Updated: Jul 10
In this article I wanted to go over some options for locating properties to rent and some issues to be aware of, especially if they differ than a typical home search.
The Importance of Using Multiple Websites in Locating a Rental & the Problem with Relying Exclusively on an MLS Search
While 90+% of listings for sale are online on MLS, a much smaller number (under 50% in Newport News) of renter listings are on MLS. Because of that, and because there isn't 1 central source where you can get 90+% of properties, it's especially important to use multiple websites in your rental search.
Where to Look
Here are some links we have used to help people find rentals in the past. www.realtor.com (highest inventory - I recommend starting your search here) www.zillow.com (high inventory - I recommend that a search on here be 2nd for you) (Article on Zillow by me including instructions on how to set up a search on Zillow) https://www.airbnb.com/ (includes reviews - more geared toward short-term than long-term rentals, but don't rule it out) http://www.apartmentratings.com/ (includes reviews)ForRent.com (includes reviews) https://www.rentcafe.com/apartments-for-rent-near-me/ Zumper.com www.craigslist.com (duplicate posts can be annoying) www.Facebook.com www.hotpads.com
Don't Browse Except in Initial Search: Set Up Optimized Searches with Text Updates
Often people will waste time by not inputting enough filters in their search. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and it's fun for you to look, I recommend inputting enough filters to narrow your search to under 50 properties (not counting duplicates) combined across all of your searches on multiple websites.
In some cases, people will input too many filters. Your filters should reduce your number of available properties to no less than 20 properties on a high-volume website like Zillow or Realtor.com or when considering your total number of properties across multiple websites, not counting duplicate posts,
Rather than wasting time trying to manually filter through properties every time you return to a website, I recommend getting optimized searches set up on multiple websites with automatic updates as properties hit the market. For any cases where you can get an email notification, but not a text notification, I recommend using this workaround so that you can get text updates in order to be on top of showings at a time when many properties are going very fast.
Issues to be Aware of:
Even if you are only looking at 1 source for listings (unless that source is MLS typically), there will often be multiple listings of the same property in locations to find somewhere to rent if that website is auto-populating from other websites. Be aware, and skip the listings you've already seen when applicable. One of the best ways to quickly identify duplicates is to sort by the price.
Consider Avoiding Using Sq Ft Filter & Non-Required Criteria
In setting up your search, you may not want to include sq ft like you might for a property for sale. The reason why is that >10% of properties for rent don't even list their square footage in the first city in Hampton Roads I checked on the subject on MLS & Realtor.com. It's not a required criterion for input in many locations (Zillow also) and the person inputting the information likely doesn't care enough about marketability to input that information if it's not required.
BTW, if you're ever renting out your home and see your property manager doing something like not including sq ft in your listing, it's a red flag to cancel your contract with them if still possible &/or not renew with them as such critical criteria's exclusion is an indication that your property manager is trying to speed through and do the bare minimum if they can get away with it.
To check to see about other potential search elements that may not be a requirement, do an extreme search. For instance, with sq ft, you could search 1 sq ft+ to see if it has the same number of properties as a search in a large city in your immediate vicinity & in your own place that you are looking where the only criteria is the city/county, before adding any other criteria. If the number of results is the same, it's likely a required criterion.
Low Picture Volume (Especially When Not Managed by Agents)
Often the marketing quality of a property for rent is inferior to that of a comparable property for sale. Marketing quality is often inferior when comparing properties listed by agents vs properties listed by owner, and there is a higher % of properties listed by owner for rent than for sale.
With properties listed by agents, there's a much higher % of properties where a home has few pictures because it looks bad. With properties listed by owner, there's a much higher probability vs homes for rent by agents that the owner just doesn't know what they are doing by listing no pictures or few pictures.
Those properties with low picture volume or no pictures are often skipped over by many tenants. While some of them are train wrecks, sometimes they can be gorgeous, especially when listed by the owner, so spending time weeding through them can be time-consuming, but can sometimes land you a deal.
If you'd like more pictures of a place, if you have an agent working for you, ask them if there are any prior listings with additional photos of more locations than what's present in the current photos for a listing. While much could have changed since then, at least it can give you an idea, and in some cases, there have been minimal changes.
Whether you have an agent working for you or not, it's not difficult to use Google Maps on a desktop or laptop to check things like the street view, aerial view, and 3d view of a place if there are limited exterior photos within the listing itself. Again, a lot can change over time since when Google acquired those images, but it can give you an idea.
Not all MLS Listings Will be Present on Typical Public Websites & There May be Delays
While typically almost all Multiple Listing Service listings will auto-populate onto places like Zillow & Realtor.com with properties for sale, apparently that's less often the case for properties for rent.
In some cases, there can be a few day delay between when a property is listed on 1 place and when it auto-populates to another place.
Those are some of the top reasons to get an MLS search going separately even though it will likely be fewer properties than on Zillow or Realtor.com.
On many websites, properties that appear to be available actually won't be. Weeding through these isn't as easy as it is with homes for sale since MLS isn't as heavily used as it is when owners sell. On Craigslist, many older listings are unavailable. It's best to reach out about multiple properties at once rather than putting all your eggs in one basket. By the time you hear back on one property, another one that may have been available might no longer be. Also, it's often best to reach out in a way that is geared towards quick responses, like text (if you are confident that they have a mobile number, especially if you are able to see a read receipt) or a phone call rather than an email.