You know how all's fair in love and war? Same goes for trying to find an apartment in a major city where you'll be truly happy to live. In a competitive rental market, you have to be faster, smarter, and maybe even a bit cutthroat to capture those prized properties. But how?
Here are a few inside strategies that tilt the deck heavily in your favor (don't worry, they're all totally legal).
Seek out lease breakers
Often people will need to get out of their lease quickly because they have to move for work or some other scenario, and so they're trying to find someone to take over their lease -- which could be you! This is a fantastic way to score a great place because of the time pressure.
A good place to start this search is on Flip, a new peer-to-peer lease marketplace that enables people to buy and sell their lease.
"The idea that breaking a lease or subletting is illegal is actually a huge misconception," says Elias Wehbe, co-founder of Flip. "What a lot of people don't know is that the law is usually on the tenant's side in most states. Landlords are obligated to mitigate damages of someone breaching their lease contract by accepting a qualified replacement."
Look for apartment listings with bad photos
Who would put up bad photos if they were trying to rent an apartment? Surprisingly, more people than you would expect.
"This usually happens when people list the apartment themselves and take their own pictures, or when the listing agent doesn't hire a professional photographer or stager," says Collin Bond, a real estate broker at Douglas Elliman. "Bad photos or even lack of photos/floor plans will lead to less traffic to the listing, and this is when a customer is able to capitalize."
In other words, there could be a gem disguised by those blurry, poorly lit photos.
Set Google alerts to find an apartment
Tried-and-true methods like trolling Craigslist for new listings every day (or hour) actually do work (I got my apartment that way). But if you don't have all day to spend searching for recent postings, just set some Google alerts.
"To receive better filtered alerts, include in your search phrases that regularly pop up in listings -- like 'property details' and 'schools and neighborhood,'" says marketing communications specialist Rachel Chapdelaine. That will filter out a lot of nonlisting content.
These alerts should be set to include key words or phrases that are essential to your apartment search, such as "patio" or "porch," if that is a deal breaker for you, she adds. You can also set a website-specific search, by including the term "site: realtor.com" (for example!).
Do neighborhood outreach
People get hundreds of emails every day -- which is why the way to stand out in the digital age involves plain old paper.
"Write a short letter/note describing yourself and what you are looking for. Include your profession and where (generally) you live now. Choose the streets you prefer to locate to. Print it off and pop it into the doors of every great-looking, clean house in the area with your contact number," says Dame DJ, author of " Downsize to Freedom," who used this technique to score a fantastic flat in London. "You would be surprised how many nice, well-informed, friendly folks will call and know of something to rent nearby."
Show up with all your forms filled out -- and money
Especially in a city with an abundance of people looking for apartments and not enough actual apartments to go around, it is imperative that you act fast and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get the unit that you want.
"Savvy renters ask for rental applications prior to any showings, and they arrive at showings with fully filled out applications, references, credit checks, and deposits so that they can snag the unit before anybody else has the chance to," says Conrad Pool, president of Sleepwell Property Management. "If you take your time to think about an apartment or spend valuable time trying to negotiate a better deal, chances are that it will be gone when you finally arrive at the conclusion that you want it."