August rental advice: What's a late renter to do?
August marks the end of the rush to move — and to apartment hunt. But just because you didn't plan ahead to find an apartment by September doesn't mean you'll have to rent a loser.
We're a bit late with this month's rental-advice column, so in the spirit of tardiness, we thought we'd address the question that needles all those late-moving apartment hunters out there: What happens if you miss the July and August rush for a new place?
If, as we always hear, landlords prefer a September-to-September lease, what's left when the leaves turn and Halloween nears? Should the last-minute renter be spooked?
A solid "no" might be nice to hear. But in some markets, the bulk of rentals have been picked through by summer's close. In Boston, where college-student demand drives the rental market, 79% of landlords use a September lease, says Greg Vardaro, an associate rental agent with Charlesgate Realty.
"Right now, if you don't have your apartment yet, what are you waiting for? Now's the time," he says.
But in San Jose, Calif., where the rental market is even tighter but the tenants are high-income tech workers, not students, "the September lease is not even relevant," says Ron Stern, CEO of Bay Rentals. "We have a ton of stuff that could still be secured for Sept. 1" or later in the fall.
So it certainly depends on where you're looking.
In general, summer is the season when moving trucks roll. That's when the weather cooperates, and it's when kids can get settled before the new school year. Many landlords prefer to start annual leases on Sept. 1 to capture these renters.
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Which brings us back to this question: If you don't have bottomless pockets, does a fall hunt kill your chances for a great find? Or might there even be some advantage to hunting in the quiet of autumn?
Is it worth it to take your time?
Christina Aragon, director of strategy and consumer insights at Rent.com, a national listing site consisting primarily of large apartment complexes, says she sees a steady flow of available inventory throughout the year.
"Barring those towns that are college towns, where there is a very strong anchor to the school year, there is always stuff coming out on the market," Aragon says. Late-season apartment hunters "are not necessarily locked out of getting a good apartment."
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Aragon says Rent.com does see more tenants applying for units in April and that the number peaks in July.
In extremely tight markets, such as New York and San Francisco, where prospective tenants "have to walk in the door with checkbook in hand," she says, "that's just exacerbated by the high season. The reality is, you can look at a bit of a more leisurely pace sometimes after the summer is over," Aragon says.
In some less competitive markets, that relaxed atmosphere may translate to cheaper rent.
"There aren't as many applicants, so you may be able to get a little bit of a better deal if there's inventory the landlord wants to move and there isn't as much demand for it," Aragon says.
Don't overlook the advantages of taking your time: It's extra time to research the market and learn which rents are higher than average, extra time to get your references and rental history in order, and extra time to delineate your needs from your wants to narrow your search.
And if you still come up short, consider these bits of wisdom from the pros, even though some may be hard to swallow:
- In a tight market where you need more time to apartment hunt, consider taking a monthly rental. It will likely cost more, but the market for short-term rentals is still strong.
- Be less picky. "It's just a rental," Vardaro says. "It's not going to be perfect."
- After looking, act quickly. "If you see something you like, take it. Don't think about it too long," Vardaro says. "If you wait, and think about it overnight, it will most likely be gone."
- Shift your focus elsewhere. "Try to find a place nearest where you want to be," Stern says. "Sometimes (the first choice) is just not going to happen, for the price range or what's available."