5 ways to score a lease in a competitive rental market

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5 Ways to Save Money When Renting an Apartment


In a competitive rental market, you'll need to do quite a bit more than simply fill out an application and put down a deposit. Since 2005, there has been "an uptick in renters, with people in their 50s and 60s making up the largest chunk of the increase," CNN Money reports.

With large numbers of millennials and Baby Boomers competing in a growing pool of renter applications, it's important to consider ways to boost your odds during the application process. Read on to learn how to give yourself an edge over other renters when you're applying for a rental home in a competitive market.

Apply online in advance

If you've browsed photos online of your dream rental property over and over, and your gut feeling is telling you that you've found "the one," there's no harm in filling out an application online if the option exists. This shows the property manager you're already a serious applicant when you visit the property.

Come prepared

When you arrive for a viewing of the rental property, come with a copy of your credit report, copies of your last few pay stubs, your checkbook, and a printed list of references (including your current employer and previous landlords).

Make the application review process easy for the property manager by bringing hard copies of more than enough application materials than your potential landlord would ever need.

An optional (but oh-so-helpful) document for your application package is a letter written to the landlord, explaining why you would be an excellent tenant - and if you've already visited before, what the home means to you. Think of the application packet as an argument for why you're the tenant for them.

And beyond documentation, bring a strong interview game. Prepare for your first meeting with your potential landlord as you would for any job interview. You'll be asked questions, but additionally, they expect you to present questions to them, too. This shows you've been thoughtful about the application process, and take the potential of living in their rental home seriously.

Express interest

It may seem obvious, but property managers want to see applicants excited about their home.

While Utah-based landlord James Hedges certainly values excellent references, he looks for a potential renter who gives the impression that they appreciate the home. "Ultimately, you want someone who will take care of and respect your property," he says. "How they react when they go through it should not be discounted."

"Showing an interest in the place and the neighborhood helps because it makes me feel like [the potential tenant] will treat my [rental] home and neighborhood as their own," Virginia-based landlord Julia Jarrett adds. "That sets me at ease a bit."

Be flexible

With lots of applicants in the pool, landlords often have a tough choice when deciding on a tenant. In addition to offering strong application materials and expressing sincere interest in the home, showing your ability to be flexible is another way to stand out.

If you're able to sign a longer lease, say so. It shows serious commitment, and means your potential landlord won't have to hunt for more tenants anytime soon - surely a relief for them.

And if it seems like the landlord wants to get the property rented immediately, mention that you're willing to move in earlier than your listed preferred move-in date, if that's possible.

Be transparent

Property managers will check references. Stretching the truth about something almost always comes out.

"If you lie on the application or in person and a reference contradicts you, it's a huge red flag," Hedges says. "Any indication of money problems is a red flag as well."

This hint may come in the form of an applicant haggling on price, negotiating what's included in the price, or asking to cash their check within a certain timeframe. "None of these are guarantees that they will be a bad renter, but they are warning signs that a landlord would take into consideration," Hedges explains.

Iowa-based landlord Laura Kilbride suggests potential renters keep their social media profiles somewhat public. "Having your Facebook profile visible can be a huge advantage," she says. "If your profile is blocked, they can't connect with you, and that's off-putting when [another applicant] has theirs readily available."


Related: The worst cities to save money


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The Worst Cities for Saving Money
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5 ways to score a lease in a competitive rental market

15. Sacramento, Calif.

  • Population: 485,199
  • Median income: $50,013
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%
  • Median home listing price: $530,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $2.223
  • Average cost of groceries: $42.94
  • Sales tax: 8.5%

The capital of California is more affordable than most of the states' major cities. But that doesn’t make it an ideal place for savers. Home prices still are high, and the median income in Sacramento is lower than the national median income of $53,482, leaving residents without a lot of wiggle room in their budgets to set aside money in savings.

