Do I need to look for a rental house now or wait?
August 13, 2008 1:56 PM   Subscribe

How long in advance should I look for a house to rent? And where do I look besides Craigslist?

I'm living in an apartment in San Diego, CA. My lease is up October 31 of this year, and I want to move into a 2 (or more) bedroom house after I end this lease. I do not want to re-up my lease for my current apartment, or move into another apartment or condo; I am willing to pay for a garage, front yard, back yard, and a washer/dryer all to myself. Also, my fiancee will be moving in with me, and a one-bedroom apartment is too small for the both of us, 2 cats, and all our stuff.

I have considered buying a house, but for various reasons I'm not ready to take that step at this time.

My main method of searching has been Craigslist, but I notice that almost all of the listings are places that are available now or within the next couple of weeks. I obviously don't want to have two rent payments for the next 2-2 1/2 months. Should I be following up on the leads I see advertised as available now, or should I wait until the time gets closer to the end of my lease? One thing that might affect things is that there are two large universities in town, so there might be a large influx of students in the next 2 months, although I'm generally looking to rent in areas not near the colleges. I've heard that landlords will sometimes hold properties for a "deposit." How much is that deposit, and do I get it back or get credit for it when I do move in?

Also, I get the feeling that Craigslist is only a small slice of the amount of information available about rentals. Where else should I be looking for rental information? Should I make use of a rental agent?
posted by zompus to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When we were looking for a rental house, we cruised the neighborhoods that we were interested in and then called up one of the realtors who seemed to have a lot of rentals available. The realtor knew about all the available rentals in the area and was able to arrange for us to see the ones we were interested in, regardless of whether or not she was the agent. We ended up renting a house that she did not list, and we paid her a percentage of a month's rent for her trouble. Granted, our area (DC suburbs) has a large number of rentals available, but perhaps there's some similar situation in your area.

This doesn't help with your not-right-away problem, but I think that kind of timing can be the norm for house rentals, since there aren't as many of them as there are apartments in a complex. Also, FWIW, in my college town, all of the student rentals were pretty much done deals at the end of the previous school year, but I wasn't in CA.
posted by weezetr at 2:47 PM on August 13, 2008

The problem is that most landlords do not get 2-3 month advanced warning from their tenants concerning moving out times. That is why you rarely see postings more then a few weeks out. I actually just went through this same process. Both me and the girlfriend were leaving old apartments to move in together.

Try asking your landlord if you can go month to month at the end of your lease. If your lease expires and there is no auto-renew clause, then you will be switched to month to month automatically. That will give you a bit of leeway if you are looking to move after october.

Your best bet is to communicate both with your current and new landlords. I was able to sign the lease on my new place to start renting about 3 weeks after signing. This gave me a bit of breathing room, but I still had to eat 2 weeks of rent, due to me signing a lease at a new place, while waiting at the same time for my 30 day notice to expire at the old place.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 3:34 PM on August 13, 2008

Back in the OLDEN days (she says in a creaky voice), most rentals were found through actual newspapers - both city and local / neighborhood newspapers. I live in a very competitive market. I spent weeks picking through Craigslist but found the current house I live in through a newspaper ad in the neighborhood rag. Picked up the newspaper at 7 am, saw the ad immediately, called the # and left a message 5 minutes later, got a call back, made an appointment at 9 am to see it and put a deposit down immediately.

Others have already noted that it's hard to look at rentals 2 months in advance because landlords or rental agencies want immediate bookings. So wait at least six weeks in advance to seriously start looking, but it doesn't hurt to start looking now to get an idea of what's out there price wise.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:20 PM on August 13, 2008

For a view from the other side: Our renters told us six months ahead of time the date they planned to marry and leave. We advertised the rental about ten weeks in advance and got almost no interest (which was just as well because our renters had family problems so stayed longer.) Next time I'll just put an ad on Craigslist the month before it's available.
posted by anadem at 4:42 PM on August 13, 2008

In some towns, houses for rent are often advertised by a sign in the front yard. Go to the area you want to live and look around for signs. Some landlords who do this don´t advertise the house in any other way, as they get plenty of prospective renters with the sign. Bulletin boards in grocery stores or local cafes will sometimes have ¨for rent¨ notices.

It´s hard to rent a place in advance, if the house is empty now the landlord would like to be receiving rent on it rather than having it sit there for two months, and vacant property is more expensive to insure. The landlord doesn´t usually know in advance that a property will be vacant -- often, people use the phrase of ¨giving a month´s notice¨ in reference to moving out, and it means exactly that.

If a landlord is holding a property for a deposit, that usually becomes your damage deposit once you move in. Your landlord may vary.
posted by yohko at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2008

It'll really depend what neighborhood you're targeting.

If you're looking in frat/hippie happy Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach, then you're really early. If you're looking in neighborhoods with relatively few single family home rentals (Point Loma, Kensington, Coronado) you can start now, but understand you may have a month of double rent if you fall in love with one now.

However, if you're looking in the normal family neighborhoods - North Park, Hillcrest, Normal Heights, University Heights - you should be able to find a suitable rental in well under 6 weeks with the most options in the last week or September - first week of August. Everyone leaving will have given their months notice by then.
posted by 26.2 at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2008

Edit that to read, "last week of September - first week of October."

Unless you are manipulating the time-space continuum in some way.
posted by 26.2 at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2008

Due to my work and where I like to eat, I'm especially looking for houses in Kearny Mesa, Serra Mesa, Allied Gardens, Clairemont, and Mira Mesa.

Thanks for the great advice, everyone! I guess I'll look casually for the next couple of weeks and then start seriously searching in September.
posted by zompus at 4:11 PM on August 15, 2008

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