rental apartment hunters

Renting? Good luck!

Boston is the third most expensive rental area in the country. If you are paying first and last month’s rent, and maybe another month’s rent in fees, it makes moving hard, financially.

Renters are not our clients, but one day they may be. They are also the friends of our clients.

Every year, starting in the middle of June, my company gets several calls a week from people looking for a rental agent. That’s not us! Our Yelp profile says so, right away, in the first paragraph of the company description. “If you are looking to rent, we are not the right company for you.” And still  one year we got 144 rental calls. (Yes, I counted them…I am perverse that way!)

Advice for renters: agents and fees

Generally, we don’t recommend any specific rental agents, since it is a very dynamic business with a lot of people coming and going. New agents, in larger companies, work with rentals; it is a way to earn commissions more quickly than working with buyers and sellers.Agents who do rentals as a career usually have specific landlords that they work for to fill those units. Some rental agents are also the property managers.

A lot of the apartments you’ll see on Craiglist, Zillow, and other public sources will have an agent attached who is working for the landlord. The agents will be doing the reference and credit checks and such, in the interests of the landlords. They don’t work for you. If you find an agent who can show you the kinds of apartments you are looking for, it may be worth the convenience to stay with them.

Fees: Because of the shortage of apartments in the region, you will typically pay half — or even a full — month’s rent for the real estate broker fee. Some rental sites separate out apartments with and without fees.

More advice for renters: what you will do, what the landlord will do

What you will do when you look for an apartment:

See the apartment. Your first priority is whether you like the place. Is it big enough? Does it look like it is in good enough shape? Then, if all that is acceptable, dig a little deeper. Is there enough storage in the kitchen, enough for your clothes and personal items? Do the locks look secure? Do the windows work? Where is the parking or safe bicycle storage?

Check the neighborhood. Will your daily commute be reasonable? Do you feel safe there? If you can talk to neighbors, do so. If you can talk to fellow tenants in the building, you can check out the landlord. If not, Google the landlord and the property address; sometimes you can find potential trouble that way.

What the landlord, or agent will do to check you out:

Be prepared that there will be a rental application. You are more likely to get the apartment you like if you show that you are organized.

References. Have your present and previous landlord’s names and contact information handy. (Also contact those old landlords, so they know a call or email may be coming).

Credit checks. Many landlords have a minimum credit score requirement. You may be asked to bring a current credit report. Some landlords will run the report themselves and charge you for it.  If you’ve had credit problems, be ready to explain how you have fixed these issues and show how you can prove the problems do not have an impact on your ability to pay the rent on time.

If you are being interviewed by a landlord who lives above or below you, then you are being interviewed as a neighbor as well as a tenant. If you are being interviewed by an agent for an investor landlord, all that matters is that you can prove you can pay the rent on time: references and credit score are key.

The lease. Most landlords use standard lease forms. There are clauses about rental rates, what happens if there’s property damage or something broken, when and why you can be evicted, key security, who pays the utility bills, and others business of renting. Discuss the specifics that affect your life. Specifics like what? Smoking, pets, guest policies. Parking, trash removal, fees for lock-out calls. Hire an attorney if you are concerned about what is written into a lease.

Good luck! It’s rental season.