Real Estate: Finding a Home to Rent Can Be Easy in Tough Real Estate Market

When divorcing couples try to sell their house or give it back to the bank to get rid of monthly payments they can no longer afford, that usually leaves them one option —rental housing. Renting a house or an apartment may be one of the more positive experiences two people who are splitting up can have today. That’s because in some parts of the country rentals are cheaper than they’ve been in years because of the glut of unsold homes on the market. But it really just depends on the market.

In Southwest Florida, Shannon Moore, a Realtor (R) with Re/Max Anchor Realty in the Sarasota, says investors and the average person trying to sell their home are clogging the market. “Property isn’t moving. Many homeowners don’t want to do a short sale or go into foreclosure,” she comments. “They’re trying to ride out the storm in the real estate market by renting their house, even if they have to do it for a loss, to get some income to cover a portion of their mortgage.”

For those getting a divorce, it’s definitely a renter’s or a buyer’s market in the Sunshine State, she says. “Renters know they can go down the street and rent a new house from an investor who can’t sell it…. All of these rental properties force down both the rental prices and the homes for sale in this market. Month after month property values continue to spiral downward,” Moore explains.

But not all parts of the country are the same when it comes to rentals. Nicolas Retinas, director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, says, “Florida was an area that was substantially overbuilt. It will take several years to work off the inventory.” However, there are areas of the country where rentals are in short supply, they’re in poor condition and they’re expensive.

Here’s the problem, according to Retinas: “The shortage is acute for low-income households. About 200,000 affordable units are lost to the inventory every year. In the recent past, many rentals were converted to condominiums. Given falling prices, we are starting to see conversions back to rental units. A shadow rental market has also emerged in the form of foreclosed homes. This is a very big country. There will always be mismatches. In markets with imploding economies, like the Midwest, there will be empty homes and buildings. In growing economies, like the Northwest, housing growth will lag job growth leading to shortages and increased prices,” the Harvard housing expert explains.

“Roughly one-third, or 35 million families in the United States, rent their homes. Approximately 95 percent of Americans at some time in their lives rented a home,” he says. In his new book, Revisiting Rental Housing, Retinas discusses various aspects of the subprime loan debacle — and its effects on renting in the U.S. He explains that 20 percent of renters make over $60,000 a year and 20 percent make less than $10,000 annually.”

The Harvard professor adds, “Over the last several years we have been losing affordable rental housing in this country. One of the problems is that many of the federal housing initiatives are soon to be expiring. Given the subprime market problems, it has caused all of us to reconsider homeownership. If you rent you don’t take on the risk of falling housing prices or the cost of maintenance.”

Laurie Manny, a Long Beach, California Realtor(R) with Long Beach Real Estate Downtown, says, “Because of the number of foreclosures in this area many of those people are looking for places to rent and that’s one reason these units are in short supply. Another reason rentals are hard to find in the Long Beach area is because the rents don’t support the property costs.”

Manny says Long Beach has something for almost everyone. There are high-end apartments and home perched on hills overlooking the water, there are family neighborhoods and condos for young professionals and there is even a shrinking number of less expensive rental units in working class neighborhoods, she said. “What we don’t have here is senior housing. I don’t know why because we have a large senior community,” Manny says.

As appealing as renting may be, it’s also a good idea to take a few precautions. For someone recently divorced here are some questions you can ask if you find a rental house. When you call, ask the owner:

1. How much will it cost to move in?
Do you have to pay first and last month’s rent and a security deposit? Or is it possible, because market conditions are so poor in some areas, only to put down the first month’s rent and a security deposit.

2. Who pays the utilities?
In some places they’re included in the rent in other areas it’s up to the renter to pay part or all of the utilities.

3. What is the length of the lease?
Generally, it’s for a year. However, it’s possible owner will give you a month-to-month lease. Some owners have no lease, that way it’s easier for them to evict a renter if they are trying to sell and get a good offer on their home.

4. When is the house available?
You need to make sure it’s possible to move out of your current home into the rental without any time factor hitches.

5. What is the square footage of the house you’re considering renting?
It needs to be large enough for you and your stuff.

6. What about pets?
If you own a dog or a cat will the owner of the rental allow them? If so is there an additional fee?

7. If you have children, ask the owner for the names of the schools in the vicinity.
To find out more about these schools contact the county school board.

8. Other things to consider.

A. Check out the appliances to make sure they work.

B. Is the inside of the house newly painted? If not, settle who will paint it before the lease is signed.

C. Are you satisfied with the amount of storage space? Are there an adequate number of closets and a sufficient number of kitchen cabinets?

D. What does the neighborhood look like? Drive around the area. You might also get out of the car and walk around to make sure you like the feel of the neighborhood before you sign the lease.

Don Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Florida Sun-Herald. He can be reached at