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7 valuable tips for a successful rental application

Get approved for your dream apartment before someone else snags it.

A great application and an even better first impression can help you get approved for a rental, especially in a competitive market.

1. Be on time

If you have an appointment to see an apartment, be on time — or even better, be early. Real estate agents and property managers often have back-to-back appointments, typically in 15-minute increments, booked throughout the day, racing from one to another. If you’re the latecomer that throws off their entire day’s schedule, you’re not going to make a very good impression.

2. Make an impression

Make yourself memorable.

  • Introduce yourself to the real estate agent, property manager or landlord — whoever is showing you the apartment.
  • Have a brief conversation or ask a few questions about the apartment to help them get to know you and remember you.
  • Dress nicely when you first meet the realtor or property manager. Professional attire can communicate responsibility and financial stability, two of the biggest factors landlords and property managers are looking for.

3. Have references

The importance of good references can’t be overstated. Real estate agents, property managers and landlords want to know you’ll be a reliable tenant, that you’ll pay your rent on time and that you’ll treat the property as if it were your own. Potential tenants who can’t prove this with a strong track record of rental history are at a significant disadvantage.

If you’ve rented before, include the name and contact information of your current and/or past landlords or property managers.

If you don’t have any rental history, consider including references from coworkers, employers or former neighbors.

4. Write a great cover letter

If you’re applying for a particularly competitive apartment, you may want to consider including a cover letter with your application.

Write a few paragraphs about who you are, what you do for a living and the reason for your move. If you’re applying as a group for a property you intend to share, briefly introduce each roommate. Be professional, but not so overly formal that your personality doesn’t shine through.

Give a brief rundown of your rental history, and make sure to mention any special circumstances such as pets. If you’re renting with pets, mention their training, behavior and age. Even if you’re applying for a number of properties, it’s a good idea to specifically tailor each cover letter to mention features of the property that appealed to you.

Sample cover letter

Dear Jane,

We are Jim and Jill Williams. Please find attached our application and supporting documents for the property at 14 Any Street. We loved the feel of the neighborhood and think it would be a great fit of us.

Jim is a project manager at Big Company, where he’s worked for the last five years. Jill recently started a job as a web designer at Finder.

We lived at our last property as 4/152 Broad Street for six years. We’re looking to move so we can be closer to work. We have attached a reference from our current property manager.

Thank you so much for your consideration, and we look forward to hearing from you.


Jim and Jill

5. Be prepared

Have everything you need ready when you go to see the apartment. This includes copies of all your identification documents, proof of income and proof of employment. Bring along a resume of your previous rental history, including any reference letters or contact information.

You can also stay a step ahead of the competition by bringing along a completed application form. Most property managers will have standardized application forms on their websites.

It’s also a good idea to bring your checkbook and have enough in your account to cover the security deposit, first month’s rent, fees and sometimes the last month’s rent. Most apartments won’t require you to sign on the spot, but if you’re in a particularly competitive neighborhood, it can help you get the unit you want.

6. Be straight up

Don’t hide anything on your application letter, in your cover letter or in your discussions with the real estate agent. Instead, be upfront and ask about any issues that could be potential stumbling blocks.

Do you have pets? Put it in your cover letter, put it in your application and discuss it when you view the apartment. Do you have a rough patch in your credit history? Be upfront about it and explain it to the agent. If there will be several people living in the property, make sure they’re all there.

Any details about your tenancy you try to hide are sure to come out eventually, and can lead to some pretty severe consequences if you’ve signed a lease under false pretenses. It’s much better to be honest and open from the get-go than risk getting kicked out unexpectedly.

7. Follow up

After you’ve seen the apartment and submitted your application, follow up with a brief thank you email to the person who showed you the unit. Be pleasant and avoid coming across as impatient or pushy, but make it clear that you’re interested in the property. A courteous thank you note can help keep you in mind as they consider applications.

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Bottom line

Apartment hunting can be exciting, but it can also be frustrating if you find your dream place and don’t get it — especially if you live in a competitive neighborhood and lose out on several apartments. Plan ahead and be prepared to maximize your chances of getting approved, and compare renters insurance policies early so you’ll have one lined up if your new landlord requires it before you can sign a lease.

Frequently asked questions about rental applications

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