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Renting a Home in the USA - advice from an expat Realtor

by Alan Langstone, LangstoneTeam.com, Carolina One Real Estate

Renting a home is pretty similar around the world although there are of course some differences! These can be differences between properties, communities/neighborhoods, towns/cities, counties, states or countries. In this article we’re going to look at the process in America.


The Search

There are many different and varied sources available when looking for a rental property. The more common are listed below.

The Internet

There are plenty of Internet based sites like craigslist.com, apartments.com, rent.com, realtor.com, etc. When searching the Internet, be cautious about having to register on a site. These can be lead generation sites that sell your information on. Most sites can be searched for free and without registering.

Whether you are moving across town or relocating from another continent, if you are using the Internet as the primary method of finding and acquiring a home, you should always be careful about the threat of fraud. There are a few fraudulent schemes in this market so be careful.

Local Media

These are the local newspapers or “home and apartment finder” magazines.

Drive By’s

There is always the chance you will drive by a “For Rent” sign in the front yard!

Word of Mouth

Depending on the circumstances and distance that you are moving, ask your contacts whether they know of any properties for rent.

Multiple Listing Service

In the USA, in the search to find a home to rent you have an additional source of properties. Properties are listed in the local area Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The MLS will not have all available rental properties, but can be a useful tool.

There are a couple of methods of using the MLS to find a rental property.

Firstly, you can find a Realtor or Real Estate Agent to assist you in finding a rental. An Internet search will lead you to a Realtor/agent.

i) Try searching for a Realtor/Agent in the city you’re interested in.
ii) Internet research using websites like ActiveRain.com and Localism.com (these are not the only sites that cover the USA, but in my opinion they are the better ones)
iii) If someone you know knows of a Realtor or Agent in a different area they can refer you to a local agent. Many Realtors/Agents have networks of contacts across the USA.

The other method of searching the MLS is to find a local Realtor/Agent website that allows you to search for free without registration (remember registration often means lead generation).

When using a Realtor/Agent to find properties, some will not be overly interested. This is due to the Realtor/Agent’s fee. Many times, Realtors/Agents are not paid well for rental properties and therefore would rather concentrate on home sales. You will find Realtors/Agents that are happy to help though; it just takes a little bit of research. Again websites like ActiveRain.com are very useful, but you may also find the information you are looking for by posting questions on websites like Zillow.com and Trulia.com, for example.


You found a property you like - what next?

You need to do some research or question your Realtor/Agent regarding the location of the property…

Is the home in a community or neighborhood with a Home Owners Association? (If yes, there may be covenants, restrictions, dues and fees involved).

In some communities/neighborhoods it is not unheard of to have covenants or restrictions which only allow the trash can to be out on the day of collection, require your yard/grass to be maintained to certain standards, do not allow motorcycles in the community/neighborhood or you are not allowed to leave your garage door up. Some of these rules may seem silly or arbitrary but they may carry a fine if not carried out which may affect your rental agreement and tenure of the property.

What are the local or neighborhood/community facilities?

Where is the nearest hospital/Urgent Care facility?

Where are the nearest shops, restaurants, gas station, etc?

If you have children:

What school district is the home in? (You can get the school report statistics on line or from the local school board).

What time do the school buses pick up and drop off?

A lot of home rentals will use a generic State Rental Agreement which is often available from the local branch of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) board Your prospective landlord or Realtor/Agent should have a copy.

This rental agreement is generally used short term (month to month rentals) and for 12 month or longer leases. Some rental agencies and companies may have their own specific rental agreements.

There are various “rent to own” and “lease options” which are alternatives to a property purchase. These have advantages and disadvantages, but require a reasonable level of knowledge of the market conditions, finance and State and Federal laws before you should contemplate one of these as an option.

The amount of rent due, deposits, neighborhood/community dues, neighborhood/community restrictions, pet charges, inclusions, exclusions, allowed, not allowed, etc are of course varied and particular to each property and/or community or neighborhood.

As you would expect, homes that represent “good value” in good or popular locations are not on the market for long. The reverse is also true.

The sort of questions you should be asking yourself and the owner are:

How long has the property been vacant?
How long has it been on the market?
Why did the last tenants leave?
Have the owners ever personally lived in the home?
What are the neighbors like?
What’s the neighborhood like?
Are there any rules, covenants or restrictions that apply?
Are there any noise issues? (e.g. local businesses, flight paths, roads, railway tracks)
Is the home on a “cut through” to anywhere?


You’re happy this home is for you! Now what?

You have the answers to all the questions that you can think of and are now ready to sign the rental agreement, pay deposits, rent, etc.

This process is fairly straightforward but can varybetween properties across the USA. If you have contract concerns or have an uneasy feeling, it may be wise to stop at this point and consult an attorney or Realtor/Agent or other professional.


All the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted!

Everything is now signed, deposits and rents paid - congratulations, its time to move in!



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