10 Tips for Finding the Perfect Rental Home

Monica Schaefer
MilitaryByOwner Advertising, Inc.
Tips for finding the perfect rental home.

Define Your Priorities
The moment you have an inkling of an upcoming move, you should start researching your proposed duty station. Talk to friends and search the Internet for information on desired areas to live surrounding the military installation. As we all know, it is dangerous to make any firm plans prior to having orders in hand, but the legwork can begin long before you have confirmation that you are moving. During your research, it is likely that it will become clear what your priorities are: location to work, desired school districts, safe neighborhood, walking distance to nearby attractions and so on. Your research will afford you the knowledge of the typical rental prices for the area and will help you set your budget. Find out what the current BAH rates are for that military base so that you can make an informed decision about how much money you have to work with and what, if any, amount you are willing to spend out-of-pocket. If you have school age children, utilize websites that grade the various individual schools and districts to get an idea of which district you would like to be located within and find the neighborhoods zoned for those schools. Once you have your priorities set it is time for the next step.
Start Early and Search Often
"The early bird gets the worm", is particularly true when it comes to the rental market. Start searching for a rental home as soon as you are certain of your relocation, which again for military, is typically when you have orders in hand. Search sites such as MilitaryByOwner.com for rental properties near your next duty station. It is important to make a frequent practice of this, as new homes are posted on a constant basis. If you see a new home advertised that you are interested in, do not hesitate to contact the advertiser and open the lines of communication. Depending on the rental market in the area you are relocating to, homes can rent in a matter of hours, so you do not want to wait.
Utilize a Professional
If you do not have the time or energy to devote to finding your next home, then consider hiring a broker in the new area to assist you. This may involve fees, but in the end it could make the process easier and more enjoyable than trying to do it yourself. Another route is to contact a property manager near your new military base to assist you. Property managers often have the pulse on the various neighborhoods or know when homes may be coming on the market. Be sure to be specific about what you are looking for and have then send you photos and details on potential rentals. Working with a property management company, as opposed to a private owner, can often be more comfortable for tenants, so this is something to consider. Friends may not fit into the "professional" category, but they can be invaluable when you are searching for homes from afar. Nobody will have your best interest in mind like a friend will, so if you have friends near your new duty station, utilize them to help you search for the perfect home.
Be Prepared to Submit an Application
If you have found the perfect home and have set up communication with the advertiser, then the next step will likely be to submit a rental application. Most rental applications will ask for information on your previous residence, addresses, dates of occupancy, rent, or own, names of landlords and employment information. Creating a list of this past information will serve you well when trying to provide it in a timely manner.
The landlord may also request that you provide a copy of your orders, as this is a way for them to confirm that you will in fact be stationed in the area. Having this documentation at the ready is often a way to let them know how serious you are about renting their home and can give you the edge over the competition. Just be sure to protect yourself by blacking out any personal information such as a social security number.
Get Your Credit in Order
While having good credit is more of a life rule, as opposed to only when you are looking to rent, you may want to request a free credit report before you submit an application just to look at what your prospective landlord might see when they run one themselves. While you aren’t likely to improve your overall credit score on a moments notice, viewing a credit report will allow you to see if there are any erroneous or outdated marks on your credit report that you could try and clear up or at least address with the landlord upfront.
For information on repairing your credit score, be sure to read our article, "Settle Your Score: The Ins and Outs of Credit Repair".
Be Upfront and Honest
If you are forthcoming with marks on your credit, bad references or experiences with previous landlords, or the fact that you breed pit bulls, you are establishing a relationship of trust with the landlord. Many of these factors can be overcome if you are willing to share and discuss them with the landlord. If disclosing this type of information is a deal breaker, then it is likely that this would not have been the ideal home for you. Nobody likes to be caught off guard once they have signed the lease document, so being honest from the beginning will ultimately help you in the end.
Military Clause Option
As we know, military life is anything but stable. The three-year orders you received 6 months ago have suddenly been changed and you are on the move yet again. This can send anyone into a state of panic, but particularly when you have a signed a lease agreement for an extended period. Ask the landlord if they are willing to include a military clause in the lease agreement should unforeseen circumstances arise. Landlords that are familiar with the military lifestyle will surely understand your request for this verbiage to be included in the lease.  Read more about "Including a Military Clause in Your Lease Agreement".
Provide References
References from previous landlords are going to carry the most weigh, but if you do not have an extensive rental background, then providing references from employers, neighbors, friends and even family can help the landlord gain vital information on the type of tenant you are likely to be. Give some thought ahead of time as to who you would use as a reference and you may even want to give them a call to ask their permission to provide their information on your application.
Ask for references
Now that we have discussed the various aspects of how you can put your best foot forward, it is important to look at the other side of the relationship. We have all heard the nightmare stories of the landlord that does not respond to their tenants phone calls, does not make timely repairs, has unreasonable expectations, or consistently retains security deposits upon moving out. Well guess what, previous tenants will surely be more than happy to share this information with you, if you are willing to ask. Yes, it seems strange and may even be a bit uncomfortable, but a good landlord will have no problem providing you with the contact information for their current or previous tenants. In fact, the good landlords will probably appreciate the fact that you asked. While it is often believed that the landlord has all of the control when it comes to a landlord/tenant relationship, this is hardly the truth. Landlords are banking on their tenants providing them with a monthly income and taking care of the property, so the relationship is one that should strike balance and mutual respect. For tips on how to ask your prospective landlord for references, please read our post, "Landlord Tenant Role Reversal".
Follow Your Gut
This is the most important rule of all! Military relocations come with an enormous amount of pressure and stress and the priority of securing housing can drive anyone into frenzy. Take a deep breath and a step back and make sure that there are not any alarms going off inside of your head before you sign your name to that lease agreement. If you have something that seems out of order or alarming, try bouncing it off of someone who is not in the pressure cooker with you. Outside perspective can always help provide some clarity.
There is no better resource for advice and information than from other military members, so if you have tips to add to our list, we would love to hear from you.
We wish all military service members and their families the best of luck on their next relocation.