How to Find and Lease a Rent House in Austin TX

by Steve Crossland on May 18, 2012 · 5 comments

Austin Rental MarketAs the listing agent for a lot of rental homes in Austin (for over 20 years), I’ve been dealing lately with a lot of really angry, frustrated renters and agents.

The reason for the upset is primarily the renter losing a home to other (multiple) applicants who applied quicker and/or had their act more together. Then thinking it was unfair that they lost out.

I’ve dealt with some applicants who have lost out on 3 or 4 homes in a row and who have to be out of their current house in 1 week, and have nowhere to go. Understandably, in this tight rental market, that sucks. Big time.

But that’s the “landlord’s” rental market we have in Austin at present, so you better become more prepared and more competitive if you want to avoid this angst. This is no market for slug footed, unprepared renters who don’t take the rental home search process seriously. You have to bring your “A Game”, or you may experience great frustration.

This article is written to help those searching for a home to rent in Austin TX to avoid that unfortunate circumstance where you lose out on a home to those better prepared. It’s a step by step guide to help you become the most awesome rental applicant out there. So read this and you’ll be a step ahead of others. You will become the winner, not the loser, in this competitive Austin rental market, and hopefully find the house you want.

Determine Your Specific Move Date Window
This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s hard to believe how many renter prospects I talk to who can’t answer the simple questions “when do you need to move”. You need to know, with certainty, the soonest and latest dates you can start a new lease. The larger window of time you can create for yourself, the better.

It may turn out that you’re stuck for a small window of time with nowhere to live. If your lease ends May 31st and the new place you want won’t be ready until June 9th, you need to figure out what to do with that 10 day gap. A well prepared renter will have already contemplated this scenario and have a plan in place, enabling them to rent the house instead of having to keep looking. An unprepared renter will have to pass on the home and be stuck still looking.

Whether parking the U-Haul in front of a friends house or at a hotel for a week, using temporary storage, extended stay motel, or an Austin Short Term Rental home, there are a lot of possible options for those who have anticipated and prepared for this very real possibility.

The opposite problem is also possible,  in fact likely. You’re lease doesn’t end until July 31st, but the place you really want won’t be held vacant for you longer than July 10th. In this situation,  you’ll have three weeks of “double rent” to pay if you lease this property. You should plan for this and be willing to do it if necessary to get the pace you want. Most tenants hope to have only a weekend of overlap, but we don’t live in a perfect world where you can expect that or count on it. If you do, you’re not being realistic.

By contemplating and working through the various “timing” scenarios above (2 places to live, or no places to live for some brief period of time), you can establish your “move window” and be able to say to the landlord or property manager you are inquiring with “we can move any time after X date and before X date”. If you can’t state that time window, you are not ready to even start looking.

Decide Whether to use a Leasing Locator Agent, or Search on your Own
Any Austin Realtor can help you find a rental home in Austin. Most homes leased in Austin are listed in the Austin MLS. This is different than many areas of the US. Any home you find on AustinHomeSearch.com is an MLS listing that can be shown to you by any Austin Realtor willing to do lease locating services.

The problem is, and I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the harshness is well deserved, most Austin Realtors suck at Leasing. The incompetence in this area is astounding and regrettable. A lousy leasing agent will hurt your efforts more than help you. Some of these Agents are dumber than the dumbest people you’ve ever known. I know firsthand because I talk with them on the phone every day when they inquire about my lease listings that they want to show.

It’s an embarrassment to the real estate profession how completely stupid so many of these Austin leasing agents are. They have no clue what they are doing, but you ended up with them because you were an “”internet lead” that they received and you didn’t do any due diligence when deciding to let them help you.

That said, an experienced Austin Leasing Agent/Realtor will be your biggest asset and time saver in your rental home search if you utilize the services of a good one. Especially if you are relocating from out of state or have limited free time for searching homes. And it’s a free service to you, so you should consider doing this. But it’s your job to find a good one instead of working with whoever you end up with.

