Look for the next housing bubble in the rental market. Apartment rents will rise 5% in 2012, says commercial real estate brokerage Marcus & Millichap. Landlords report receiving multiple applications for each listing and are picky about tenants. The market for single-family rentals is just as competitive. In Minneapolis–St. Paul, Renters Warehouse broker Brenton Hayden calls demand "insatiable."
Rachel LeBlanc scoured online listings for an apartment in Boston’s Back Bay but couldn’t find much that was affordable—or even available by the time she requested a showing. LeBlanc called Charlesgate Realty, a brokerage specializing in rental properties. An agent helped her find a studio for $1,600 a month (the fee was one month’s rent). LeBlanc leased the apartment the same day she saw it and will move in September.
With a pro or on your own, it’s best to start your search at least two months before you want to move. Expect to supply proof that you earn two to three times the monthly rent. Landlords might set a minimum credit score (680 is common in Boston). Landlords probably won't negotiate on rent but may be flexible on pet deposits or utility costs. Or you may get a deal in exchange for signing a longer lease or helping to maintain the property. Hot markets have attracted scammers. Beware listings that sound too good to be true, and don’t pay anything until you’ve seen the place in person.
This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.