First person: Tips for scoring an apartment in a competitive rental market

Steve Thompson

There are lots of renters out there these days. Victims of the housing bust are unable to obtain mortgages, so they are forced to rent. And others, like me, see the benefits of renting and prefer the more flexible living environment. Whatever the case, there is plenty of competition for every outstanding apartment on the market. So how do you increase your chances of landing a great property?

Emphasize the attractive qualities of your lifestyle

Landlords want to rent to people who are quiet, unobtrusive, friendly, and non-destructive. When you meet with a prospective landlord, talk about your lifestyle and emphasize the positive points. I always mention that my wife and I work from home, which increases security for the apartment in which we reside.

Talk about your hobbies, your profession, your intense distaste for wild parties. Connect with the prospective landlord on a personal level. If he or she likes you, your chances of scoring the apartment increase exponentially.

Offer to pre-pay

I've done this twice, and both times I've been offered the unit. If it fits your budget, offer to pay several months of rent in advance. Not only does this line your landlord's pockets with a little extra cash, but it demonstrates financial responsibility.

If this isn't possible, offer to pay a slightly larger deposit or to pay a few extra dollars per month in rent. Money talks, and while you should never strain your budget to the breaking point, it doesn't hurt to sweeten the pot a bit in your negotiations.

Show them you're serious

If you know you like a rental property, plunk down the money for your deposit and application fee when you first view the apartment. The faster you act, the smaller the chance your prospective landlord will pass the apartment on to someone else. A deposit is a good-faith gesture that solidifies your interest in a rental.

You can also sign a lease the same day you view the property, or you can ask to take the lease home so you can read it more thoroughly. Make sure to give the landlord all your contact information and to stay in touch until your move-in date.

Mention a flexible schedule

One of the biggest headaches landlords have is the burden of scheduling. It is hard to perfectly line up the dates for when one tenant moves out and another moves in. If possible, offer the landlord several potential move-in dates, or ask when it would be ideal for her.

The landlord's goal is to avoid an empty apartment. If you can help her achieve that goal, you'll be far more likely to get the unit.

Sign a longer lease

My family's current lease is 18-months long, and we lived out a three-year lease at our last apartment. Longer leases mean income stability for landlords. If you can commit to a longer tenancy, you'll make yourself more appealing than someone who is only willing to sign a six-month or year-long lease.

This is also beneficial for you as the tenant. When you sign a longer lease, the rent is locked in for the duration. This means fewer and less frequent rent hikes.