Ask “how many homes have you leased the past 12 months?” Don’t be an agents first ever leasing customer. Ask them to describe the leasing process. Ask them to tell you what you should expect and what you should be prepared for. Ask what the typical requirements are for renting a home in Austin. They in turn, if really good, will grill you with a bunch of questions about your income, pets, rental history, credit score, etc. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly whether you’re dealing with a dummy or a really good, experienced leasing agent who knows her stuff.

Your Agent can educate and inform you, help you narrow down criteria, prepare a showing list, drive you to all the properties, run down the requirements needed (every property manager is a bit different in paperwork requirements), handle the preperation of your application paperwork, review everything for completion, and deliver your application to the listing agent as a fully completed and ready to process application package.

This is what a good Austin leasing Realtor does. If you’ve ever worked with a really good, experienced and trained leasing agent in Austin, such as Jody at Habitat Hunters, you know how much time and hassle it saved. But it’s your responsibility to pair up with a good agent and avoid the bad ones if you want this type of help.

Searching on your Own
If you are an Austin local and prefer to search on your own and make direct contact and appointments with each listing agent or landlord for each home you are interested in, that’s not a bad way to go, but it’s very time consuming.

For Austin MLS listings, limit your search to AustinHomeSearch.com. This is the public facing side of the Austin MLS, including lease listings, and is updated multiple times daily. Every other internet search site is a complete waste of time because of the number of “already leased” listings that remain there, often weeks after they are leased, causing you to waste time inquiring about or driving by properties that are no longer on the market. I have had to set up “canned responses” in gmail to deal with all the inquiries I receive from Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads, etc. about homes that have already been leased.

Also, at AustinHomeSearch.com, you will get the contact info for the listing agent and/or property manager and be able to deal directly with them, reducing communication snafus that often occur when you have a (lousy) leasing agent gathering that info for you. With Zillow, Trulia, etc., you are often put into contact with an agent who paid to receive leads, and who doesn’t know jack squat about leasing, much less the home you inquired about.

Finally, if searching on your own, you have to drive neighborhoods and look for homes for rent. Don’t limit your efforts to online. Get out and drive the neighborhoods and look for signs. Often, I place a sign at a property and lease it from a sign call before I even have a chance to enter it into the MLS a day or two later. You’ll find For Rent by Owner properties this way also.

Also tell everyone you know that you are looking for a home to rent and ask for leads. Post it on Facebook. Tweet it. One of your friends might message you saying “my neighbor is moving and going to rent the house” and you get a shot it before it’s even marketed. We often have existing tenants refer the next tenant to us and are able to be flexible on the move-in/out dates because you all know each other and have already worked it out. Bonus!

You have to effectively work this “silent” underground market of leads to give yourself an additional advantage in finding a home to rent in Austin.

Make a Decision About Your Pets, Get Your Paperwork Together
Pet owners are at a distinct disadvantage in the Austin rental market. If you don’t have pets, congratulations. Your decision to not own pets means you have a much larger pool of candidate properties than those who do. As of this writing, there are only 673 homes for lease in the Austin MLS. Of those, 140 are listed as “no pets”. That leaves 533 homes (79%) available for you to consider. Still a decent ratio, but you’ve ruled out 1/5th of available homes by owning a pet.

And if you do own pets, and own 2 or less, each of which is at least 2 years old and weighs less than 35 pounds, congratulations. Though you have a smaller pool of candidate properties than the “no pets”  renters, you still have a much larger pool of candidate properties than those with 3+ pets, or large dogs, or puppies.

Most property managers in Austin limit pets to 2 max, under 35 pounds, at least 2 years old. Consider this if you are relocating from out of state and have 4 dogs and 2 cats. It might be time to part with some of those animals. (I’ll get flamed by pet lovers for saying that, but I’m not making a value judgment about pets, just talking about the realities of trying to lease a home in Austin TX if you have a menagerie)

Before starting your search, get your veternarian records straight, all shots updated, and have copies of this paperwork. It may be that the “no pet” home you really want might be flexible if you can make a good case for yourself and your pet. I leased one this month under that exact scenario.