Photo credit: Andrew Zarivny/Shutterstock.com

14. Bakersfield, Calif.

  • Population: 368,759
  • Median income: $56,842
  • Unemployment rate: 10.2%
  • Median home listing price: $245,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $2.35
  • Average cost of groceries: $35.68
  • Sales tax: 7.5%

The unemployment rate in Bakersfield is the second highest among the worst cities for savers. However, the median income of those who are employed is higher than many of the other cities on this list. Housing costs also are more affordable, which is why Bakersfield ranks lower than most of the other California cities that are the worst places for savers.

Photo credit: Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock.com

13. San Jose, Calif.

  • Population: 1,015,785
  • Median income: $83,787
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%
  • Median home listing price: $725,000
  • Median monthly rent: $3,300
  • Average gas price: $2.38
  • Average cost of groceries: $40.95
  • Sales tax: 8.75%

The median home listing price in San Jose is the second highest among the worst cities to save. It’s also one of America’s most expensive rental markets, according to CNN. But a high median income — as a result of its booming tech industry — helps offset the high housing costs somewhat and doesn’t make it quite as hard to save as other places on this list.

Photo credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock.com

12. Long Beach, Calif.

  • Population: 473,577
  • Median income: $52,944
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $479,950
  • Median monthly rent: $2,197
  • Average gas price: $2.567
  • Average cost of groceries: $36.58
  • Sales tax: 9%

This city on the Pacific Coast is a slightly better city for savers than neighboring Los Angeles. But the median income in Long Beach isn’t high enough to offset high housing costs, leaving residents with little left over to save.

Photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

11. Stockton, Calif.

  • Population: 302,389
  • Median income: $45,347
  • Unemployment rate: 8.8%
  • Median home listing price: $ 239,450
  • Median monthly rent: $1,300
  • Average gas price: $2.21
  • Average cost of groceries: $45.33
  • Sales tax: 9%

Stockton has two big strikes against it for savers: a median income that’s well below the national median income and a high unemployment rate. The city itself filed for bankruptcy in 2012 because fiscal mismanagement left it unable to pay its workers and fund the pensions of former city employees, according to Reuters. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2015.

Photo credit: Terrance Emerson/Shutterstock.com

10. San Diego

  • Population: 1,381,069
  • Median income: $65,753
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Median home listing price: $589,900
  • Median monthly rent: $2,850
  • Average gas price: $2.488
  • Average cost of groceries: $37.79
  • Sales tax: 8%

National Geographic Traveler magazine selected San Diego as one of the best destinations in the world. It’s certainly a nice place to visit, but it can be a tough place to live if you’re trying to save money. Although the median income in San Diego tops the national median, high housing costs can make it difficult to have money left over to save.

Photo credit: Dancestrokes/Shutterstock.com

9. Fresno, Calif.

  • Population: 515,986
  • Median income: $41,455
  • Unemployment rate: 10.3%
  • Median home listing price: $219,900
  • Median monthly rent: $1,250
  • Average gas price: $2.314
  • Average cost of groceries: $33.95
  • Sales tax: 8.23%

The largest city in California’s Central Valley has the lowest house list price and lowest median rent in GOBankingRates' ranking of worst cities for savers. In fact, housing costs are lower here than half of the best cities for savers. The unemployment rate, however, is the highest of all cities on this list. The lower housing costs aren't enough to offset other expenses, so it's still hard to save money in this city.

Photo credit: Tupungato/Shutterstock.com

8. Miami

8. Miami

  • Population: 430,332
  • Median income: $30,858
  • Unemployment rate: 5%
  • Median home listing price: $459,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,500
  • Average gas price: $1.874
  • Average cost of groceries: $39.06
  • Sales tax: 7%

Miami has the lowest median income on this list of worst cities for saving money, which means it’s harder for the city’s residents to afford the high cost of living there. On the plus side, though, Florida has no state income tax. And the 7 percent sales tax rate in Miami is the lowest among the worst cities for savers.

