Should You Use a Real Estate Agent to Find Your Next Rental?

When it's best to take advantage of a pro's knowledge to secure your next apartment or rental home.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Reasons to Use an Agent When Renting

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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 desired city. Here are four reasons working with an agent to find your rental would be a good fit, and four reasons finding an apartment or house on your own could be best.

Why You Should Use a Real Estate Agent to Find Your Next Rental

Here are four 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.

Other major cities like Chicago and Miami may also be easier to navigate with a real estate agent representing you.

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 his or her days scouring neighborhoods for available homes and apartments. Plus, if you can't visit your new city ahead of your move, an agent can be your eyes and ears on location to tour places and bring you along via video chat. Some employers include agent representation as part of their relocation packages.

Seattle Rental Group serves as the rental arm of real estate brokerage Pointe3 Real Estate, specializing in employment relocations. The group not only facilitates appointments for touring rentals and helps to oversee the rental application process, but also 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 and senior broker for Seattle Rental Group.

You're Worried About Getting Scammed

Rental scams exist, often in the form of a copied availability listing meant to trick unsuspecting renters into wiring a security deposit or first month's rent without any real chance of living at the place they see online. Fred Thompson, director of the property management division for Re/Max 200 Realty in Orlando, Florida, says these kinds of hijacked ads are a growing problem in the rental industry.

There are a few signs that will tell you when rental listing is a scam – from the landlord revealing he lives outside the country to no request for a background check – but if you're worried about missing these details, a real estate agent will be a helpful barrier.

"If the prospective tenant for a rental property is dealing with a Realtor, they pretty much have a 99.9% chance that it won't be a hijacked ad," Thompson says.

Rentals Are Going Fast

The COVID-19 pandemic had many people seeking a move away from major urban centers for more space. While vacancy may have increased in city-center high-rises, the overall vacancy rate for rental properties in the U.S. has not seen major changes. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the rental vacancy rate for residential properties in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 6.5%, just 0.01% more than the third quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2019, which were both 6.4%.

Even in major cities like Seattle, Reidy says she expects summer 2021 to be when many renters return to the city, with the addition of new residents that delayed relocating to the area due to the pandemic. She reports she's already been in contact with more than 1,000 people who will be renting and expect to move to the area by the end of August.

Knowing you have fierce competition, you may want to have an agent who can help you navigate listings and prepare to submit an application quickly to avoid getting beat out by competing renters.

Why You Should Find Your Next Rental on Your Own

Here are four reasons to stick to your own methods for finding a rental.

You Enjoy the Hunt

If you love looking at apartment or home listings, you're not alone. Even if you're not planning to move, you may love viewing apartment photos and taking 3D tours, scouring Craigslist for diamonds in the rough or simply searching for availabilities in your neighborhood.

If you enjoy the search process, and you live in a city where you don't need an agent to book appointments for a tour, you may find the process is enjoyable without representation.

You Won't Be Negotiating

Leasing an apartment or home is far easier than buying a home, particularly because there's less negotiation, and many renters choose to go solo when searching for and leasing a place.

Thompson says he doesn't see many real estate agents taking renters through the entire process in the Orlando area. 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.

You'll Need to Pay a Finder's Fee

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, agents will instead collect a flat fee of a few hundred dollars or more from the renter, depending on the level of service. If your ability to rent hinges on not going outside your tight budget, you'll want to be sure you don't have to cover an agent fee before you start working with an agent to find your rental.

You Plan to Rent a Single-Family Home

While you can use an agent to help you find any type of rental home, you're less likely to encounter agents representing would-be tenants for single-family homes. Even in a large and high-cost metro area like Seattle, would-be tenants looking for a house don't need to be as worried about competing with other renters who have an agent.

"When I'm listing a house for rent, I'm seeing about 95% (of respondents) are representing themselves and don't have an agent," Reidy says.

Still, the current market means you should prepare for stiff competition. Reidy says single-family renters should expect to have to put in multiple applications before getting approved by a landlord to rent a house, and Thompson says it's best to be ready to move fast.

"They can find housing, but if they're strictly looking for a single-family home … be ready to apply and if the property management company wants the first month's rent upfront, maybe be ready with a cashier's check to give them that amount," Thompson says.

Updated on March 30, 2021: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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