In the long run, owning a home is better than renting. But renting is a good option for people who expect to move in a few years, anyone jittery over today’s depressed housing market, or those who for one reason or another cannot make the home-ownership hurdle.
But if you haven’t done it before, renting a house or apartment will present some unfamiliar issues. In some ways, the ongoing relationship with the landlord makes renting more like getting and keeping a job than simply paying for a product or service.
In some parts of the country, too many homes and condos were built during the housing bubble a few years ago, and landlords have reduced rents and are offering incentives like the first month’s rent free. In other areas, financial setbacks have increased the supply of renters, but not the supply of rental housing, and rents have gone up.
Choosing a good place is, of course, the first step, and it’s different from buying because a renter typically commits for only a year or two. If you like, you can shoulder a big rent to get closer to work, or you can take a cheap place to save money, or choose a neighborhood that might not be suitable after you start a family in a few years. When you want something different, you move.
If you’re considering renting a home, here’s what you’ll need to do:
Know your rights
Before starting your search, bone up on local and state laws on tenants’ rights. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has plenty of helpful information on its site.
Know your credit history
Also check your credit history for errors. A history of late payments and low FICO score can scare off a landlord.
Look—and act—the part
Despite anti-discrimination laws, landlords can legally reject applicants for many reasons, so you need to sell yourself as you would in applying for a job. Obviously, that means looking like a person who will take good care of the place, pay the rent on time and not bother the neighbors. But the landlord also likes to feel the tenant will be good natured and cooperative when problems arise – that you won’t phone at 2 a.m. over a squeaky hinge, or make it difficult for a maintenance worker to get inside.