With soaring rent rates and a ridiculously low occupancy rate—4.1%, according to real estate research firm Reis Inc.—apartment hunting isn’t much fun lately. And the late-summer timing might be making things even harder.
From the sweltering heat that’s keeping many tenants in their great apartments you could be renting if they’d just move already, to the college kids coming back and scooping up available rentals in droves, inventory in the dog days of summer is slim pickings.
That’s the bad news. The good news: You might be able to boost your luck with help from pro. Realtors® work in rentals, too, and they may be the key to your next pad.
They’ll get you VIP access
You might have that whole Craigslist apartment-hunting thing down, but Realtors still have you beat when it comes to finding new inventory. They have access to properties you wouldn’t normally see on your typical apartment-hunting website, and they often hear about new rentals as soon as they become available, before the ad goes up online.
Many Realtors can also easily set up an email notification system for you based on your preferences and price range that gives you VIP status over other apartment hunters.
“It is immediate access. The second a property comes on the market, you’ll be notified via email,” says Chandler Crouch, broker at Chandler Crouch Realtors, landlord and rental market survivor. “There’s nothing quite like that.”
They’ll reduce your stress level
Apartment hunting is stressful.
Scams abound on many of the popular rental websites. It isn’t always easy to tell if the landlord is legit, if the property is really available for rent, or if you’re about to get taken for a ride. When you work with a Realtor, “you can feel confident you’re dealing with a legit lead,” Crouch says.
You’ll also have an advocate, someone on your side who is willing to work out the tougher life questions with you that a landlord normally wouldn’t handle.
Say, for example, you’re apartment hunting with a roommate. “If you have a situation you want to talk about privately, like splitting the bills or finding a rental that matches two wish lists, your Realtor can help you with that,” Crouch says.
You’ll still have to do some legwork
Depending on whom you work with, you may end up doing some of the legwork yourself.
To make sure you don’t miss out on properties, you’ll likely end up doing at least some searching yourself. The reason is simple: Realtors don’t make a lot of money representing tenants.
“What most people don’t know, at least in my market area, the commissions the landlord or listing agent offers a tenant’s agent are supersmall,” says Crouch. “The maximum the listing agent or landlord might give is 60% to as low as 20% of one month’s rent. There really isn’t a lot of incentive, and the Realtor would be smart not to spend a lot of time on it.”
How to work well with a Realtor
Realtors have the best inventory and the fastest access to new leads, but you may end up feeling frustrated if you work with them exclusively. So what’s the solution? It might be as simple as trying a different approach: Ask a Realtor for help, but do the actual hunting yourself.
“I recommend finding a Realtor and just making a deal with them,” Crouch says. “Ask them to set up the automatic email notifications for a small fee—say $50, for example—and then go look at the listings yourself.”
The win-win alternative
You could also rent from a Realtor directly. Many Realtors buy and rent out homes and small apartment buildings, and the quality may be higher than that of other available rentals in your area.
“Realtors are held to a higher standard,” says Crouch. For you that means full disclosure on a prospective rental, such as if there’s lead-based paint. It also means renting from someone who knows what his or her legal obligations are when it comes to upkeep and maintenance on the property.
Realtor-owned properties might be cheaper, too. According to Crouch, a Realtor has to offer a fair market rate, while a private landlord might spike prices when a neighborhood becomes trendy or competition gets fierce.
“What it boils down to is, I would trust a Realtor-owned property more than someone else, because they have a reputation to uphold and know more,” Crouch says.