This starts with preperation and documentation. I personally will allow a renter to make a pitch for themselves and their pet on some of our “no pet” homes. But you have to have excellent credit, great rental or ownership history, verifiable solid income and a move-in date that fits. In other words, many landlords and property managers may be willing to be flexible for an otherwise perfect applicant. Then, if I see in the vet records a history of serious care and commitment toward the animal, including regular scheduled visits, grooming, etc., it causes me to think you are someone worth taking the risk with and allowing the pet.

Remember, we work for and owe a fiduciary responsibility to our owner clients. Pets are a risk, regardless of deposit or other factors. Reducing risk is our job, and in a hot market where it’s easy to rent to non-pet owners, many of us are reluctant to accept pets because there is no upside, and great downside. Understanding that instead of being angry about it (I get chastised a lot by pet owners with “good” dogs when I can’t be flexible) will help you approach landlords and property managers from a more helpful viewpoint, and can help you make you a more persuasive plea for an exception.

Get All your Other Info Straight and Have it Ready and In Hand
The worst thing that can happen to you is to find the property that will be perfect and you are in fact unprepared to complete your rental application. This is not the time to start hunting down phone numbers from past landlords, employers, etc. dealing with the drivers license you lost a year ago, looking for you tax return if self employed, etc.

Get your act together now and have all of the info in advance, before you even start looking. If you have roommates, make them do the same. It only takes one missing piece of data to get an application rejected out of hand as “incomplete”.

Most Property Managers and Landlords in Austin use a standard rental application that asks for basic information. It’s a good idea to download a sample application, such as ours, and look at the information you will need to provide so you can have it ready. Put it in your iPhone or email to yourself so you’ll have it when needed. (but passwork protect anything that has all your identity info in one spot)

One of the most incredible things I encounter as an Austin Property Manager who has received and looked at 1,000s of rental applications over 20+ years is the fact that so many people cannot complete these forms properly and they leave important questions blank. I received one just the other day which, under “Current Address”, left blank the City/ST/Zip of the rental property, blank in the move-in/move-out dates, no rent amount, no landlord name or contact, yet in the “Reason For Move” line had written the word “Life”.

Seriously? And this applicant had an agent who didn’t double check anything and just sent the applicant to drop everything off. The application was rejected immediately as incomplete and meanwhile, additional applications came in and one was approved. This sort of thing is real common, and usually the incompetent agent and/or flippant applicant will call and yell at me after losing the place. As if it’s my fault.

So, understand that your rental application and how it’s completed says something about you. Laid out next to 1 or 2 other competing applications for the same property, what impression do you want the decision-maker to have about you and your ability to follow simple procedure?

Disadvantaging yourself in this way is the single dumbest thing you can do as an applicant, yet it’s the most common problem we property managers see in leasing. Don’t be this Dunce, or use your application for cute remarks or to express your creativity. It’s a serious business document. Take the process seriously if you want to be seriously considered.

Be Prepared to Sign Your Lease Right Away
In the current hot market, when an applicant is approved, property managers will prepare the lease right away and expect you to sign it right away. The other applications may be held as backup until that happens. If you’re a squeamish nitpicker who needs 3 days to read the lease and ask 50 questions, your approval can be withdrawn and the property manager will move on to the next application. I’ve done this because I don’t want to deal with a tenant who is argumentative and combative right from the outset. You will have shot yourself in the foot if you let that happen.

Most lease agreement used in Austin are either the standard TAR (Texas Association of Realtors) lease or the TAA (Texas Apartment Association) lease agreement. Texas is a landlord-friendly state, but there are good laws protecting tenants from bad landlords. If you come from a liberal, “tenant rights” city or state, you’re not there anymore. You’re in Texas where things are pretty cut and dry.

Most property managers and landlords will NOT change anything in the standard lease agreement to appease your worries or fears. You either sign it or you don’t. If you know that going in, you’ll experience less distress once approved and presented with a lease to sign.

