I specialize in representing landlords, so I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is that potential applicants stand out from the crowd in a positive way. There’s always a shortage of available units and a huge abundance of prospective tenants looking for a new place. Houses for rent, Deleaded places, Pet friendly places are moving nearly immediately. Landlords and their agents can be bombarded by applications within hours of a unit going live. 

You have to be ready to snap up a place the second you’re sure it’s for you. Sometimes right at the showing. If you’ve done your homework, It can be pretty easy. What makes it easier still, is being represented by a good Realtor, someone specializing in Tenants’ Representation. They can help you prep an application packet that can be submitted immediately upon finding that perfect unit, as well as refine and target your search. A quick and well organized application packet is a powerful statement to the Landlord and his Realtor.

I always recommend that you find a Realtor who specializes in working with Tenants. My perspective is Landlords. With a Tenant’s Rep, you and how to represent your best interests will be the focus.

Whether you’re a DIY person or plan to work with a Realtor, here’s a Top 10 list of things a prospective tenant should think about.

1. Credit Report

Get your credit score and review the detail. Make sure it’s accurate and that you know and can answer questions about what’s on it. The Big Three Agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will provide you with a free credit report once a year. Here’s a link to the FTC Website for your free credit report: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports . At the very least, it’s very helpful to know what’s on there. 

2. Build References

Treat it like a job application. Pick references and information that frame you in the best possible light. Prep your references. Tell them that they might be getting calls from Landlords or their Realtors soon. Nothing kills a reference call quicker than someone treating me like a telemarketer. Ask your references what they’ll say and make sure it’s factual. 

3. Consider Your Needs vs Wants

This is paraphrased from a previous post of mine, but still works really well to get the ball rolling. 

  1. Location, Location, Location. How close to work do you need/want to be? Is proximity to relatives an issue? Most people know exactly what town, even what area of a town, they want. To those little wanderers that can’t make up your minds: Pick four towns for your target area. Larger searches are possible, but the lists can be huge and great opportunities can get lost in the pile. Also,  you can be overwhelmed by the volume. Suddenly it’s not fun anymore. You can always add or subtract towns or features to control or increase the volume of listings.
  2. What interior features do you need? How should the kitchen be laid out?How many bedrooms? Need an office too? I know for me, considering my kids, 1.5 or more bathrooms might be a huge plus.
  3. Do you have a pet? What kind? Is it a fishbowl, a small de-clawed house cat or is it a 200 lb St Bernhard? “No Pets” policies aren’t always real strict and it never hurts to ask. The trouble is: which animal has the better chance of winning over an animal phobic landlord? Hey! I am a dog lover. I’m just being realistic. This is a real issue to Landlords, some towns around here have a ban on large dogs. I’m not kidding they do. Some insurances will cancel a landlord’s policy if he rents to certain breeds. That scares many landlords off of pets entirely. Because of that, the pet friendly places fly off the shelf. 
  4. Do you smoke? Think you can give it up at home for the perfect Non-smoking rental opportunity? Most can’t. One thing Landlords never want to hear is: “Don’t worry about it. I can smoke outside.” They now envision you loitering around outside the building with a scattering of discarded butts on the ground, surrounding a makeshift ashtray. You can almost see the person mentally make a checkmark. You need to know how far you’ll, if you even can, bend to meet the landlord’s demands.
  5. Do you need a certified deleaded rental? Do you have a child under 6? If there is a child under six taking up permanent residence or expected sporadic residence(like custody) that would require a certified deleaded place or a certified treated one. That’s something your Realtor can filter into your search when putting the list of rentals to visit together. They can look for units built after 1978 or that have a certificate on the Massachusetts Registry. Remember a deleaded place will fly off the market quickly. If you spot one and like it, you need to be able to jump.
  6. What makes the perfect rental? A pool? Gated Community? On-site Laundry? Utilities included in the rent? What could you live without if you had too? Seriously think about this a bit, not just now at the beginning of the search, but later on. Sacrifices will start putting on serious weight after a couple of weeks, especially in a 12 month lease. What can you live with happily?
  7. Are you willing to pay a non-refundable application fee? If so, how much? Who is responsible for the Real Estate Commission? How much is due at Lease signing? Is the apartment worth it to you? Go over this with your Realtor, so they know exactly how to target your search.

