How to Find Homes For Rent in Your Area

house for rent

Gone are the days of simply asking around about houses for rent or browsing the want ads, as competition in the rental market has made the task much more difficult.

Supply can barely keep up with demand, and while that will fluctuate depending on what market you are looking at, most major cities across the country have low vacancies, so you have to be on your toes when looking to rent a home.

Renting has become as complicated as buying in some ways. There are open houses, bidding wars, application fees, and steep competition.

Rental websites help you search for homes that meet your criteria, and while they can be useful tools, they can also be overwhelming at first. We'll take a look at which ones offer the best navigation, and how to find the perfect rental home in your area.

Getting Started

Before diving into the wide world web of rental searches, get a list of criteria together to help you narrow down your search. These criteria will be specific to you and your needs, and will be important to refer to when going thru different search engines.

The biggest consideration for most people is budget. If you can't afford to live somewhere, then there's no sense looking at certain price points, except perhaps to see what the market has to offer, or even just to dream a little.

Location is the next big concern, and can be more important than budget, depending on where you work, and how you are planning on getting around. If you want to rent a home in a big city and don't have a car, public transit may offer you a way to get around, but buses and trains only go so far.

Get to know transit systems in the area you are searching if this is going to be important in your daily life.

Next up is number of bedrooms and bathrooms, which will change the price of homes significantly. Parking and the inclusion of utilities are other factors that can affect price.

Simple things like in-suite laundry, outdoor space, a driveway, or a garage may be other aspects that are important to you. If your budget allows, these can be added in your search to help you find the perfect home.

If you're lucky enough that budget is no concern, or you work remotely and can live anywhere, then the hard part will be narrowing down your favorites. If you're struggling to balance a combination of location and budget, then you may have to compromise on certain amenities and luxuries.

woman using computer

Search Tips

The first question on any rental search engine is "where" do you want to live. You may be staying in the same city or moving across the country, but either way, you can narrow the location down even further by searching ZIP code (unless you are still getting to know the area and want a broader list at first).

Once you know your monthly budget, you'll want to add this to your search filter next. With just these two fields, you'll get a pretty good idea of what's available in the location you're looking for within your price range.

From here, you may have enough to browse through, or you may want to narrow it down further. If the options aren't exciting to you, extend the field of location, or up the monthly price. This is usually the hardest part for anyone who has a strict budget.

Take advantage of the other filters before you get frustrated, as the majority of websites have multiple functions to help you find the right fit. If you were looking at three-bedroom homes but found them too expensive, try searching two-bedroom homes that might have a flex space instead. If you had two bathrooms originally typed in, bring it down to one, or try lowering the square footage if that's an option.

For location, geographic filters are useful if you want a waterfront property, for instance, a mountain view, or maybe a pool. You can find out if a home is pet-friendly, is in a bike-able neighborhood, or has a hot tub.

Play around with the options and look at the fine details. You're never going to get a full sense of the place until you tour it, but always consider the needs of your daily life when browsing through the photos.

Does the bedroom have room for a bedside table on each side of the bed? Will it fit a king-size mattress? Are there lots of stairs to get to the entrance? If there's a parking space, where is it?

The place might look great in the photos, but think about how you actually live, and whether there are certain things you need (like a bathtub to bathe children), versus things you want (like a hot tub or deck).

Make a List

And check it twice! Seriously, it can get confusing after searching for hours and trying to remember where you saw that cute property in that great location three websites ago. There's a lot of mental fatigue that can come from browsing through endless sites.

Many websites have a save option so you can catalog the ones you like on the site, but you may still want to have a separate master list where you can make notes and add any questions that come up when you're viewing each listing.

This way, you won't have to search your brain every time you go back thru your favorites to recall anything you may want to ask the landlord or property owner.

This list can be as simple as you want, or feel free to color-code it! Choose your most important criteria like price, location, and must-have amenities using different colored text or markers to help your brain when going back over your searches.

rental home seen from deck with chairs

Short Term vs Long Term

The definition of short-term and long-term rental varies between who you talk to and what city you're looking in. Generally speaking, short-term rentals are done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Short-term can also include two or three-month terms, and some would even say anything under a year is short-term.

These are good options when you don't want to commit right away, or if you are moving to a city temporarily for work or personal reasons. Usually, short-term rentals will cost a little more than long-term but will be far less expensive than staying in a hotel.

Long-term rentals are more straightforward and tend to be rented out with a 12-month lease. These offer both the renter and owner more stability as leases and terms must be signed and agreed on by both parties.

