Do Real Estate Agents Deal with Rental Properties?
If you're familiar with the struggle that is finding an apartment online, the idea of a real estate agent who can help you in your search might sound like a godsend. We all know real estate agents help people buy a home, but did you know they can also help people find properties to rent?
A real estate agent can save you the hassle of tracking down landlords and property managers from Craigslist, especially in bigger cities, though the services they provide (and the fees they charge) vary by location. Here's what you need to know.
Real estate agents and rentals
What a real estate agent does to help you find a rental depends on the location—whether it's a large city or a small town—and the agent. Sometimes the agent will guide your search from the very start, helping you find the right neighborhood, apartment size, and price range, then go with you to open houses. More likely though, you'll already have a lot of that information decided, and the agent will send you listings that might be of interest to you.
No matter what, once you've decided on a rental and have been approved by the landlord or management company, your agent should help you read and understand your lease.
"Most tenants can find a place without a real estate agent, but they forget to seek out someone who can help them understand what they’re signing when they sign a lease," says Dillar Schwartz, a Realtor® in Austin, TX.
Your lease has all kinds of vital information in it, including what repairs you'll be responsible for, the penalties for late rent, and even the terms for breaking the lease. You want to be sure you're not signing anything that puts you in a bad position financially or violates your rights as a tenant.
Where you're looking to live makes a difference
In cities such as New York or San Francisco with huge populations of renters, it's common to use a real estate agent to find a rental property, and there are entire agencies that specialize in doing just that. In some cities, it's more common for agencies that focus on rentals to be called "apartment locators," but they provide essentially the same service.
In places where rentals are not as common, you might find that apartments, townhouses, and condos are more commonly handled by the complex's management company. People renting out their homes in primarily owner-occupied suburban areas, especially those with HOAs, will often use real estate agents to help find renters who meet the neighborhood association's requirements.
How do you find a real estate agent who deals with rentals?
"One place to start is realtor.com®, and do a search for rentals in the area you wish to live in, then contact the agents that represent those properties," says Teri Andrews Murch, a Realtor in Auburn, CA.
Personal referrals are also a great way to find someone. Ask friends for the names of reliable real estate agents they have worked with. Even if those agents don't work with rentals, they probably have a colleague they can connect you with who does. It's important to find someone you trust, since that person will be helping you find your new home.
How much are real estate agent fees for rentals?
Broker fees are another thing that vary widely by location. In many places, the landlord pays the real estate agent to help find a desirable tenant. Apartment locator services are almost always paid by the landlord. In more competitive rental markets, the tenant will often be responsible for the real estate agent fee, sometimes called a "broker fee." In fact, even if you find the listing on your own, some rentals will require you to pay a fee to the landlord's broker for listing the property.
Fees can be as low as $50 to $75 for a credit check or application, but more common rates are one month's rent or 15% of the annual rent on the apartment.
Before you start to work with an agent, make sure you ask what fees you will be responsible for paying.