I’m Renting for the First Time Since COVID-19 Began — Here’s What I Wish I Had Known

Full length rear view shot of young couple carrying cardboard box at new home.
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When COVID-19 hit the U.S., I was one of many 20-somethings who moved back home. Little did I know I’d stay there for nearly two years as the country grappled with wave after wave of COVID surges, and I grappled with pandemic depression. (Not to be confused with pandemic fatigue. COVID-19 depression and anxiety has its own page on Johns Hopkins.)

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Check Out: The Pros and Cons of Living at Home vs. Moving Out

In January, I finally rejoined the droves of hopeful renters searching for a good deal. I signed up for daily Zillow alerts, made a list of my apartment “needs” and “wants” and set a rent range I was sure I could stick to.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for how time-consuming, discouraging and expensive the apartment hunt would actually be. Here’s what I wish I knew before I ever started looking.

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COVID Rent Prices Are Over

Rent concessions were the rose amidst a bed of thorns in 2020. Big cities in particular were experiencing high rates of rental vacancies, forcing landlords to incentivize leases with lower rents and waived fees.

Two years later, though, renters are seeing rates climb higher than they were before the pandemic.

According to the latest data from CoreLogic, single-family rental prices have increased 12.6% from the same time last year. The Sun Belt has seen by far the highest increases – with Miami rent spiking 38.6%, Orlando jumping 19.9% and Phoenix rising 18.9%.

Other areas of the country such as Boston, Charlotte and Los Angeles also saw big rent hikes, at rates of 13.7%, 11.5% and 9.2%, respectively. In my city of Seattle, the average renter was paying $1,814 for a one-bedroom in March 2020 and $1,500 in March 2021, but they can now expect to shell out $1,895.

Related: The 25 Worst Rental Markets in the US Right Now

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The Market Is Competitive and Places Go Quickly

The first apartment tour I scheduled was underwhelming. It was a studio barely in my budget and so small I wasn’t sure I could fit my queen bed in the living space. So I was shocked when just 30 minutes after the tour, the manager texted to let me know it was off the market.

It’s not an uncommon practice for people to put down deposits during the tour. If you think you might really love a place, go prepared with your checkbook. Don’t set your expectations too high, though — the reality doesn’t live up to the listing quite often.

Don’t Trust the Info on Rental Websites 

As a big-city renter on a tight budget, my “needs” list wasn’t very big. Actually, I only had three real needs: the place had to be 500 square feet or more, have parking available and accept cats. But even with my filters set on Zillow, many listings didn’t specify these crucial details. I learned this the hard way when several tours I’d scheduled via email resulted in stressful street parking and no-pet policies.

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I decided I had to call every single apartment before I would consider touring. I treated it like an interview, and also made sure to verify the rent price and any other fees that may have been missing from the listing.

Some common fees that get left out of listings include:

  • Parking 
  • Utilities
  • Pet deposit 
  • Pet rent 
  • Laundry (yes, some places have monthly fees to use their laundry facilities)
  • HOA
  • Security deposit

Don’t Trust What Property Managers Tell You, Either

Any promises the property manager has made mean nothing until you see it on the lease. My lease had to be amended three times.

First, it was to reflect the actual deposit amount I paid, which was $75 more than what the lease said. Then, it was to update the lease length to my preferred term. Finally, to change my utility fee from $85 to $75. The manager had told me twice and I had it in writing that the fee should be $75.

Even so, I ended up paying $25 more than I’d agreed to (verbally) for parking and I discovered that the building’s laundry fees were unaffordable.

If you can, get everything in writing — text or email — so you have proof against any upcharging they may try to do later. When you do sign the lease, take the time to read the fine print and make sure you understand it. By the time I concluded my apartment hunt, I was reminded of something my mom had told me early on: “It always ends up costing more than you think it will.”

Make Management Companies Do the Work for You

I found my apartment completely by accident. I had inadvertently talked to a property manager who shared my criteria with some of her colleagues. That same day, I received five separate phone calls for available apartments, one of which ended up being “the one.”

Combing through listings every day gets old fast. Although it’s still good to look on your own, it’s easier and more efficient to have property managers contact you. Do some research on the management companies in your area. Many of them will manage half a dozen or more buildings in a given city, and they’ll be eager to match you with a rental that fits your preferences.

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About the Author

Levi joined GOBankingRates in 2019. He's found success in financial, political and military lifestyle writing, with work appearing on MSN, Yahoo Finance, OurMilitary.com and more. With a background in narrative writing, he enjoys turning interesting conversations into impactful content.

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