Whether you're looking for an apartment, single-family house or townhome - and whether you're in a city, the suburbs or a small town - be prepared to spend a lot of time online and even more time driving around to tour the most promising places in person.
If you want to save time and avoid headaches, make sure that every rental listing you consider has all the information you need. High-quality listings help you weed out the places that don't fit your criteria (wait, Fido's not welcome?), but they also indicate an organized, communicative and professional landlord - something every renter wants.
As you begin your search, consider these five important things every good rental listing should contain:
1. Detailed details
Front and center should be the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, storage space and a floor plan to help you visualize the layout.
Avoid listings with vague terms like "junior one bedroom" or "open one bedroom." According to Zillow research, 65 percent of renters require their preferred number of bedrooms. Landlords know this, so they get creative with descriptions to attract more tenants.
Another need-to-know detail is how safe the property is. Zillow research reports that 75 percent of renters said that a safe neighborhood is a must-have. Most landlords will say that the neighborhood is safe, so do your own research, especially if you're new to the area.
Speaking of being new - if you're moving to a new part of town or an entirely new city, look for listings with important facts about the neighborhood, including proximity to transit or major freeways, convenient shopping centers, and nearby recreation and entertainment options.
2. Amenities - all of them
Beyond basics like heating and kitchen appliances, every renter has different amenities that they consider must-haves.
The most popular amenities renters look for include air conditioning, in-unit laundry, ample storage and private outdoor space. Watch for other nice-to-have in-unit amenities, like recent renovations, hardwood floors, plenty of windows and upgraded kitchens.
Shared amenities should be included in the listing too - things like parking, rooftop decks, fitness areas, outdoor space, swimming pools and bike storage.
3. Major (and potentially problematic) policies
The listing should disclose any policies that could be a deal breaker for you. Examples include rules around pets (including specific breeds), the maximum number of people who can live in the unit, smoking, parking, noise and - most importantly - lease terms and length.
Additionally, see if you can tell if the landlord lives on-site or if a local property management company manages things. If the landlord is nearby, they'll likely handle repair requests quickly, along with general building upkeep and maintenance.
4. Clearly described costs
Make sure the landlord is exceptionally clear about the dollars and cents:
- What is the monthly rent?
- How much of a deposit is required, and is any of it refundable?
- Are there any one-time fees?
- Is there a pet fee or monthly charge?
- Does parking cost extra?
- Who pays for utilities?
These additional charges can quickly move a listing from feasible to fruitless, so make sure you have all the info you need to do the math ahead of time.
5. High-quality photos
Focus on listings that have not only good photos but also recent photos - and lots of them.
Look for listings that include both interior and exterior shots, plus photos of all shared amenities. But renter beware: If the landlord says the photos are of a similar unit - not the one that's actually for rent - you may find yourself in a bait-and-switch situation.
Once you find a few listings that include these details, you're off to a great start. You can more easily compare properties side by side, identify deal breakers and find areas where a landlord might be open to compromising.
- ‘You’re Throwing Money Away’ and Other Myths About Renting
- 10 Ways to Make Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back
- The Top 5 Renting Nightmares and How to Face Them
Originally published June 2018. Statistics updated January 2019.