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Rental Report: Should Renters Use a Real Estate Agent?

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Overwhelmed by searching for rentals in the DC metro area market? Maybe you should enlist the help of a real estate agent. Here are some of the advantages to working with an agent in your rental search:

Expertise – If you’re new to the area, the expertise of a local agent could save you a lot of headache and stress. A local agent knows the area, knows the properties and can act as a matchmaker to find a great rental in an area you’ll enjoy. You may not have a lot of time to actually spend in the areas you’ve researched. An agent can help steer you to the right neighborhoods based on your wants, needs and hobbies. Your perfect neighborhood may be one you never considered.

More Options – Navigating the rental market alone, your search is limited to apartment websites, Craigslist etc. An agent will have access to the database the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. Agents can research properties and schedule showings. While you may be able to find properties on the MLS without an agent, you will have to contact the listing agents and arrange the showings on your own. Rental agents may also know about specials coming up at particular buildings before they are made public, helping you score a deal on your apartment.

Representation and Cost – Ask the agent to provide a disclosure that they represent you and will be paid by the landlord. With this, they can help you negotiate and understand the terms of your lease.

Time – A rental agent can save you time. Again, they know the area, they know what buildings meet your criteria and they know the current rates and availability. They make calls and set appointments for you, saving you countless hours.

What else you need to know – Most rental agents don’t work with all properties and landlords in the area, so keep that in mind. That’s why they might tell you they can’t show you a particular property but they should be able to tell you how it compares to what you have seen.

  • Rental prices can change daily in managed apartment buildings. The pricing is based on the vacancy rate, and is often automatically adjusted with rent-optimizer algorithms. Just because you saw something on a website last week at one price does not mean that same price is available now.
  • Most rental agents won’t show you a dozen units. Just as your time is valuable, so is theirs. If they’ve shown you four units within your criteria, you are in pretty good shape. At that point, you should make a decision on the area and building you like best, as many apartments look similar and offer similar features. Seeing 10 more of the same category of units likely won’t make your decision any easier — in fact, it may make you more frustrated.
  • Agents can’t tell you everything. The Fair Housing Act prohibits agents from giving you specifics about demographics of a neighborhood or building. So they can’t answer questions like, “Are there young professionals in this building?” Don’t hold that against them, as they are just trying to keep the playing field fair for all.
  • Give them all the details. If you are going to need a co-signer for your apartment, let the agent know. Not all properties will accept co-signers. You don’t want them to waste your time showing you a unit if it isn’t going to work for you. If you have a dog, be sure to mention that in your first conversation. Many properties don’t allow pets, or they charge a fee or additional rent money. The agent will need to factor that in when selecting units for you. If you need to be close to the Metro, let them know, and let them know what close means to you. Every person is different. Tell them a little about yourself, what you enjoy doing, what type of food you like and where you work. Every little bit of information helps them find you a great place.
  • Not all agents are created equal. It is beneficial to find an agent who is licensed, and who specializes in rentals. This way you are sure to find a professional who understands your needs and is willing to take the time to work with you. You want someone who is going to listen and find you a rental that will make you truly happy.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

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