Tips for Renting in a Tough Market with Low Vacancy Rates

 At the end of 2009, the apartment-vacancy rate soared to a 30-year high to approximately 8 percent. For many Americans, this meant the beginning of a renter’s market. Instead of fighting for scarce apartments and dealing with “ruthless” landlords, many renters were receiving major incentives to sign their leases.

However, as the economy continues to improve, economic experts are forecasting a decline in apartment vacancy rates resulting in higher rent. Manhattan, Boston, D.C., Denver and Seattle are among the markets where monthly rent is expected to rise.

While this may seem like bad news for bargain real-estate renters, don’t give up on your search for a reasonably priced apartment just yet. If you’re ready for an upgrade from your immediate post-college apartment or you’re just ready to move out of you parents house, now is still the perfect time to start looking for an apartment.

With the proper research and a little patience, you can still find an affordable, high-quality apartment. Here are five tips for securing the apartment of your dreams:

1. Consider a roommate

While you may have given up roommates after you graduated college, having a roommate can also have its perks. Aside from having a friendly face in the apartment when you’re lonely, having a roommate can also save you a ton of money. Aside from splitting the utilities, two bedroom apartments are often cheaper per square feet than a one-bedroom or studio apartment.

2. Set your budget and stick with it

While the granite countertops and marble floors may be tempting, the extra money on rent each month for the upgrade will add up quickly. Once you’ve calculated how much you can afford, stick with your budget and be sure to resist any temptations of an upgrade for just a little more per month. While there is no magic equation to calculate the maximum amount you can afford each month, a good way to set a rental budget is to take your monthly income (after taxes) and deduct your mandatory monthly expenses (loan payments, food, utilities, etc) and then deduct the amount you’d like to save each month (401(k), emergency savings, etc.). The amount you have left over is the maximum amount you should spend on rent each month.

3. Use online resources and go mobile

Resources like CraigslistMyNewPlace and HousingMaps are great sites to find apartment listings on the internet for free. With Craigslist, you can subscribe to search-based RSS feeds that are delivered to your phone. Once you’ve entered all your search criteria, go to the bottom of the page, copy the link from the RSS text and add it to your feed reader. When setting up Craigslist feeds, the more keywords you track, the more listings you will find. So create feeds for neighborhood names (including nicknames) and street names. But remember, once you see a listing you’re interested in, the quicker you call, the better your chances.

4. Hit the streets

While the internet and Craigslist can bring hundreds of apartment listings directly to you, sometimes hitting the streets to find available apartments can be extremely effective. If you are interested in living in a particular neighborhood or area, consider walking around the area and keeping your eyes open for For Rent signs. Chances are you’ll find one or two places that you haven’t seen listed online.

5. Don’t sign on the spot

Although you should always schedule a visit quickly as soon as you see a listing you’re interested in, you should never feel obligated to sign a lease on the spot. Be sure to read the contract and understand all the policies and fees associated with your agreement especially the penalty for early termination. Make sure you pay attention to any red flags that may pop up during your search like abnormally cheap rent or a landlord that seems like she/she is hiding something.