Finding a room to rent is a challenge for many people. What is worse, the stakes of making a mistake can be awful with year-long leases and bad roommate experiences common. However, there are steps that minimize the risks of ending up in a bad situation and prevent the most common issues.
To start, finding the best possible place to stay in classified ads or on roommate search groups online is critical. Good roommates and a reasonable apartment might seem like hunting for a unicorn, but creating new friendships or locking in a rent-controlled lease happens regularly.
While mastering the search process is critical, so is the vetting process. Unsurprisingly, everyone wants to seem like a good roommate or that their room for rent is worry-free. Weeding out the bad roommates and skipping the suspicious leases is paramount to keeping your next twelve months carefree.
Finally, with the help of a few tools you can avoid the most common pitfalls that face new roommates or new living situations. After all, the five minutes needed to set up a few tools seems an obvious benefit when compared to the potential for twelve months of hardship and pretending everything is fine.
Alright, let’s break down a few steps to put you in the best position for a great year ahead.
How to Find the Best Rooms for Rent Near You
Finding a place to stay can be a daunting task. There are many factors that you need to take into account when looking for a place to live. Whether it's the location, the price, or the amenities that are offered, there is always something to think about.
The solution is to get organized and create a short-list of “must haves.” Lately, competition for rooms for rent has been fierce with the average apartment receiving 14 applications. Therefore, you may need to give up some wants to land an apartment that meets your critical needs.
Ultimately, we recommend conducting your search in two steps to help you find the best match. If you haven’t looked at your finances by this point, we recommend ensuring you know what you can safely afford and where you want to live. You’d hate to land the dream apartment only to realize you can’t afford it, right?
Step 1: See What You Can Afford and What You Need
Your first step in finding the right place to live is to create a short-list of interesting apartments using online listing sites. In this step, you can search on the typical listing sites like Apartments.com, RentCafe, Zillow, or Craigslist for listings worth seeing.
While some realtors are as bad as used car salesmen, glossing over problems with the unit or downplaying their importance, you will notice that not all landlords. Ultimately, you’ll want to create a short-list that helps you learn what is available in the location you want and at what price.
Without even contacting any apartment, you can quickly assess what is a reasonable rate for what you want and amenities that add cost. In my experience, adding washer/drier in-unit can add $100-250/mo to rent while an extra bedroom will set you back $500-750/mo.
If you plan to have a few roommates, then the extra bedroom is a no-brainer and will help you save on the rest. Get a sense for the costs in your area and have a second look at your needs list for what you can afford.
If you plan to move in with a roommate, make sure they are onboard with your assessment and major needs for the location. If you don’t have a roommate lined up yet, you can either search for a roommate with a room that matches your criteria or find a place and add the roommate later.
In our experiences, we highly recommend finding the right roommate first. A crap location can be fun with the right roommate, but even the best apartment can be a nightmare with the wrong roommate.
Step 2: Inspect a Short-List of Potential Rooms for Rent
Once you have a good idea of what you can afford and what is likely available, now you can start seriously looking at rooms for rent. Over the next few weeks, typically a month before you want to move, reach out to see several apartments in the area. It is critical to actually view the apartment, in person, since your landlord is literally paid to take photos that highlight the best features while ignoring any issues.
In the walk-through, try to image living in this unit. I typically imagine what it would be like to carry in groceries, wash laundry, take a shower (yes, you can turn on the water to see the water pressure), watch my shows on TV, fall asleep, and host friends for an evening. You can check on common amenities like the type of heating/cooling system, utilities, washer/drier, etc., but make sure you really imagine living with or without these amenities. Having a front porch might seem cool, but if you’re on ground level in a busy city, you may not actually use the space.
On arrival, the landlord will try to “sell” you, either by pumping up the place or telling you about the dozens of others applying. They may not be lying, but only put in offers for places you really want to live. Typically, application fees can add an extra $35-50 to your bill and come with credit checks.