Photo credit: PHOTOSVIT/Shutterstock.com

7. Santa Ana, Calif.

  • Population: 334,909
  • Median income: $52,519
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $430,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,598
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $40.42
  • Sales tax: 8%

Forbes named Santa Ana one of the coolest cities in America in 2014 based on a ranking of entertainment and recreational amenities, diverse population and foodie culture. But that cool factor comes with a high cost. The median home list price and monthly rent — as well as average grocery and gas costs — are high, and the median income in Santa Ana is slightly below the national median, all of which can make it a tough place to save money.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

6. New York, N.Y.

  • Population: 8,491,079
  • Median income: $52,737
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Median home listing price: $699,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,700
  • Average gas price: $1.984
  • Average cost of groceries: $46.17
  • Sales tax: 8.88%

Frank Sinatra was right when he sang the following line about living in New York: “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” If you can manage to save money while living in this city with its exorbitantly high cost of living, then, yes, you can probably find a way to save in most other cities. Not only is it hard to save in New York because housing costs and daily expenses are high, but the median income is below the national median.

Photo credit: Atanas Bezov/Shutterstock.com

5. Anaheim, Calif.

  • Population: 346,997
  • Median income: $59,707
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $535,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,500
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $47.72
  • Sales tax: 8%

Anaheim is home to Disneyland Resort, which is great for visiting, but the city might not be the best place to call home if you want to save money. This city near Los Angeles rivals its bigger neighbor when it comes to a high cost of living. But a higher median income and lower housing costs keep Anaheim from being ranked as high as LA on this list of worst places to live if you’re trying to save money.

Photo credit: Juan Camilo Bernal/Shutterstock.com

4. Irvine, Calif.

  • Population: 248,531
  • Median income: $91,999
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $847,922
  • Median monthly rent: $3,400
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $44.67
  • Sales tax: 8%

Irvine is an affluent city in Southern California that has the highest median income of the 15 worst places for saving money. The city has been included in several "best places to live" lists in recent years because of its strong economy, well-regarded schools, and, as a planned community, thousands of acres of green space. But high home listing prices, rent, and daily expenses such as gas and groceries can take a big bite out of the big salaries in Irvine, leaving little money to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

3. Oakland, Calif.

  • Population: 413,775
  • Median income: $52,962
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $480,000
  • Median monthly rent: $4,650
  • Average gas price: $2.373
  • Average cost of groceries: $53.43
  • Sales tax: 9.5%

For years, Oakland has been considered the cheaper alternative to San Francisco. However, it’s by no means a cheap place to live relative to other cities in the U.S. In fact, rent prices in Oakland increased more in 2015 than any other major city — including San Francisco — according to the 2015 Zumper National Rent Report. Considering the median income here is lower than the national median, residents have little left over to stash into savings after covering high housing costs and daily expenses.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

2. Los Angeles

  • Population: 3,928,864
  • Median income: $49,682
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $650,000
  • Median monthly rent: $3,950
  • Average gas price: $2.567
  • Average cost of groceries: $39.01
  • Sales tax: 9%

For the second year in a row, California’s largest city lands in the second spot on GOBankingRates' list of worst places to live for saving money. LA is considered the worst major city for housing affordability, according to a report by Southern California Public Radio. Although places such as San Francisco have higher rents and home listing prices, median income in Los Angeles is lower, making it harder to cover the high cost of living and leaving little room in household budgets to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Sean Pavone

1. San Francisco

  • Population: 852,469
  • Median income: $78,378
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $998,000
  • Median monthly rent: $4,650
  • Average gas price: $2.516
  • Average cost of groceries: $58.76
  • Sales tax: 8.75%

San Francisco retains its No.1 spot on this list of worst places to live if you’re trying to save money. Known for being one of the most expensive areas in the U.S., the City by the Bay has the highest median home listing price, highest median rent and highest average cost of groceries on this list. With such high housing costs and daily expenses, a median income of $78,378 doesn’t go far in San Francisco.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Lenin RzSz

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Follow up


After leaving your meeting or open house with the landlord, send an email thanking them, along with asking any follow-up questions you may have. This encourages further dialogue, and having your name in their inbox serves as one more reminder as to who you are.

Hunting for the perfect rental property doesn't have to be a headache. Once you've found the rental home of your dreams, it's up to you to make the application process easy for the property manager.

Looking for more information about renting? Check out our Renters Guide.

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