In ultracompetitive rental markets, some renters are going to extremes to snag (and keep) the apartment they want: paying a full year’s rent in advance, delivering their application with a bottle of wine, or offering to paint the walls and replace the cruddy carpet on their dime. But this isn’t the new normal just for New York, NY, rentals: In tight markets around the country, from San Francisco, CA, to Washington, DC, renters are going the extra mile to land their dream place.
“Tenants are paying as much as what a down payment could be on a home,” says Nadine Fallon, partner and broker in Great Spaces Real Estate in Boston, MA. “When you factor first, last, security, and a broker fee, you are looking at $12,000 just to move in. Then calculate moving costs, and it becomes prohibitively expensive for frequent moves.” To make the process easier, Trulia’s new Rental Resume tool lets users save and quickly send relevant lease application details — from how many pets they have to current employment information — any time they want to inquire about a property listed for rent on the site.
Here are seven real-life stories from renters who went the extra mile to score the perfect apartment.
1. Sweetening the deal
“I was moving out of a situation with roommates to find my first place all on my own. Not much in my price range was coming up, so when I found a funky-yet-affordable one-bedroom in a decent part of town, I was excited. But the landlord was not excited about my current lack of full-time employment (I was a freelancer), and his elderly mother, who was the actual owner, was totally unconvinced. So I proceeded to write a letter, explaining how I’d been searching for months with no luck, and that this apartment was the perfect solution to all my problems. To seal the deal, I bought a tin of butter cookies for the elderly mother — I took a guess that it would appeal to her. I dropped off the cookies and the letter, and by the end of the week, I was signing the lease.” — Lawrence Carter, Washington, DC
2. Man’s best friend — and tenant
“I bought a bow tie for my dog and kept treats hidden in my pocket so he would be a perfect gentleman when meeting the real estate agent, who had been asked to check him out by the apartment owner.” — Bryan Barbieri, Boston, MA
3. Enhancing the truth
“I have tried several tricks to outrace the masses to get to my dream apartment. This has included pretending to be related to the landlord, bearing a letter from a distant mutual cousin; offering to exchange my small summer home in Maine (which didn’t exist); or promising, in writing, to watch their dog for a year. But in order to get on the waiting list for an artist-colony complex, I showed the managers several pages of a TV show script I claimed I was working on. Then I told them I could teach a class in television writing.” — Suzanne O’Neil, Los Angeles, CA
Although the tactic worked for this renter, Fallon strongly warns against it. “The lease and the application are legal documents that you are signing and attesting to that the information is accurate and true. Depending on how much you bend the truth, lying on them can put you in violation of your lease, and if your landlord finds out, they may have grounds to evict you. Evictions that go to court are public record and may come up every time you apply for an apartment — and prevent you from finding adequate housing in the future. You will also probably not be able to use that landlord as a reference. For example, we contact the previous two or three landlords to get a complete picture of an applicant’s rental history. Lack of landlord references will put you at a disadvantage against other tenants.”
4. Using your network
“One time in college, my friend and I looked at a place with a real estate agent, and it turned out, we knew the dudes living there. After we were done with the real estate agent, we immediately went back to the place and got the landlord’s info from our friends. We called him directly, got the place, and avoided the fee. The agent found out and was furious. He said he was going to sue us, but no lawsuit yet.” — Tanya Burren, New York, NY
Again, Fallon advises caution before employing this tactic. “If you don’t have a contract with the agent, that’s probably legal from the tenant’s standpoint,” says Fallon. With a signed contract in place, though, this renter might have found herself in court. But even in the absence of a contract, Fallon would still discourage this practice. “The real estate world is small and you may run across this person again, either professionally or personally. Quite a few rental agents are also landlords or property managers, and you’d be hard-pressed to work with them again in the future.”
5. A little help from your friends
“Looking for apartments in San Francisco is so crazy. I’ve always arrived with letters of recommendation, my credit report already printed out, etc. — anything to make it easier for a landlord to pick me. When I found my latest apartment, I asked one of my roommates at the time to email the landlord to tell him why I would be an amazing tenant. I did the same for her, as we were all moving on at the same time. It worked — we both got our places.” — Kim Lessard, San Francisco, CA
6. It’s all about who you know
“I didn’t do anything wacky, but the guy gave me the apartment over other applicants because he remembered me from teaching yoga at the gym. He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re the yoga girl. Yeah, yoga people are good people. OK, it’s yours.’ I didn’t even have to fill out an application or submit to a credit check. So see — yoga is good for you in many ways!” — Karmin Longin, Boston, MA
7. Leaving it to chance
“I’d looked at something like 30 apartments when I finally found a studio that I adored. The problem was, another woman had shown up to look at the place at the same time, and our applications were pretty much identical. We were in the same professional field, made almost the exact same amount of money, had the same good credit, and even looked a little bit alike! The landlady just couldn’t make a decision, so she asked if we’d be willing to flip a coin for it. We both agreed, and I won.” — Sara Robinson, New York, NY