Need to rent a house in a tight market. Seeking tips and strategy.
January 11, 2012 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Need tips and strategy for getting a rental house. Our rental market is very tight (in north Seattle). Landlords can afford to be picky. At first glance, we don't look like ideal tenants. Our situation: We are putting our big fancy house on the market. We've been wanting to downsize for a long time. Just now, the market timing is very good. Our property is desirable and we can expect a decent price, and equity pay-out at closing. When the house sells, we plan to rent a small house in North Seattle. Looking for a 6 month to 1 year lease. (more detail below...)

Landlords would like us because:
* Quiet middle-aged couple. No kids. Non-smokers.
* Good credit history. Husband has a 2 year old mark from Discover. Discover acknowledged their mistake, but it still shows on the reporting. We are working on getting that fixed.
* Substantial cash reserves. We can show proof of assets, but would rather not expose that info to potential landlords.
* No criminal background.
* We make a good impression when you meet us in person.

Landlords might reject us because:
* We are both unemployed. We expect our job searches to take many months. (If necessary, we could afford to rent for a few years without employment.)
* No prior landlord reference. We have been homeowners since 1999. Our current neighbors would give us references -- that we are quiet and clean, and our dog is quiet.
* Our dog is a 60lb shepherd mix, and not friendly. He is not a dangerous dog. He is afraid of people, and makes a poor impression. He barks and lunges at strangers. The dog is very old and we would not consider re-homing him.

1. How do we get past the filters of employment verification, and lack of prior landlord, and "no pets", so that landlords will give us a chance to show who we are?

2. What is the best way to present ourselves to landlords? I hear that most landlords, and all property managers, verify employment. Some ask to see pay stubs. I'm afraid we will be passed over as risky tenants.
When we say we are unemployed, we will be turned down in favor of employed people.
I'm tempted to tell landlords that we are retired. We are fiftyish. We can show proof of assets. But we have no income stream.

3. Do landlords ask to meet the dog? Perhaps I can ask my dog walker to give doggie a reference? That he is quiet and good in the house. (Yes, I am unemployed AND I use a dog walker. It makes the dog happy.) Of course, we are willing to pay landlord a reasonable surcharge for the dog.

I realize "risky" tenants can offer to pay higher rent, or pay multiple months in advance. I'd rather not do that. We are NOT risky. We might only APPEAR risky.

I'm posting anonymously, because there too much personal detail here. I will reply anonymously to any responses to this post. TIA
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd expose your substantial cash reserves to a potential landlord, and say you're "semi-retired." Seriously, overshare on the financial side -- show them (in person, you don't have to let them have copies) the value of your assets not just currently, but consistently over the past 3+years. Show them a copy of the deed to your house, and maybe a picture if it has nice curb appeal. Bring a written copy of your dogwalker's reference with you, too, along with his/her contact info. Say you have a lovable old dog who is shy around strangers. Offer to pay an extra security deposit for the pet (a landlord of a house, vs. an apartment, doesn't really care about your dog's interpersonal relationships, just his potential to cause damage to the property). Say you're looking for a year lease (that's much more standard). When the time comes to actually draw up paperwork, you can ask if a shorter term is available -- by that point they've already mentally approved you and are eager just to get the deal done.

In general, my advice is to head off any of their worries proactively, before they even have a chance to express doubt. Be confident, friendly, and don't even mention things as "I know you might be worried about x, but...."
posted by argonauta at 6:21 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may be overthinking here. But here're some tips anyway.

-Impressions are definitely very, very crucial in sealing a rent agreement. Your being older and (presumably) amiable will definitely help. Try to meet with the landlord to view the property rather than being shown it by a third party. Wear decent clothes, bring notepad and pen, and carry information that would allow you to start a credit check (ID photocopies, possibly bank statement[this will definitely help even if you have to expose that info; just blot out any account #s], checkbook and ~$60 in cash for credit check payments).
-Pay stubs is definitely a problem. Most places require 3x rent pre-tax monthly income. Getting past this'll depend on how substantial your cash reserves are, and whether they can get you through the rental period.
-Your dog's size is the biggest factor here, not his reputation or demeanor; many of the places that allow dogs will have something like a <30 lb limit
-You're renting in an off-season (if you rent in the next few months before spring) and this can help you, as well as hurt you. A. There'll be less places on the market :( B. Landlords will be more eager to seal a deal.
-The 6-mo to 1 year lease length IS an issue. One of the ways you can ply a landlord, whether it be to consider you over competition, or to lower your rent slightly, etc. is by extending the lease. Landlords LOVE longer leases. One way to combat this may be to offer a greater front deposit (i.e. 3 months vs. 1) because they also LOVE instant $.
-Your having owned a house for so long is a big +++. You can use this to show you're capable of managing the upkeep of a property- meaning less work for the landlord. I'd mention it somehow(if you can be slick about this it'd be great; i.e. "Yeah, we loved our old house after all the work we put into it, but it's just too much for us at this point.")
-One last thing to consider- for such a brief period of time, why not an apartment? Cheaper, more readily available; plenty of apartments will have room for the two of you and a dog. Many have dedicated dog runs.
Good luck!!
posted by MangyCarface at 6:26 AM on January 11, 2012

