First Person: Should You Hire a Real Estate Agent to Rent an Apartment?

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A real estate agent I used to work with specialized in finding rental deals. He would meet with renters, see what they wanted in an apartment, work on a budget to determine what they could afford, and then come back a few days later with a list of potential rentals. Once the clients found a spot they wanted, he would work with the landlord to finish the lease and get them the keys. It seemed like a good deal, but there are some downsides. If you're considering working with a real estate agent, consider this first.

Advantages

Easier Apartment Hunting

The real estate agent I knew did almost all of the apartment hunting research himself. He would compile a list of available rentals in an easy-to-read format and then show them to his clients. If you're working with a real estate agent, you can expect to have a lot more free time.

Better Access

Not all rental properties are listed online or in the newspapers. Many real estate agents own and manage rentals and they simply put the properties on an internal database used by other real estate agents. If you're working alone, you wouldn't see these properties.

Negotiating Skills

Most real estate agents have great negotiation skills. The real estate agent I knew would often talk the landlord down in rent price, or make changes to the lease that benefited his clients. While you can certainly do this on your own, if you don't think you have the chops for haggling, you might benefit from a real estate agent.

Disadvantages

Time

My real estate agent friend typically took a month or more to find a suitable rental for a client. That is a long time to wait, especially if you're in a hurry to move out by the end of the month. Plus, some apartments may get rented in the time it takes the real estate agent to find a group of rentals to look at and you might miss out on a great spot by not acting quickly.

Less Control

A few clients ended up hating working with my friend because they wanted more control over the process. When you sign up with a real estate agent you're basically saying, "Do this on your own and come back to me with the results." If you like to do the apartment hunting, you might not be happy with this arrangement.

Cost

Finally, (and most importantly,) is the cost. My real estate agent friend charged a five percent commission for finding a rental. For example, if the client ended up renting a $1,200 a month apartment for a year, she would have paid $14,440 in rent plus a $720 commission to the real estate agent. Considering this is something you could do on your own for free, it may not be worth it just to save some time and hassle.

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