Starting the search for your next home online – whether it’s a rental or purchase – has become commonplace, if not completely expected. But when it comes time to tour homes and narrow your options, it may seem like only homebuyers have the advantage of calling on a real estate agent to help them through the process.

But renters shouldn’t sell themselves short.

Many real estate agents will gladly represent a renter searching for his or her next place to lease – it’s just a matter of connecting with the right professional who’s familiar with rentals in your target area.

Real estate agents involved in lease deals often collect a commission or finder’s fee from the landlord – typically equivalent to one month’s rent – when a qualified renter signs on to move in. But in some parts of the country where finder’s fees aren’t common – Seattle, for example – agents will instead collect a flat fee of a few hundred dollars or more from the renter, depending on the level of service.

[See: 8 Apartment Amenities You Didn’t Know You Needed.]

By enlisting the help of an agent, you get all the benefits available to a homebuyer: professional experience, local knowledge and an understanding of your budgetary constraints.

“The biggest benefit is, first and foremost, the personal touch. I think it’s something that’s been lacking over the last five or six years in the real estate industry, especially on the rental side,” says Justin Cleary, CEO of the Philly Apartment Company, an apartment rental agency in Philadelphia.

Cleary says his company receives about half of its business from individuals moving to the Philadelphia area from out of town.

“The other 50 percent are people that just don’t want to bother sitting in front of a computer for days and weeks on end, trying to narrow down places. And I think the biggest difficulty is getting in to see properties,” he says.

Seattle Rental Group is a similar business with an apartment-finding service that specializes in employment relocations, which not only offers availabilities and sets up appointments for tours but introduces soon-to-be residents to the Emerald City.

“They help people with a crash course of the area – if you’re interested in the closest grocery stores and what kind of people live there,” says Kim Reidy, director of relocation for Seattle Rental Group.

Still, leasing an apartment or home is far easier than buying a home, and many renters choose to go solo when searching for and leasing a place. As a result, professionals dedicated to the renting process are less common. Cleary says the Philly Apartment Company is one of the only apartment brokers in the Philadelphia area.

Fred Thompson, director of the Property Management Division for Re/Max 200 Realty in Orlando, Florida, says he doesn’t see many real estate agents taking renters through the entire process in his market. Most renters, he says, find the single-family homes for lease from Re/Max 200 online and reach out directly.

“They may have a Realtor or sales agent open up a house and show it to them, but there’s not really any tenant representation as far as leasing the property, and there’s hardly [any] room on the listing price to move,” Thompson says.

Housing shortages aren’t specific to the buy-and-sell market. High demand for rentals throughout most of the U.S. means available apartments and homes for rent are going fast – and rents are rising quickly.

In the state of Washington, the legally required notice to move out is just 20 days, where most places require between 30 and 90 days. Short notice combined with a fast-moving market means renters have to act fast and be strategic to find the right apartment or house. Reidy notes an agent helps to streamline the inquiry process so the renter can focus on narrowing options.

“As a real estate agent, we can access the key box and therefore eliminate the appointments and just kind of show up,” she says.

Whether you plan to enlist the help of an agent or not, Thompson stresses renters should be prepared to move quickly to secure a desired rental.

“They may want to be ready to go to their bank and get a cashier’s check or money order for the deposit or first month’s rent,” Thompson says.

[Read: The 10 Best Apps for Finding Your Next Apartment.]

Here are six reasons you may benefit from using a real estate agent to help you find your next rental.

Your location calls for it. If you’re going to be living in the heart of downtown in a major city, having a professional on hand would be helpful – and in a competitive market like New York City, a real estate agent is necessary to help you get appointments to tour available spaces.

You’re relocating to a new city. As someone unfamiliar with a city’s layout and neighborhoods, it could be a major advantage to call in a pro who spends their days scouring neighborhoods for available homes and apartments. Some employers also include agent representation as part of their relocation packages.

