There’s no universe in which anyone would call the process of packing and moving “fun.” But there are definitely ways to make finding a place less stressful — and less financially painful. Here, three experts — Maurice Ortiz, director of operations at the rental service Apartment People, and Jan and Margi Hazlett, the mother-daughter broker team who run Hazlett Partners — give their advice on getting the best deals and setting up the smoothest transition between homes.
Yep: The winter is both a buyer’s and a renter’s market.
Landlords don’t want to be burdened with empty apartments all winter and might shave off a couple hundred dollars from the rent or offer a free month, Ortiz says. Since fewer people tend to be apartment hunting at that time, it’s less likely that someone will swoop in and lease a unit out from under you — especially if you’re eyeing a bigger unit. (Families, for one thing, like to time their moves between school years, not midwinter.)
Buyers have the most leverage in January and February, too, Jan Hazlett says. “Some great stuff comes on the market and there’s not a lot of competition,” she explains. Movers, house painters, and other workers related to moving and home improvement aren’t as busy in the winter either, so you’ll get better deals and quicker service from them.
Especially during the real estate frenzy of 2020 and 2021, many sellers saw their homes snapped up before they found somewhere to move. If that happens to you, there’s an alternative to Airbnb life for that gap time: a leaseback, which allows you to temporarily rent your former home from the new owners.
Margi Hazlett says the practice was “more common than not” during the past year. Buyers can lock in their mortgage rate by closing in the typical 30 or so days, but the previous owners can continue to live in the home by paying utilities and rent (usually equal to the mortgage payment) for a few days or even several months. “Buyers were agreeable to doing this because if they didn’t, someone else would,” Hazlett says. “When there are five to 10 offers, it doesn’t give buyers a lot of leverage.”
If you go this route, invest in a home warranty so there’s no debate about who should pay for, say, a new hot water heater if it conks out during the rental period.
It’s very possible to have zero overlap, especially if you’re renting from a larger property management company. They run like a well-oiled machine, Ortiz says, and send in cleaning crews and painters to turn around properties overnight so you can conceivably move out of one place on the last day of the month and into a new one the very next day. (To be fair, this only qualifies as “perfect” if you have a sofa to crash on and a place to store your stuff for that one night.)
To hit that sweet spot where you’re not stuck paying double rent, Ortiz recommends you generally start looking for a new place about 45 days before you’re ready to move. However, your first step is to learn the nuances of the neighborhoods where you’re looking. If there’s a university nearby, for example, landlords might know who’s moving out six months or more in advance because the leases are timed to the school calendar.
Landlords have had to be more understanding than ever during the pandemic, as renters who lost their jobs struggled to make payments. Even in “normal” times, though, there are situations where they’ll let you out of your lease early or allow you to rent on a month-to-month basis after the initial term.
Ortiz recommends going straight to your landlord to negotiate. “The worst thing you can do is just take off, because that is going to follow you,” he says. “You don’t want something that’s going to go on your credit so that you have trouble getting an apartment in the future.” If they won’t let you out of your lease early, they’ll often allow you to sublet for the remainder of your lease.
Yes, it really is — as long as you’ve assembled the right team. Margi Hazlett says that if you’re buying, a good lender is key, as is a responsive attorney, so that all the paperwork keeps moving. Start looking about 60 to 75 days before you want to close, and you’ll have a good chance of meeting your dream moving deadline. For example, if you want to move near the end of April or beginning of May, that means you’ll want to begin looking in February.