Being the Best Applicant
As your potential landlord probably told you in their sales pitch, there are dozens of other applicants and they are on a “first come, first serve” basis for applicants. While we don’t know your potential landlord, both statements are likely a lie, or at least misleading.
Your landlord will likely receive numerous applicants for any interesting apartment, however, a good majority of folks will not have compelling applications or be willing to pay the $35-50 application fee. Similarly, we have personally cut the “first come, first serve” line and heard numerous stories of landlords picking tenants that have strong applications.
Imagine being the landlord and trying to rent out a property. Beyond the rules and regulations, you need to find someone you’ve never met to live inside your house for at least the next year. Therefore, you care about consistency of payments, upkeep for the rental unit, and how the tenant adds or detracts from the property. Therefore, the “first come, first serve” game is simply a ploy to get applicants quickly before picking the one least likely to cause any issue.
So what can you do to seem like the best candidate?
Just like applying for a job, you want to seem organized, able to pay the rent on time, and unlikely to cause problems for neighbors or the rental unit. Just as much as you are inspecting the rental unit during your walk-through, your potential landlord is inspecting you and your application.
Therefore, show up to the rental viewing looking semi-professional with clean clothes and your information ready to go. In five seconds, your landlord will see your personal care and preparation as a sign you will likely take care of the place over the next year. First impressions do matter and showing up late or with poor personal hygiene suggests you won’t look after the unit down the road.
Spending ten minutes to type out a one-page bio of you and prospective roommates seems silly and not all landlords will accept it. However, as someone that used this tactic to beat out another applicant that offered to pay the first six months upfront, it can make you seem trustworthy and serious about the place.
If you decide to provide a little bio, make this seem like a mixture of your personal background or interests at the top with your professional qualifications at the bottom. Professionals are seen as likely to pay the rent on time, so your landlord probably does care what you do for a living.
Most landlords will ask you to fill out their application form to apply for a room for rent. Large operations or apartment buildings typically require their own credit and background checks to verify your authenticity or credit-worthiness. For smaller landlords, you can come prepared with a recent credit check or self-verification provided through a trusted third-party.
We recommend WellPaid’s Identity product to self-verify. The service verifies your identity with a bank or government ID, then can be shared as a link on your bio page or in email to the landlord. This removes another step for some landlords, and even if it doesn’t, it proves you have nothing to hide.
WellPaid Identity lets you personally see what a landlord can see about you before you provide the link. Additionally, you can add a background and credit check to your profile to avoid paying for multiple checks on different applications. The background and credit checks are provided by one of the most common providers, Checkr, and appended to your profile on your request.
Finally, while most of us understand the need for references to help validate the authenticity and character of potential applicants, be it for a new job or new apartment, the process is quite bothersome for those responding. Landlords often ask for 1-2 references including a professional or former landlord to give an indication of any red flags they should consider with your application.
To simplify the reference check process for both those responding or the potential landlord, Easy References has a simple digital-only service to aggregate references. The service verifies the identity of any reference, so your landlord will know the reference is authentic. Asking your landlord if they’ll accept an Easy Reference can help you collect reference checks in advance while giving your landlord the most complete application in the bunch.
Putting Everything Together
To find the right room for rent when it seems everyone is jumping on the same few apartments it pays to do your homework and come prepared. Knowing what you can afford and having a list of similar properties for rent in the area allows you to find the right spot for your living situation.
Similarly, ensuring you are prepared and building the strongest application will help you land that “right spot.” Spending the few minutes to get organized in advance with WellPaid Identity and Easy References can mean the difference between landing the right apartment or paying too much for a poor fit. If nothing else, seeming polished and organized can only help your application.
We hope you enjoyed our recommendations and process for finding the right room for rent for you. The competition for rentals is tough and only expected to increase over the next few years. Being prepared and putting forth your best image can only help. Good luck and happy renting!