Finding the Best Rental: Tips for Today's Market

Great apartments and rental homes can be hard to find — and tough to afford. Here are some strategies for getting a rental you’ll love.

If you’re a renter, you may be finding your budget strained as rental rates — now 15 percent higher than they were at the end of the recession in 2009 — continue to rise across the country.

You may even be feeling trapped, as saving for a down payment on a home becomes increasingly challenging. The median share of monthly income devoted to rent is at an all-time high of 30 percent, up five percentage points from the historical average. Here are some ways to minimize the pain.

Know your market
You can’t make quick, smart decisions without first knowing your market. Start your research by checking out how much homes are currently renting for in your area and how long they stay on the market. If you notice a rental one day and it is gone the next, you’ll know you need to act fast.
Save searches for rental listings and set up notifications to alert you to changes. Make sure to contact the landlord immediately if you are interested in a listing, since many landlords and property managers work on a first come, first served basis.

Share space
If you’re spending more on rent than you’d like to, one way to cut your housing costs is doubling up. A recent Zillow analysis showed that more than a third of working-age adults live in doubled-up households.
This increase coincides with rising rental prices nationwide. Large metro areas with the highest share of adults living with roommates include Los Angeles (47.9 percent), Miami (44.5 percent), New York (42.5 percent) and San Diego (39.7 percent).

Consider location
While rents are high in almost all major cities, some areas are considered affordable, like Kansas City, St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Zillow finds that in these markets, the share of income needed to afford a median-priced home is in the 20 to 25 percent range. By comparison, in Miami, rents consume an average of 43 percent of the typical household income.
And while it’s still cheaper to buy a place in most major markets today, it actually makes better financial sense to rent in San Jose, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and other areas.

Often, the best steals and deals are found through word of mouth, but they can be few and far between. Ask around and you may hear of someone with an extra room they’re not using who’d like to make a little extra cash on the side.
You won’t know if you don’t ask, and in a market that’s as tight as this one – with a current national apartment vacancy rate of less than 5 percent – you should definitely ask.