You’re busy and can’t look yourself. Whether you can’t make it to your next city until your move date or you simply have a lot of important meetings, enlisting the help of an agent can eliminate that time crunch you’ve been struggling with.

You want to rent a single-family home. Unlike apartment buildings where a property manager is often on site, single-family home rentals can be harder to find listings for and schedule tours. A real estate agent will have access to the local multiple listing service and will know which houses are for rent, and should be able to get you access in a timely manner.

You want to rent in a mom-and-pop building. Similar to the single-family home rental issue, a desire to rent in a smaller building owned by a private investor may make visiting the property more difficult. A real estate agent with knowledge of all the buildings in the area and familiarity with the local investors will make it easier to find out if there’s an open unit in that quadplex or three-floor walk-up.

[Read: 7 Concessions to Ask About While You Search for Your Next Apartment.]

You’re having trouble scheduling a tour. If calls or emails to a property manager go unanswered, or you make it to the leasing office just after closing, it’s a real estate agent’s job to make that connection for you. With an agent representing you, it might be possible to schedule an after-hours showing or ensure the property manager knows you’re serious about your inquiry.

Tags: real estate, housing market, housing, renting


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

Recommended Articles

10 Kitchen Remodel Ideas on a Budget

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 21, 2020

Transform your kitchen with projects that won't require you take out a loan or spend your entire savings.

9 Bathroom Remodel Costs to Consider

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 20, 2020

Even if you DIY parts of your project, your bathroom renovation expenses can easily climb higher than your budget allows.

Is there a Better Time to Sell a House?

Dima Williams | Feb. 18, 2020

Winter isn't keeping homebuyers at bay anymore. You may want to consider putting your property on the market before spring hits.

How to Find a Reliable Contractor

Teresa Mears, Devon Thorsby | Feb. 14, 2020

This expert advice will help you find a contractor to get your renovation done right.

Homebuyer Programs for Marylanders

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 12, 2020

These loan, payment assistance and education programs may help you buy a home this year.

6 Tile Trends for Your Home

Lisa Larson | Feb. 12, 2020

These popular tile options can introduce new colors, patterns and textures to your home.

8 DIY Bathroom Remodel Projects

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 7, 2020

These projects can be simple updates or combined for a full DIY bathroom transformation.

The Guide to Living in a Van

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 5, 2020

What you need to know when comparing costs and plans for your dream of living full time in a van.

Are Your HOA Fees Too High?

Wendy Arriz | Feb. 4, 2020

Here's how you should evaluate the monthly fees or carrying costs for a building or neighborhood.

The Best Virtual Room Design Tools

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 31, 2020

Use these tools to create floor plans, 3D models and other details to boost your room design.

What's That Smell in My House?

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 29, 2020

Figure out the likely causes of unpleasant smells in your home.

Why Move to Lower Your Property Taxes?

Steven Gottlieb | Jan. 29, 2020

A rising property tax bill may have you considering moving somewhere new. Consider these three things before making the change.

The Best Free Interior Design Apps

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 27, 2020

These apps help you brainstorm, budget and plan your next renovation or room design.

6 Simple Ideas for Your Home Office

Deanna Haas | Jan. 24, 2020

Here's a list of tips for designing your home office, maximizing productivity and getting more work done while you're working from home.

What You Should Know About Tenant Rights

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 23, 2020

Know what protections you have when you and your landlord get into a dispute.

How to Save on Hardwood Flooring Costs

Geoff Williams | Jan. 22, 2020

Consider these tips and tools to save on expensive hardwood costs.

9 Basement Renovations on a Budget

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 21, 2020

Make your underground space a little more welcoming without going beyond your budget.

What to Know About Moving to California

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 15, 2020

No other state offers such a variety of places to live and job opportunities, but expect to pay more.

Which Home Is the Best Layout for You?

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 10, 2020

Before you buy or build a home, consider how the footprint and floor plan fit with your lifestyle.

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 8, 2020

The housing market may not be as hot as in previous years, but selling now could be your best bet.