We moved in a hurry and had some issues - three dogs, unemployed husband, a mortgage - so we used a Realtor to find a rent house. That did limit us to MLS rental listings, but I found that a lot of houses I saw for rent on Zillow, for example, would then show up on the MLS 3 weeks later (and get rented in a day) because the landlord found out that people are flakes.

Our Realtor got us this place (with $50 knocked off the rent) I think mostly because she was a professional and our property manager is also a Realtor and it was just way easier than dealing with regular flaky people. I think us having owned a house was a huge advantage, too, and she made a big deal about it for us. So that's worth a shot.

But offering multiple months' rent should be a card you think about playing if necessary. Maybe not the year, but 3-6 months. It's not like you're not going to have to pay that money eventually, you're not really out anything except a sliver of interest.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2012

We rented in Portland in the middle of summer this past year, after walking away from our home.

We had substantial cash reserves and I remained employed, but I think it was the preparedness and the cash reserves that got us the place. When we went to look at places we were prepared to rent on the spot, both of us had our credit reports available, pre-filled out rental agreements (where possible) and checkbooks handy. We also brought our kid which helped demonstrate the whole stable tenant thing.

Most landlords we talked to wanted someone to rent for a year minimum, we were prepared to prepay rent for 6 months or do a larger deposit to get over the stigma of walking away from our home. No one ever checked my employment history, although I set up the service we use at work to handle that.

I wouldn't say you're unemployed, I would simply say you're transitioning in to a new career but have substantial cash reserves to facilitate the trafer, you don't have to show them everything, enough to cover the lease or half of it would probably be enough. I find renting from home owners to be dramatically easier than renting from an agency or management company.
posted by iamabot at 8:48 AM on January 11, 2012

I agree with Lyn Never. Since your realtor is going to make a commission when your house sells, have them find you a place. They would much rather show an unoccupied listing, because they can take people by any time of night or day without making an appointment for a showing. They will also probably want you to be happy, so you might end with something a lot nicer that you never would have heard about otherwise.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

FYI Realtors get a finder's fee for rentals, from the landlord. It's no sales commission, but it's probably more than I make for a day or two of work.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2012

I used to be a small-time landlord.
- Don't describe yourself as unemployed; be self-employed consultants or writers. Bring a bank statement as verification of ability to pay. I think it's not entirely unreasonable for a landlord to ask for an extra month of rent in escrow, but this might not be legal.
- The dog is an issue. Every dog my tenants had caused damage, sometimes significant. Offer a pet deposit, and describe honestly how you will keep the rental in good shape, even with a large dog. Do you crate the dog, keep nails clipped, have lots of rugs to protect wood floors, etc. Is the dog really, really house-trained? Many older dogs become incontinent. I always asked to meet the dog, as many tenants fib about the size and behavior of the dog. Has the dog been through training? Ask your vet for dog valium; all dogs are excitable in new settings, not all landlords know this. In fact, I'd bring the dog when looking "Killer's in the car, if you'd like to meet him"
- You need references, either colleagues, pastor, neighbors, somebody who can verify that you are who you present yourselves to be, and that you live like a regular family, i.e., no loud parties, electric guitars, big drug habits, 6 semi-repaired cars in the driveway and lawn, etc.
- Realtor with a hard-to-sell house is a good option
- Having a letter with your wonderfulness is a big help.
- Turnover is expensive; you should expect to pay a bit more for being a shorter-term tenant.
- If there are a lot of unsold condos, consider a condo rental.
- Make it easy. Have a sheet with references & their numbers, and your other credentials, with you. Use any rental app form as a guide. Nobody likes paperwork, extra phone calls, etc. To your credentials, I'd add We don't own or use electronic instruments and We don't own any firearms. (Bad electric guitar should be banned under the Geneva Convention. Tenants with poor social skills and guns are icky neighbors.)
posted by theora55 at 9:20 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

« Older My Mac has become a host for infected Windows...   |   Is psychoanalysis for me? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.