5. Consider Affordability

Here’s the math. Yech! I hate math, but you need to be comfortable with it. Rent to Income Ratio is a calculation that everybody does differently and everybody argues about. Here’s how I do it for prospective tenants. I look at Gross Annual Earnings as a baseline, then compare to Net Annual Earnings. Take the Net Annual Earnings and divide by the Annual Rent. That gives the landlord a percentage of how much of your income will be eaten up by rent. 

If you ask 10 different people, you’ll get 10 different targets. Dave Ramsey seems to favor 20%. I’ve known people who live very frugally and make it work at 50%. I think 40% is a fair and manageable target, but there is a lot of debate on the subject. It’s best to know your Rent to Income Ratio, so you’ll know how to respond to any questions from the Landlord. 

6. Consider Areas

Take note of the length of the ride to get to your target rental unit and the scenery on the way. Is this your type of neighborhood? For example, if you’re from the city and don’t like the woods, That house over by Ames Nowell State Park is probably a bad idea, even if it is real close to work. Light sleeper? Living near the MBTA station might be an issue for you. If you commute into Boston everyday, it might be perfect. Note especially how long it took you to get there. How far away are the most important places in your life? Work, Child Care, Doctor’s offices, Family? Are they too far?

7. Research and Plan

Fill out a practice application, so you know what your answers look like. Review your credit report and proof of income, including considering your Rent to Income Ratio. This would be a great use of your Realtor as a sounding board and counselor. 

8. Interview several Realtors familiar with the area you like and who you think you can work well with. Around here, there are a bunch of really good tenants’ agents to choose from. Every one have different styles, approaches and skills. Interview a bunch of Tenants’ Reps. Pick the one that feels best for you. 

9. Take a notebook with you. Write questions for your agent, the landlord, your builder friend, your dad, anybody. Keep the book with you and write down inspirations and realizations that hit you, as they hit you: at a showing, over breakfast, before bed. Anytime/Anywhere. You may use it to adjust your search or have your agent know what revelations hit you at 2 AM. Those notes will center you in rough spots or help you answer questions when you’re stressed and freezing up.

While you’re there at the unit, take note of the surroundings carefully. Some things to consider are:

  1. Parking situation, Layout, lighting, restrictions, location of refuse containers and common areas, state of the landscaping and exterior of the building.
  2. What are the other tenants like? A lot of crabbiness or just sunshine and light. One or two sourpusses could just happen. A wave of overwhelming unhappiness is telling.
  3. Get a copy of the by-laws or sample lease. Get an idea of what your responsibilities will be and what the Landlord is responsible for.

10. Remember, Sweetness and Light in all things. You are the best tenant for that perfect unit you found. You have all the facts and can explain them. Keep your presentation professional and personable. Little courtesies like a cover letter for your application packet, which also explains why you’d be the best tenant ever or a thank you note to the landlord or his agent for showing you their unit are some thoughtful ideas that keep you front-of-mind for them. Be careful of the information included in the letter. This is another great place to use your Realtor as a sounding board. One of my favorites is when tenants call the landlord or his Realtor, it should be from the number you want him to call back. Busy people tend to live with constant distractions. If the landlord has to stop whatever he’s doing, write down your name and a different number, just to call you back, it makes an impression. Trust me, you want nothing but sweetness and light crossing the Realtor and Landlord’s mind when thinking of you. Pure Sweetness and Light!

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is that potential applicants stand out in a positive way. Quick, organized, well thought out responses show you’re motivated, focused, professional and probably a great tenant. That impression will stand out to a Landlord before he even reads the application packet.

It’s a tough market for potential tenants. You’ll be ready though. Application, proof of income and credit statuses have been discussed and strategies are in place. You know what you want, what you need and what you can live with. You also know where you’re going to find it. 

Going into the search for a new rental unit can be fun and exciting. If you’re prepared for the hunt, you’ll enjoy it so much more and you’ll be a lot more effective in securing your next unit.

Lew McConkey, Realtor

Red Barn Realty