Apartment searching in competitive area... tips?
July 15, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

I have started searching for potential apartments almost two months ahead of time to get a feel for size / rent for places in the neighborhood I like. I have quickly learned it's a very popular place to live, and I could use advice on etiquette when going through this process. I feel like it's almost like a job interview. Below is a scenario I encountered and if it doesn't work out, then what can I learn from it? Any owner/landlord input would be greatly appreciated!

I called a number on a Craigslist listing for a perfect place (size, budget, style, neighborhood, owner/landlord). We talked briefly, mostly a casual exchange about the property and a little bit about my reasonings for reaching out to him. He told me to come look at the place Saturday morning. He owns the place and he mentioned his tenants are very important to him, that he doesn't charge a lot because he prefers good tenants to higher income. It's a very historical building, something that drew me to it, so I can see why this is the case.

I showed up right on time and got a short tour through the place. Absolutely perfect. Then, a few other people started trickling in. I think he had arranged potential tenants to come at one time as not to constantly bother the current tenants. I think we were all shocked to see each other there. One guy threw almost a tantrum, saying he'd even help the current tenants when they move out, he really really wanted the place. Owner then told us to text him our email address if we were interested in applying, and I did. He then called me that afternoon saying he was emailing me an application and asked if there were any credit / background things that may hinder my application. I have excellent credit and rental history. He said he was leaving for business for the next week but that I should drop off my application and when he gets back we'll discuss the lease. I asked him "Are you saying I should stop looking at other apartments?" He said "If you believe there's nothing in your credit / background check."

I am not sure what this means to be honest. Because I showed up first or maybe that I had a good personality that he decided that I would be the best tenant? Maybe he said this to all the people who applied? In any case, I have to wait a week to see if the application passed, watching my other choices in that neighborhood get snatched up. I don't want to apply to other places if it's unnecessary because of the cost / potential impact on my credit score. I have a good feeling about it, liked the guy... I guess I wonder if I'm being too optimistic.

My question, what are some common ways to get an edge for a competitive apartment search like this? (that's not foolish)
From a landlord/owner perspective, is there a huge benefit to getting multiple applications? What's your system in choosing potential tenants?
posted by hillabeans to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what to tell you to do right now, but here's what to do in general.

Prepare a folder with the following items:

1) A sheet with all your contact info, including DOB and driver's license number for ID purposes.
2) A sheet with your rental history and contact information for previous landlords.
3) A recently pulled credit report (pull it yourself for free, make copies).
4) Copies of pay stubs going back 3 weeks.

Give this folder to your potential landlord when you go to see a place. It'll get you out of the whole application process, because the info is all there. You look responsible and prepared, which is a huge plus. It'll give you a leg up on everyone else who's interested, and you won't need to worry about a dozen different folks doing a credit check for you.

It's completely possible this guy is being honest with you and likes you best. It's also completely possible this guy is stringing you along. Best not to put all your eggs in one basket.
posted by phunniemee at 1:18 PM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

On preview, I was cross-posting with phunniemee, and agree with the good advice above and would also add that letters of recommendation from past landlords are great to have (along with contact info and renting history).
posted by quince at 1:22 PM on July 15, 2013

If you were looking for a job and you got a response like that from prospective employer A, you wouldn't cancel the interview with prospective employer B.
posted by itheearl at 1:22 PM on July 15, 2013


Never stop looking for an apartment until you have a signed lease.

If it's a landlord's market, he or she may collect as many applications as he/she can possibly collect, because any number of things could fall through at any moment. He/she likely has ranked the applicants already, and is waiting for applications to come in, at which time they will be vetted. Multiple things could possibly eliminate an applicant from the running... bad credit, poor employment history, evictions, applicant withdrawal... lots of things can happen between applying and signing a lease. It is in a landlord's best interest to get as many willing tenants lined up as possible to avoid the cost of having to re-list the unit if all applicants are eliminated.

I personally think it's awkward to set up a competition between applicants, but some landlords really don't care as long as they get the best applicant in their unit, and competition sometimes makes that happen when the market really favors landlords. In very competitive markets, tenants sometimes make higher monthly rent offers to entice landlords to choose them. I wouldn't personally go that route, but that's just me.

So, for you: do what this landlord says. Put in the app, follow up with him next week. But don't stop looking! Continue to look until you have a signed lease. Period. It's not over until you have a lease.
posted by juniperesque at 1:22 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also live in a high-demand area and recently moved.

I think the #1 thing you can do when renting from Craigslist is be the first person to call the landlord and the first person to see the apartment. Some landlords, especially landlords with day jobs, are busy and don't want to keep showing it and if you seem like a very good tenant, they may bite. I had two landlords who showed me an apartment during the week and said I could have it if I decided by the weekend. (I'd been at the last place over 5 years and have a steady job at a place they could call, so they didn't check credit or references.)

I got much faster responses from prospective landlords when I mentioned my job and the fact that I'd been at the existing place 5 years, too. If either of those things is true for you, focus on them in any emails/voicemails you leave. Basically, you are trying to send off signals that say "Quiet, responsible, on time with the rent."

I actually found my apartment from a "For Rent" sign I saw from the street on my way to look at a different apartment. This isn't still done in every area, but if you see a sign, call; often landlords who do this don't want to bother with Craigslist/brokers and you may get a better deal as a result.
posted by pie ninja at 1:54 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Landlords often own more than one building, so I've actually gotten two apartments now by saying "this is my budget, I didn't get this place, but do you have a similar option?"

Since they generally want places filled as fast as possible and know when leases are expiring, this will allow you to apply accordingly and beat everyone out. It also shows a certain proactive sensitivity that seems to be appreciated.
posted by Phalene at 1:59 PM on July 15, 2013

From a landlord/owner perspective, is there a huge benefit to getting multiple applications? What's your system in choosing potential tenants?
Yes, there is definitely a benefit to getting multiple applications. You can never tell from appearances whether a potential tenant has good credit, income, and background. You can also not tell if a potential tenant will have strange requests. However, the applications usually have enough questions to disclose all these potential issues (unless the applicant actively lies).

I have always shown houses to people until an actual lease is signed. I'm very up front. An open house is an open house, i.e., multiple people may show up. If I have an applicant already, I say so. It's not a ploy. It's just that I want to keep my options open and have the least amount of vacancy possible.

I choose tenant by the standard credit, income, and background. I also try to choose someone who looks like they will try to take care of the place and not bother me with little things (that won't turn into big things). I will choose no pets to with pets, but I charge high enough, that really only people with pets are willing to pay the premium. (I only have 2 units.)

I will go through a applications in the order they are submitted, for legal non-discrimination reasons. However, I am more encouraging of excited applicants to apply (rather than those just begrudgingly applying because nothing else is in his/her price range).

I think larger complexes will not care how much you like a unit, just your ability and willingness to pay rent and keep it in good condition.
posted by ethidda at 4:21 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So, I am signing the lease tomorrow, yay!
As it ended up, I had been the first to call about the place, first to show up to the viewing, and had good credit / background check. That was enough for the landlord, who rents out the place as side-income to his full-time job. That and I wasn't constantly pestering him or trying to bribe him into getting the apartment.
posted by hillabeans at 5:38 PM on July 24, 2013

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