For the uninitiated, finding your dream apartment might seem like the biggest part of the rental battle. Don't get us wrong, landing on that perfect piece of real estate is a challenge in its own right, but once you've found it, there's a bigger hurdle to jump: getting approved.
A new study by Trulia suggests the odds are stacking against renters. Home ownership is at a 51-year low and in the last decade, there's been a five-point increase in the number of renters, making the market more competitive than ever. Add to that a shaky credit score or low income and your chances are dashed again.
Before you lose hope, there is a way to make your rental application stand out from the rest. Trulia Data Scientist Mark Uh poured through the real estate site's wealth of listings and rental resumes to find out the one thing that catapults your chance of success. It turns out, you could be going about applying for an apartment all wrong...
If there's one key takeaway from Trulia's data, it's this: sending a personalized message to a prospective landlord is the single best way to boost your chance of success. Renters who penned a customized letter were 20% more likely to be taken seriously and receive a response from landlords. "When you’re shopping for a rental in today’s competitive market, you don’t want to be just another person submitting an inquiry," says Mark Uh. "Sending a personalized message might help landlords understand the prospective tenant as a person, which can help develop a trust and understanding."
Unsure what to include in your customized letter? It's important to be thorough and also weave in details that show your character. Addressing why you're seeking to move and how long you lived in your last home will help a landlord understand your backstory and build trustworthiness.
Love your own company? Uh found that living solo could work against you in the rental market. "Our research models found that those who have two or more tenants had a higher chance of getting approved than single tenants," he says. This could indicate landlord bias or that sharing an apartment with other tennants boosts your odds, but Uh is quick to point out that it's not a blanket rule. "Households with two or more tenants might be families that are renting, and whose head of household may be older than that of a single-tenant household."
Like a job interview, your rental application is a time to be clear about your strengths—don't be shy. A top mistake among renters is thinking that credit score and income are the only details you should submit. It's particularly for candidates with a mid-range score to supply extra information and play to their strengths. "One way to show reliability is to have former landlords with whom you had a good relationship refer you. Referrals from your employer can help as well," says Uh. "Proof of funds can also show that you can afford the rent despite having a low income."
It might seem counterintuitive, but having a flexible move-in date could actually be a disadvantage. The study revealed that applicants who specified they wanted to move in within a one-week period were able to find a place sooner than those who expressed flexibility. Why? Uh infers this could be because a tight move-in date shows landlords that you're ready and serious about finding an apartment. In other words, even if your search isn't last-minute, expressing eagerness to move in could boost your odds.
Drafting an application might be time-consuming, but omitting personal details is a big no-no. People who filled out at least five of the nine suggested rental resume points were 10% more likely to hear back from a landlord than those who skipped questions. "Income, credit score, move-in time frame, and the number of tenants are all very important aspects that landlords look for in tenants," says Uh, in addition to details like whether you have pets and can provide character references.
Looking to seal the deal? Turn on your phone email notifications so you're quick to respond to any landlord messages. Uh says people were considered "qualified renters" if they had a fast response time, as they were deemed more serious than those who let time lapse between emails.
Long-time renters: Have you learned any smart tips to boost your application odds?