Finding a Rental Home Fast

Take these steps when you suddenly find yourself in need of a new home.

Whether you've suddenly ended a relationship, have ended a lease sooner than expected, have sold a home but not yet bought a new one, or need to move cross-town or cross-country for a new job, finding a rental on a tight deadline can seem daunting. While working with a landlord on the rental application process can move swiftly (often within days) once you've identified a place, locating an available property you want to rent can take time — especially if you're moving into a market you don't know well. Here's how to make quick work of your search.

Look at the calendar.
Most landlords only have 30 days' notice about tenants who choose not to renew their leases — and they are happy to get empty homes filled, so they will work with you for a quick move-in, assuming you can pass their financial and other background checks. Because of the 30 days' notice, if you're shopping in the first half of the month for a place that you need well before month's end, you may have a tougher time than if you're shopping after the 15th for a place to start the 1st. But don't give up hope: Some leases change midmonth, or a landlord might make a place available at an unconventional date within the month because the home was taken out of circulation for repairs.

Enlist a friend or local.
If you're moving to a community where you have close friends or family, you may be able to side step the fees or uncertainties connected to working with a relocation specialist by enlisting feet on the street — or pals who'll post your hunt on social media. If working remotely, a willing friend or family member at your future destination can help you short-list neighborhoods and prospective properties and maybe even vet or photograph spaces for you. If you're moving locally, word of mouth is always a good way to learn about available properties. Friends who regularly drive past "for rent" signs in their neighborhoods or who have acquaintances looking only for trusted tenants who come through six-degrees channels can be very helpful in your hunt for a new lease.

Ask your company if you're eligible for relocation benefits.
Whether you're moving for a new job at a new company or a new job with your existing employer, ask managers if you're eligible for a "relocation package" that includes short-term or other rental housing assistance. Even if your job function isn't far enough up the food chain to merit financial assistance, chances are that your company has previously moved employees to the area and may be able to refer you to resources — or other employees who made the transition — that would make your move easier, such as landlords or property companies that have worked with employees in the past. Or the company may be able to provide you with advice about neighborhoods and commutes.

Work with a relocation specialist.
In many larger cities with a high proportion of renters, real estate agents known as "relocation specialists" can help renters on tight deadlines zero in on prospective neighborhoods and available properties. Some specialists offer half-day tours of cities in addition to property viewings, and some also help arrange moving services. If you choose to hire a relocation specialist, be sure to ask about fees. Some specialists are paid commissions by property companies in exchange for finding them tenants, which means you pay nothing, but other specialists are paid directly by renters for assistance locating units.

Search via multiple sites.
It may sound obvious, but don't search with just one classifieds service or just one website. Cast a wide net: Try your local daily paper, local weekly papers and widely read websites like Apartments.com, Craigslist, Curbed, Homes.com, HotPads, Rental Houses and Rentals.com.

Consider temporary housing.
If you're really stumped by the market or don't want to commit to a long-term lease based on what you've seen, ask prospective landlords about six-month leases, month-to-month options or if there are any sublet opportunities in a building or within the landlord's property portfolio. Sublets are often promoted on Craigslist and local media — just make sure you have a proper lease. You can also often find rentals through vacation property networks like VRBO and HomeAway, which offer urban properties as well as properties in vacation areas; Airbnb, where some property owners market longer-than-a-vacation rentals; or services like Corporate Housing By Owner, which aims to match executives relocating for work and needing a family-sized home with landlords, many of whom offer properties on a short-term (weeks, months) basis.

Jane Hodges is the author of Rent vs. Own: A Real Estate Reality Check for Navigating Booms, Busts, and Bad Advice.

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