Other Miscellaneous
I’ve written the above from the perspective of a good, established property manager who follows the law and runs a clean property management operation serving landlord clients. Unfortunately, there are some really lousy property managers and private landlords in Austin. If the property you are interested in renting is dumpy and unkept, and you can’t get a straight answer about what will and won’t be dome prior to move-in, then you should walk away. Keep looking. It’s not worth a year of hell living under a tightwad landlord or property manager who won’t fix anything. Private owners are often the worst, way worse the professional property managers, so be careful who you rent from and check out the property well before renting.

If you’ve been promised stuff like new carpet, fresh paint, washer and dryer included, etc., make sure it’s written into the lease. This is where it is important and imperative to nitpick the lease and read it carefully. Simply say “you told us you would be replacing the carpet and painting the interior, can we write that into the lease agreement for clarity?” That’s a perfectly prudent and reasonable request.

If the landlord or property manager refuses, walk away. Keep looking. Every reputable landlord and property manager I know is willing to have all agreements in writing, included in the lease agreement, and will probably have done so without you asking. Those not willing to document the agreements made as part of the lease should be viewed with distrust and skepticism.

Conclusion
Be prepared, be ready to make a decision and take the necessary action  to secure the property. I didn’t go into it but you need to have your deposit and application fee money ready also. You’ll probably need Cashier’s Checks and/or Money Orders, though some managers like us have online payment systems you can use as well. The Austin rental market is competitive, so be ready to do more than just “look” for a rental home, be prepared to compete for one.

If you have questions I haven’t covered, fell free to post them in the comments below and I will answer. I want every Austin renter to have a good experiencing finding and living in an Austin rental home.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sara February 9, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Hi Steve, I have a suggestion for a blog. What do renters want? The Rental market seems healthy, but In a down market what will tenants pass on? For example, which is worse: Gold faucets and shower fixtures in master in excellent shape? Dark Brown cultured marble in hall bath? Pinky beige 6×6 ceramic tile in entry and kitchen? Almond laminate and sink in kitchen? Fiberglass one-piece tub n shower? If the house is spotless with fresh paint and laminate everywhere else, do these defects still pop out? And do people want laminate or carpet in bedrooms? I’ve browsed around online and there it looked like price and a good dishwasher were important–as well as cleanliness and everything working. Other rentals in the neighborhood have granite, stainless etc, but would tenants rather save 2-300$ month for the same location with less attractive features?

2 Sara February 9, 2013 at 9:13 AM

And thanks. If tenants weigh in Maybe your owners will get some ideas, too. I’m in Round Rock (i know you’re not a fan of RR) and I have a preference for 1 Story 70′s ranches with spacious yards (which tenants probably hate but I am hoping make good investments long term).

3 Steve Crossland February 9, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Hi Sara, the “dated” issues are usually self-solving. Older homes with dated interior are usually in more central, higher demand areas. So renters are willing to overlook outdated interiors because what they really want is that great location.

Also, the turquoise and pink bath tiles, for example, have come full circle and renters actually like that decor again because it’s “retro” and cool.

But you’re spot on about the functionality of the home being important. If it’s dated and in good shape in a great location, that’s fie. But dated AND rundown will get passed over by many renters who don’t want to live in a “dump”, even if it’s in a great location.

Thanks for your comments.
Steve

4 juda jolie March 17, 2013 at 8:08 PM

I have a question (sorta), initially i signed my lease in April and therefore it was going to be up that next April. Then the second year, the agent asked me to extend it to May and I did. I suppose there is nothing illegal about this since I agreed to it. Now I wish I hadn’t made this move because I will be moving into a home at the end of March!

5 Steve Crossland March 20, 2013 at 3:40 PM

Hi Juda,

Lease renewals are always negotiable in that neither party has to sign a renewal at all. You can opt to leave, and the landlord can refuse to extend.

If you want to stay and the landlord wants you to stay and you both signed a renewal for 13 months, then that’s the agreement. I and other landlords regularly offer renewals other than exactly 12 months to get the lease-end date to a more preferred ending month, so what you describe is not uncommon.

Good luck!

Steve

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