Alot of agents don't do rentals. After 9 years in the biz, I still work with rental clients to find their ideal rental property. The reasons to rent are myriad, so I don't pressure rental customers to purchase a home. I do ask them if they've thought about it, and with today's low interest rates, many people who thought they couldn't buy, actually can.
But, that being said, customers who have decided to rent know that finding the ideal rental can be just as stressful as finding a home to purchase. After all, there is the time factor. Leases end, and contracts have to be signed and the timing has to be just right. So, here are some tips to help you find a rental property in Northern Virginia.
1. If you don't want to work with a real estate agent, and are looking for an apartment the first place to start is an apartment rental catalog or book. You can find these publications on most street corners near bus stops, Metro and shopping centers.
2. Call around to the various apartment leasing offices and inquire about vacancies.
3. Ask the leasing agent to show you the actual apartment that is available, NOT the model. Oftentimes the model will be in much better condition than the apartment you end up renting. The nice upgrades in the model may not be present in the unit you get.
4. If you are looking for a rental home in Northern Virginia, its not necessary to call multiple agents on each property. Your best option is to ask friends, relatives, or co-workers for the name of a real estate agent that they have worked with and are happy with. Call the agent and find out if they work with rental clients. If not, ask for a recommendation in their office.
5. A real estate agent can show you any property listed by any company. All rental listings are posted in the local MLS database and all agents have access to them. So instead of calling multiple agents to see their listings, you can work with one agent who can show you all the listings.
6. Give your agent the criteria you are looking for. He/she will run a search in the MLS and find properties that match your criteria.
7. Sometimes its possible to negotiate the monthly rental price. It depends on the time the property has been on the market, the length of the lease, and sometimes the financial strength of the person renting.
8. Your credit score and debt-to-income ratio are the most important factors in whether you get approved for a rental property. In general, apartments are more liberal in their approval process then landlords.
9. For each application you make there will be a processing fee of $35-50. In Virginia, the max processing fee is $50. When you make application, you will give a check for the processing fee, and a separate check for the security deposit. Security deposits cannot exceed 2 months rent.
10. Once your application is accepted, then you will sign a lease and do a walk through with the landlord. At the time that you sign the lease, you will also pay your first months' rent.
11. All there's left to do is move in.
12. After you move in, any issues are handled directly between you and the landlord. However, your agent is still working for you, so if you have any questions or any problems with the landlord, you should call your agent for advice first. They can direct you to legal channels that will help you.
P.S. Beware of Craigslist ads. A popular scam is to advertise a home for sale at a ridiculously low price (the first clue) and then after you inquire, they tell you that the low price is because all they want is for you to maintain the property. They tell you to drive by the house first, look inside and if you like it, email them. They will instruct you to send them a deposit and the rent money. You'll never get the keys. The reason is that they are not the real owners. They have identified a vacant house and are trying to dupe you. The home is probably even for sale. You will be able to tell this when you go by if there is a sign at the property, but this is not always the case. There are lots of similar scams like this on Craigslist. Which makes it all the more important to use a REALTOR.