With record foreclosure rates rendering many longtime homeowners renters nearly overnight, the rental market is awash in folks who've not called an apartment or rental house "Home Sweet Home" for years—but now they need a place to live.
While added competition gives property management companies a bigger pool of tenants from which to choose, the result for tenants is stiffer competition in the search for the right rental.
Whether renting for the first time in life or as a "return renter," take steps to ensure a successful experience.
The Economy's Impact
First and foremost, in the current real estate climate, beware of bogus rental opportunities. Opt for long-term landlords or property management companies, says Larry Moore, co-owner of J&L Moore Property Management in Central Point.
"People need to be especially leery of private parties when they go out to do the rental," Moore points out.
"People will charge you several months' security and rent, then take the money and run and the house goes into foreclosure. These are hard times and we're hearing about that kind of thing more and more."
To verify a home is not in danger of foreclosure, check county tax records (www.jacksoncounty.org) and be skeptical of unrealistic rental rates. Average fees, for comparison, Moore notes, are a first, last and security. If a price seems too good to be true — meaning too high or too low—something is probably amiss.
Moore adds, "The easiest way to find out if something isn't quite right is to talk to the neighbors. Nine times out of 10, neighbors will know what's going on. They'll say, 'I thought that place was going into foreclosure!'"
When selecting a rental, iron out details such as yard work, pet rules and whether fees collected are refundable or not—and be honest, says Laurel Adams of Allcities Property Management in Ashland, whether it's about criminal history or bad credit.
Times are hard, she notes, and property management companies are flexible and reasonable. Fill out applications accurately and completely and don't omit information. Credit scores are important, Adams says, but "not nearly as important as rental history and behavior at past residences."
Extensive medical bills being paid slowly but regularly, for example, might not disqualify a potential renter while $30,000 in old utility bills and judgments —and a $1500 monthly income—would be an obvious red flag.
During and after the application process, it's OK to barter for things, like carpet or to be able to paint, but don't be unreasonable, says B&B Property Management owner Ron Bost. "Do not try to coerce a prospective landlord with your problems or with your knowledge of the law or demands."
A positive trend in the current rental market, if possible, consider "doubling up" to secure higher quality housing and some help with monthly expenses.
"What's happening is we're seeing two prospective tenants moving into one house because they can't afford to go on their own," Bost says.
"When they double up they can get a bigger, nicer place—a three bedroom with a pool for $1200 for two friends" versus a single bedroom apartment for $600 to $900.
A word of advice, however, property management companies prefer to see already successful "roomies" instead of, says Bost, "people who just then decided they'd double up." Financially, both parties are responsible for the full rental amount, not just "their half."
Finally, keep record of payments and copies of all documents related to the rental and document damages or special concerns before signing a lease or rental agreement.
"What they should do within 10 days, if they don't get a checklist from the property management company, is get one and fill it out, take pictures and have someone else sign that they saw it," Moore says.
"Landlord tenant laws are made to be fair to landlord and tenant but it's important to document things."
Finally, while rentals are utilized for a host of reasons, from college housing to a family fresh out of a foreclosure, look at any rental opportunity as a chance to build a positive credit reference and have a place to hang your hat.
Says Moore, "Take care of the property like it was their own."