It used to be that if you wanted to rent an apartment, you would look in the classified ads of the local newspaper.
These ads would have been placed by landlords and grouped by the type of apartment available: one or two bedrooms and the residence location. If a property owner wanted to find a tenant, the newspaper was the number one method to use.
Beside the newspaper, landlords advertised in rental magazines that would list the available unit along with a nice picture and the landlord's contact information. These magazines were randomly available and weren’t always easily found.
Some landlords decided that all they needed to do was put a for rent sign in front of the available property, and many times that worked for them. Of course other property owners would use a combination of the above three methods.
In some cities, landlords would try to get their property listed on multiple listing services, or MLS. While these platforms can vary per area, MLS serves as a clearinghouse for properties for sale and, in some cities, houses, condos and apartments for rent.
But that's not the way it works anymore.
Benefits of using a real estate agent
In 2019, there are many online sites and property management software programs that act as a middleman between landlords and tenants. These sites usually have hundreds of available apartments, and would-be tenants can browse listings from their computers or mobile devices.
In some smaller cities and towns, classified ads still exist, rental magazines can be found, multiple listing services may be preferred, and yard signs are still prevalent.
With all of this overwhelming information available to you, you might wonder if there is someone out there that can help you as a potential renter. We suggest you contract with a real estate agent to learn what they actually do, and to allow them the opportunity to help you find your next place, and here are seven great reasons why.
7 benefits of using a real estate agent
You can have an honest relationship
Agents have total access
You might be a bad negotiator
You might have credit issues
The nuances of the lease
Security deposit implications
1. It’s free
When you contract with a renters’ agent, that real estate agent will usually not charge you anything because the landlord will pay for the agent’s services. If a landlord rents to a tenant that is represented by a renters’ agent, the cost to the landlord can sometimes be as significant as a full month’s rent. But again, that’s not your problem.
2. You can have an honest relationship
Like going to a car dealership where the staff is non-commissioned, dealing with a renters’ real estate agent can be great because that agent will be working for you while paid by the landlord. This takes money out of the picture — at least between you and the real estate agent. This means the goal of both parties can be to find you the best apartment at the best price in the best location.
Your relationship with the real estate agent shouldn't be cloaked in ulterior motives, and this makes for a more stress-free experience.
3. Agents have total access
Yes, we know that you are computer savvy and that you are capable of looking on all of the online sites, finding the still existent rental magazines, and even cruising neighborhoods in search of for-rent signs. You are good at Excel and you like to make spreadsheets, and you know you could create a beautiful rendition of everything that is for rent in the neighborhoods you like and in your price range.
Our point here is that there is no good reason for you to have to do that since a renters’ agent can complete all of that work for you. You can accept or reject any of the information brought to you, and you can ask for more choices. What could be easier?
4. You might be a bad negotiator
A guy named Michael Rozbruch said, “Everything in life and business is negotiable, everything!” He wasn’t kidding, and this can be especially true in the world of apartment rentals. In Austin, TX, many would-be tenants look at the listed price for an apartment as an asking price as if the property were a home.
In Chicago, IL, If a landlord lists a one-bedroom unit at $1800 the tenant might come back and offer $1700, and this is an accepted practice. Another person might try and get a discounted monthly rent for a longer-term lease. If you are at all uncomfortable with these types of business dealings, your renters’ agent can help as they will be the go-between you and the landlord.
Let your agent do the down and dirty negotiations while you sit back and wait to see if your offer is accepted.
Landlords today are even pickier than they used to be, and some will require an application that will ask for your employer, your monthly income, permission to access your credit report, your last two landlords (!), and other items that may legally be asked for. If you sloppily fill out the application or make mistakes, you can be instantly rejected. A good renters’ agent can walk you through the process while proofreading your application to make sure it looks good.
If you do have bad credit, it can be an issue that means quick application rejection. A renters’ agent, however, can go to bat for you and explain to the landlord or rental company exactly why you would be a better credit risk than your credit score might indicate.
Even though the information will be the same, it may mean a lot more to the landlord if it is coming from a third party — your rental agent — and if there are good reasons for your poor credit. Your agent may also have dealt with the landlord or rental company in the past, and they may trust his or her judgment. At any rate, it’s great to have someone else on your side.
Are you able to plow through legalese? Do you know what rights a lease bestows upon you and are you aware of the responsibilities that come with it? Do you know the consequences of moving out early?
Do you understand lease language like this?
The application for this Lease and all representations contained therein are made a part of this Lease and Resident warrants that the information given by Resident in the application is true. Any material misrepresentation made by Resident in the application shall constitute a material non-compliance with the terms of the Lease and shall be a basis for the Owner to terminate this Lease and repossess the Unit as provided by law, after Owner gives Resident 10 days written notice of said material noncompliance.
This type of language is common to apartment leases and your renters’ agent should be able to explain it to you. If not, the agent should be able to get you in touch with a good lawyer that can review the lease. Again, if a lawyer advises you that a portion of the lease needs to be changed, your renters’ agent can be the go-between, contact your landlord, and work out any changes in a manner that is satisfactory to all parties involved.
7. Security deposit implications
Some landlords are fair regarding security deposit issues, and others are not. Generally, normal wear and tear like a few nicks in the wall or a dirty carpet should not be reasons to forfeit your security deposit.
Most municipalities have laws that protect tenants from landlord security deposit abuse. In some municipalities, if you take a landlord to court for unlawfully withholding your security deposit, you can get triple damages. In other words, if the amount illegally withheld was $500, you could be awarded $1500 plus attorneys’ fees.
It certainly would be easier to make sure both sides understand their particular duties regarding security deposits, and you renters’ agent can make sure you are aware of what is expected of you. Your agent may also know if your potential landlord has had a habit of unreasonably withholding tenant security deposit cash and can you advise you of these issues. Experienced renters’ agents have many sources of information and can alert you to a problem landlord before you decide to sign a lease that legally binds you for a year or even longer.
Stepping away from the middlemen
It seems that middlemen are everywhere. Go online to search for a local carpenter, and you’ll find business that will find one for you. There are many third-party delivery services for food, and if you need a lawyer for any reason, there are many lawyer referral services.
While you may be the type of person that does not want to deal with third-party entities that seem to just take a commission form both sides of a transaction, you may very well be better served by a renters’ real estate agent.
They will do the legwork, they are usually very well-informed, and they can make the process of renting an apartment seamless and easy. Yes, it can be a DIY project, but it's worth considering the services of a qualified real estate agent to help you find your next dream apartment.
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Sam Radbil is an author at ABODO apartments, an online apartment marketplace that helps renters find apartments all across the country. ABODO reports on rent rates, the changing of real estate markets and trends within the real estate industry