First of all, rent-free living is the way to go if you can swing it. That's a big "duh" in my book. I've shared resources... the biggest being The Caretaker Gazette. So many rent-free opportunities. But in most cases you have to be willing to move or to be isolated. Like we were. We were living rent-free on a beautiful island in a wonderful, old house that used to be a bed and breakfast and was only rumored to be haunted. For four months at the end of my pregnancy, Bob commuted to San Francisco for work. A seven hour trip that included two planes, a shuttle and a train. When the baby came along and his work called him to Chicago, we followed the call. To guarantee being together. To be nearer to the grandparents. To guarantee income.
That meant we had to find an apartment. But with a short sale and a bankruptcy in our recent past, we knew we'd never pass a credit check. So how were we able to land our apartment? Here are a five tips that made all the difference in our apartment search:
1. Don't bite off more than you can pay.
Only rent what you can afford to pay cash each month. Don't put yourself in a situation where you're going to be scrambling to make ends meet. The last thing you want is to move into an apartment you can't afford and then have to move again.
2. It's not what you know, it's how many landlords you know.
A landlord who you find through a friend of a friend is going to be a lot more understanding of your situation than a random landlord you find on Craigslist. We put the word out on Facebook that we were looking for an apartment in Chicago and immediately got a response from our friend Cece. She shared a posting for an apartment in Lincoln Square in a building that was owned by a friend of hers from high school. We got in touch with him, said Cece sent us his way and he responded immediately. To our delight, the apartment was one block away from our friends Megan and Jamie in a neighborhood that we love. It seemed meant to be.
3. Make a good first impression.
Our opportunity for a first impression was via phone. It's much harder this way. Because we couldn't be there to meet Andrew in person or see the apartment, we sent my mom and Tom. If you're going to send someone on your behalf like we did, make sure they'll make a good impression. Mom and Tom were great. Of course, they're so personable. And because Mom is a realtor, she talked to Andrew from that perspective. They had such a nice time talking that Andrew took them out for gelato to the cafe on the corner.
4. Be honest.
Don't try to hide your financial hardship. It won't work, anyway. It will all come out in the credit check. Yes, I have seen those ads on Craigslist that say "No Credit Check." Those always felt a little suspicious to me. Maybe I'm just paranoid. Maybe they're fine. But most landlords will ask for a credit check. And when Andrew mentioned the credit check, I was honest.
"We won't be able to pass a credit check," I said.
And then I explained everything. How we owned this house in L.A., how we did a huge renovation, how Bob lost his job and we couldn't sell the house and how I wrote about all of it on Love in the Time of Foreclosure. By this point, Andrew had already met Mom and Tom and liked them. He considered our mutual friend Cece "good people" and if we were friends with her, we must be too. So when I began to explain our financial situation, he listened with an open mind.
Still. I was worried. I knew that it wasn't a slam dunk. We were a risk for any landlord based on our history. I could only hope that Andrew saw our integrity through our story. Luckily I had documented our story on this blog and could send him there to read it. And he did. We talked the next day and he was ready to rent us the place without worry.
Our honesty, character references (so to speak) and Bob's income all added up to "good tenant material."
5. Write a letter to the landlord
It's not uncommon for a buyer to write a letter to accompany a bid on a house. So why not do the same when trying to rent an apartment... especially now that there is so much competition for rentals? Start with why you love the apartment. Show that you'll take care of it. As a former homeowner you know first hand "pride in ownership." Talk about that. Then share your story. Your Letter of Hardship is a good jumping off point. Don't be afraid to put it all out there. If you are good tenant material, it will show through your story. Lastly, tell the landlord what getting this apartment would mean to you.
Good luck. And just trust that no matter where you end up, you'll make it your own.
Anyone out there want to add anything? Any more tips? Anecdotes to share?
Please share in the comments below.