How to Win an Apartment in a Competitive Market

Real Estate

Home ownership may be the American dream, but these days, some of the nation's biggest and most expensive cities—including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami—have more renters than owners. In these metros, rental demand exceeds supply, and would-be tenants need to pull out all the stops to secure the right rental unit.

How can you increase your odds of getting approved for an apartment, especially in a city where the competition is fierce? “The trick is to understand what landlords want, and offer it to them,” says Brian Davis, a landlord and co-founder at Spark Rental. “They want on-time payments, respectful care of the property, and the highest possible returns with the lowest possible headaches.”

You know you're a responsible renter, but how do you convince a landlord or property manager that you'll be the perfect tenant? Follow these rules!

Prepare your paperwork
Having your ducks in a row—and paperwork squared away—will make you stand out as a responsible and trustworthy tenant. It can also make the approval process move swiftly. So how can you show that you’re ready to rent?

Laurence Jankelow, co-founder of Avail, an online platform for independent landlords, says you should have the following items on hand when you meet the landlord or property manager:

> Credit report
> Pay stubs from the last two to three pay periods to prove your income
> Previous addresses and landlord contact information

Have a good credit history
Get a leg up on the competition by ensuring that you have a good credit score. Leasing decision makers look at your total percent of credit available, so to prove your creditworthiness, pay down your credit card balances before applying for a place.

"If you’re carrying high balances relative to your credit limits, your application will suffer relative to someone with low or no balances,” says Louis Baugier, founder and CEO of Vero, an app that helps speed the renter qualification process.

Have your money ready
If you think a landlord is going to hold your spot in line while you get your finances sorted out, well, don't hold your breath. “Landlords get flooded with calls from potential renters that want us to hold the property because they are ‘going to get the deposit’ sometime in the near future,” says Benjamin Ross, a real estate agent at Mission Real Estate Group and landlord in the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, area.

More often than not, a property manager is going to move forward with the qualified renter with their deposit check in hand. “Do yourself—and us—a favor: Have your deposits ready before you email or call us,” Ross says.

Sweeten the pot
You may also gain the upper hand by offering more than what’s required—especially if you don’t have the best credit. Ross recommends offering to pay a larger deposit. “Not every landlord will accept the extra deposit, but I guarantee you will impress us and stand out from all of the other applicants.” In fact, Ross says he’s only seen this happening a couple of times—and those applicants got the lease!

Davis recommends a similar approach. “Sterling credit helps you demonstrate that you’ll pay the rent on time, but you can also offer to prepay a certain number of months upfront, which works wonders," he says.

You can even offer to automate your rent payments online, so the rent is direct-deposited like clockwork every month.

Show how much you care about the property
Some eager home buyers have found that writing a personalized offer letter to the sellers has worked in their favor. James McGrath, a co-founder of the New York City real estate brokerage Yoreevo, recommends this tactic to renters, too. “Landlords want to be sure their units will be in good hands,” he says. “Including a letter that tells the landlord a little bit about yourself, why you love the apartment complex, and why you want to make it your home can make a difference in close situations.”

Move fast
Landlords lose money when units are empty, so they’re trying to get occupants quickly. Even if you’re the best possible tenant, it won’t matter if you take too long to apply. “You have to be one of the first on the scene,” says Ross. “Do not wait until the weekend, because good deals and nice apartments go quickly.”

Contact the property manager or broker to schedule a showing the moment you find a unit you're interested in. Just remember: You may have to jump through hoops to land a great rental in a city where competition is high. But just imagine how satisfying it will be to kick your feet up in a home you love.