Long-term will be the most cost-effective option when renting, but you may be asked to do more upfront in order to get approved. Proof of income, identity, workplace, credit check, and first and last month's rents are normal items that landlords may ask for in order to sign a lease.

Short Term Rentals

If you're looking for short-term or non-lease agreements, there are some popular websites that offer this feature. Vrbo and Airbnb are the top two that most people are familiar with, and they aren't just for vacation rentals.

Short-term rentals are perfect for anyone who needs a place to stay for a very specific length of time. These homes are furnished, and have all the necessities of home like linen, towels, and kitchen items already stocked.

Not every home will be interested in offering a short-term rental, but many do and may even offer discounted prices for month-long stays. The advantage when booking through a site like this is that there is insurance for both you and the owner already built in through the app.

Hosts are also vetted, and you can read over reviews to get an honest sense of the place from previous renters. Things like low ceilings or bad water pressure are usually talked about in reviews if the listing wasn't upfront about these issues in the first place.

Keep in mind that it's bad form to rate a house poorly for an amenity it didn't offer in the first place. It's your responsibility to do all due diligence before renting a home on one of these sites, and a good host will be happy to answer any and all of your questions, especially for longer stays.

Take advantage of their knowledge of the area, and keep in mind that the best communicators often are approved the quickest. Let the host know the reason for your stay and a little bit about yourself.

Best Websites for Long Term Rentals

ForRent

ForRent is a free website where you can search for homes easily. The front page lets you search the location, budget, and amount of beds and baths you want right away.

This feature is nice if these are the most important options, which for most people, they are. On the next page you can choose between apartments, houses, condos, and townhomes, and you can even filter the type and style if you want something modern, on the water, or something like a tiny home.

More filters include any amenities you might be after, if the house is pet-friendly, and any kind of specialty lease you might be looking for, like short terms, income restricted leases, or student rentals. It's a great place to start when you're beginning your home search.

Zumper

Zumper's website asks if you are looking for short or long-term after you type in the location you're looking for on the home page and then goes from there.

Short-term will give you a price per night at first glance, but when you go to check the listing, it redirects you to their partnering site, Vrbo, so just start there if looking for short-term and save yourself the hassle.

If you choose long-term, it then asks you a few questions each on a new page, which is a little irritating that it doesn't let you simply answer these questions all at once.

Despite this, it has all the basic filters you need to get your search narrowed down and gives you easy ways to contact the property.

Zillow

Zillow is one of the best search engines when looking for houses to rent. Filters are specific to things you might find in a house, like a basement, outdoor space, number of stories, and year the house was built.

It lets you chose the move-in date and even the square footage you're looking for, as well as any other amenities that might be important to you. Location filters are also easy to use, so browsing through homes on this site is a breeze.

There's also an agent finder option if that's something you're interested in, and the interface is one of the nicest to look through.

Craigslist

Craigslist harkens back to the former days of looking for places to rent, and while it can still be a great place to find houses, it's not moderated like some of the other websites.

Anyone can post an ad on these open marketplace-type sites, so buyer beware when it comes to contacting and meeting any potential landlords. Always ask a lot of questions up front and bring someone with you to tour the home. Trust your instinct, as well; if something seems off or the landlord is annoyed by your questions, best to move on.

This extra work can be worth it if you want to find private deals without the middleman. It can also be easier to find homes to rent if you have bad credit or don't look that great on paper. There are no extra fees or annoying emails that follow up with you.

Padmapper

Padmapper is another easy-to-use, map-based search engine that has all the same basic filters you might need but also lets you save searches and add favorites once you create an account.

It doesn't have as many options to filter amenities or specific characteristics to homes, but if you are looking for a basic search to narrow down your options, it's the simplest one to use.

It also lets you search for room rentals if you're looking to live in a house but need a home that comes with roommates to help split expenses.

    HotPads

    The best feature that HotPads has that some of the others don't is a commute filter. Simply type in the address of your workplace (or any location that's important for you to be close to), and it will give you the commute times by car, transit, foot, and bike when you click on a listing.

    This is a pretty great option to have when you don't know the area well and need to get to work at a certain time.

    HotPads' other filters are slightly more geared towards apartment hunting (with options like a doorman, gated entry, pool, etc.), but you can easily search through a full database of homes, as well.

    While these are some of the more popular search engines, there are many others to try out if you don't find what you're looking for. Hiring an agent can be another trick to get the perfect home, but remember their services won't be free. If you have the budget for it, it could help you get a leg up on the competition.

    Finding homes to rent in your area might feel a little daunting when you first start to look around, but the more you research, the better you'll get at knowing what you can afford and what's available: the hardest part is striking a balance between the two.