Let's talk about closing the deal on your dream apartment. Once you've found "the one" and put in your application, the ball is in the landlord's court to approve you. But in this competitive of a market, scoring a lease isn't just between you and your prospective landlord – it also involves all the other applicants vying for the same spot. But don't worry: the dreaded bidding war doesn't always mean the end of your dream pad.
Many professional brokerages maintain a fairly strict first-come-first-serve policy when it comes to vetting and (hopefully) approving applications. Independent landlords, however, are often a different story. Because independent landlords – especially those who live on-site – have a more personal connection to the unit(s) they rent out, they tend to evaluate applications based on the prospective tenants' "fit" for the space.
The idea of the right "fit" for an apartment can mean different things to different landlords, and have several factors. First, there are the nuts and bolts of your application. How risky are you from a credit standpoint? How solid is your income, and what percentage of that income will you be committing to rent? Do you need a co-signer to qualify for the apartment? If any of these areas of your application are lacking, it's best to address the matter up front. Consider including a letter to the prospective landlord explaining why he or she should still consider you as a strong candidate for tenancy. Don't leave them asking questions, or doubting your application – because there will surely be other applicants who are stronger than you on paper.
Second, there is the level of personal connection a prospective landlord may or may not feel when they meet you, especially if the landlord lives on-site. If you attend an open house, definitely make sure you get to meet the landlord. Any amount of face-time goes a long way, so that they remember you – and remember liking you. If you like the place enough to make a move, let the landlord know that they can expect to receive an application immediately, and hand out one of your application material packets.
The third factor in the tenancy equation can be, unfortunately, the rent itself. If a landlord has enough strong applicants for a unit, he or she may try to use the applicants against each other to get more money for the space, by bringing them into a bidding war.
Bidding wars can be very emotional – when you love a place enough to apply, chances are you're going to at least entertain the idea of ponying up a little more cash each month in order to make it yours. But as any rational friend would tell you: step off the ledge, and take a breath. Analyze the situation as objectively as possible. Can you actually afford to pay any more for the unit? Consider what is included in the rental that can save you money elsewhere. Parking? Free laundry in the unit or on-site? Any utilities? Also, think about the long term. If the unit is controlled by a greedy landlord, chances are the rent will go up even more once the lease expires.
If the apartment is one that you still just don't want to walk away from, take a hard stance with the landlord about your budget and about the qualities that make you the ideal tenant for the space. Consider gestures besides paying more that could put you in front of other applicants. For example: can you begin renting immediately (rather than waiting for the first of the following month)?
When you are ready to make your best and final offer – even if it's for exactly the amount of money the unit is listed for – accompany it with a statement (preferably in writing, if possible) of what makes you the ideal tenant for the space. Maybe you have lived in that neighborhood for a long time, and you are a strong part of the local community. Maybe you have a green thumb and want to bring your penchant for gardening to the building's outdoor space. Whatever it is, make it compelling. If you're lucky, the landlord will realize that there's more to a tenant than just a dollar sign.
· Here's What You Need to Score an Apartment in San Francisco [Curbed SF]
· Abby's Seeking Shelter archives [Curbed SF]