score and history. Prepare an explanation for the landlord if your credit isn't in top shape. You may also want to consider getting a co-signer, or guarantor, which can increase your chances of landing an apartment with mediocre credit.
Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, the only free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment, gives you tips on how to move and then says, "thank you" with a prepaid $100 reward card.
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