When Shopping for the Best Rental, Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room

unpacking boxes after moving...

By Niccole Schreck

The American dream of owning a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence is changing.
About 54 percent of Americans believe that renting has become more appealing than homeownership, according to an April 2013 housing survey of 1,433 adults by Hart Research Associates. And a Rent.com survey of renters nationwide found that 61 percent have delayed home ownership and plan to stay longer in their rental. With more people choosing to rent than buy a home, finding the perfect rental has become increasing difficult.

If your moving dates are relatively flexible (i.e. you can stand living at Mom and Dad's for a few more months), it can be a good idea to time your move. The best time to find your next apartment depends on your ultimate goal: Are you more interested in having several options to choose from, or do you want to save more money on your rental?

I want to have a lot of options. Most Americans move between May and September, so if you're looking for options, the best time to move is probably going to be during the spring and summer months. During the spring, recent college graduates are moving out of their apartments near campus and younger kids are out of school on summer break, making moves easier on families. Depending on where you live, the weather is also generally more accommodating to move during the warmer months. All of these factors result in a dynamic rental market with more turnover during this time of the year as compared to most other months.

However, there are some downsides of apartment hunting during the peak season: There will be greater demand from renters vying for rental units, which means you may have to act more quickly in making a decision about a rental so as not to lose it to another interested renter, and there is less opportunity to negotiate with your potential landlord.

I want to save money. In a recent Rent.com survey, 56 percent of renters said rent payments are their biggest required monthly expense -- far surpassing other bills such as groceries, utilities or transportation. In fact, a May 2013 study by the Center for Housing Policy revealed that 1 in 4 working households in America, which amounts to about 10.6 million families, spend more than half of their pre-tax income on housing.

If you're looking to save money on moving costs and your monthly rent, you'll want to look for apartments during the winter months. Winter is notoriously slow for apartment hunting, so landlords who are looking to fill units will often be open to negotiating monthly rent amounts. In addition to securing a lower rent, your first few months in your apartment will also reflect the highest energy bills you're likely to incur during your time living in your new place (unless you live in a Southern state), so your monthly costs are only going to go down with time. The downside of apartment hunting during the winter is, of course, limited availability.

My move-in date isn't flexible. Without a lot of wiggle room, you're probably going to end up paying whatever is necessary to find a great apartment. However, that doesn't make seasonal information moot -- use your knowledge of seasonal rental trends to your advantage! For example, if you're looking to move during the fall, use your knowledge of the upcoming slow season to negotiate your rental rate. If you have to move during the summer but aren't a student, you should consciously avoid apartment hunting in neighborhoods with a large population of students, as your options there will likely be more limited.

More from U.S. News:
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A Step-by-Step Guide to Homebuying
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