House Hunting in a Pandemic
How to secure a great house and keep yourself safe
This is a bit of a long blog post so I'm going to give you the gold upfront.
In summary, this blog post says if your hunting for a rental home, don't jump too quickly to scheduling a whole bunch of appointments to see houses. It makes your house hunting experience frustrating and only serves to waste your time and put you at risk of contracting COVID.
Here is the punch list of what is in this blog post. Below are many resources and the Reasoning for each item. I hope this blog makes your house hunting experience faster and easier.
Know your budget and what kind of house you wish to afford
Tell property managers your wishlist and interview them before scheduling a showing.
Use Video walkthroughs to narrow your search
Do not visit occupied homes without protecting yourself with information and PPE
Use the Rentfaster application rather than filling out numerous ones
Know your credit score even if it's bad. People with credit challenges rent houses too
The COVID - 19 Pandemic has changed our world
The way we go about many things will never be the same. There are many productive advancements that will be made as a result.
One of the more green and energy-efficient advancements is how we hunt for a home.
No longer will multiple people travel in multiple vehicles to look at multiple houses thanks to virtual tours and online walkthrough videos
Every tenant has the right to have a clean and safe rental. That includes not having the landlord invite potentially infected people into their homes.
Before you ask or click "can I schedule a time to see this house" your question should be "is this house vacant?"
You don't know if the current resident is infected. If they have small children or are elderly residing there. Some might have chronic respiratory susceptibility.
If you're renting with pets you have a lot of details to confirm before you go look at a house.
Is it fully fenced?
Do you have size and breed restrictions?
What are the pet fees?
How do you know if a house is an option for you if you don't ask?
Save yourself time, travel cost, & risk. Don't be afraid to ask a few questions.
Here is how to secure a great house and save yourself all the hassles
STEP 1: Determine what you can pay
If your housing expenses exceed 40% of your income including utilities you will find it very difficult to afford and save for the things you need. No responsible housing provider should allow people to get house poor.
If your income fluctuates or is seasonal, take last year's reported income on your tax return and divide it by 12.
Several factors influence your energy consumption at home, including the size, type, and age of the home, the number of people living there, the age and type of appliances, and how well insulated the house is.
Electric and gas bills range from $280 – $350 per month in the coldest months to $100 -$200 in the summer months.
Water, Sewer, and Waste Collection is typically, about $70 – $110 per month depending on how much water you and your family actually use. Choosing a smaller, newer house is the most cost-effective.
Housing budget minus utilities equals your desired rent rate.
Here is a quick reference you can use
Rent Household Income
$850 = $2125
$1000 = $2500
$1500 = $3750
$1800 = $4500
$2000 = $5000
STEP 2: Choose your rental type
With your budget as a guideline, you can use the average rent rates on www.rentfaster.ca/ab/edmonton to decide what kind of house you're looking for. Listed here from least expensive to most
Apartment vs Condo - Condo's can be in the form of a townhouse or apartment. Most of the time a condo has more services such as lawn care and snow removal so you don't have to do it. More often than apartments condos have gyms, social rooms, and car washes. Generally, living in a condo means that the neighbors are more likely to be owners and long term so a new tenant doesn't move in and start being disruptive. The buildings are generally quieter and better-taken care of than apartments. Apartments cost less rent and are likely to have more shared facilities like laundry.
Basement Suite- Some can be a cold, musty, and dark. Most people who rent these aren't interested in taking care of sidewalks or a yard. It is rare to find one with garage or yard access. It is becoming more and more common to find basement suites with a private entry, High ceilings, and large bright windows. I hate to call these superiorly constructed homes a basement suite. I call them Your Casa de estilo subterraneo!
Main Floor House - all the amenities of a full house but less expensive because utilities are split with the basement resident. It's a bit annoying that they get advertised as a whole house and waste people's time and complicate their home search.
Townhouse - depending on the type these can either feel like living in an apartment or more like a duplex. End units are ideal. Prices vary greatly because they can include yards and garages or not.
Duplex - The city started to allow secondary suites in duplexes essentially making them a 4 plex. It's annoying that they get listed as a duplex. They generally have as much privacy as a house with a smaller yard and street parking can be challenging.
House - almost always don't have utilities included
Another budget consideration is location. Your next biggest expense is buying and operating a vehicle. A home closer to work, grocery, public transit, and major thorough fairs can save you enough to justify a little more in rent. Your budget might require that you forgo the garage or the condo with a swimming pool. It might mean that you need to have a roommate. Another savings opportunity is to choose a cat over a dog to avoid the need for a yard.
STEP 3: Schedule Showings
Now that you know your budget, the location, and the type of house you're looking for. The next step is doing an internet search to see what is available. I find that Rentfaster is the easiest to use and has the most robust amount of properties to choose from. In Alberta, RentBoard and Zumper are good ones too. Kijiji is difficult to narrow your search and landlords arent listing there as much because of the bump feature. Ads get pushed to the bottom so quickly that the advertising cost isn't worth it.
I might be a gadget geek but I like to copy the URL link into a document and record the rent rate and amenities to keep track of the properties I'm interested in. Most of the property search platforms have a save button and Rentfaster allows you to compare properties.
If spreadsheets aren't your thing printing the feature sheets gives you something to take notes on and use like trading cards.
It is incredible how common it is to be stood up by potential tenants and then be ghosted after driving an hour and missing dinner with your family. Because potential tenants cry wolf so much it doesn't surprise me to hear about an owner not showing up to show a house or property managers herding a whole bunch of people through like cattle.
If you want to be taken seriously you need to have a phone or email interview with the property manager.
When you inquire about a property tell potential landlords what you need and for when. Get your questions answered before you risk your health and waste your time attending showings.
A fast and easy way is to fill out the Rentfaster application and forward it to each property you are interested in. You can also print off some copies and bring them to showings so you don't have to stand there and fill out applications.
Property Managers want to know who will be moving with you because they are only allowed to permit 2 people per room unless the house has large rooms. They can't allow someone to sleep in the basement if the windows aren't big enough to get out of in case of fire and the furnace needs to be enclosed in a room to ensure carbon monoxide or gas is detained long enough for it to be detected and people to get out. If a property manager doesn't care how many people are moving with you that is a bad sign.
Property managers want to know what kind of pet you have because owners and condo boards have different pet policies. Pet friendly doesn't mean they accept any and all pets.
Very often when I respond to "Can I see this house" I find out they have pets and let them know the pet fees. The response is either no problem or that is too much. (even though our pet fees are lower than most and we reward people for staying longer) If their response is no problem we move along to showings and I'm glad that I didn't get them all invested by conducting a showing and having them fill out an application before dropping the pet fee bomb on them. If their response is "no that's too much" I didn't waste their time and we avoided a tenant that lacks consideration for the owner and the property.
Pets do cost a lot of wear and tear. The bad pet owners (I mean those who don't know how or just don't spend the time to train their pets) it's not a couple of hundred dollars damage it's always more than double what a security deposit covers.
It's not profitable to allow pets. Owners only do it with the fees in hopes that people will be happier in their rental homes and will stay longer. Unfortunately, a few bad pet owners ruin it for the rest. The fees are like insurance. Good pet owners pay for the damage done by bad ones.
Let the property manager know when you want to rent the house and for how long. If you're looking for a house for 2 months and the ad says it's priced assuming a 1-year fixed-term lease why waste your time looking at it. If it isn't available until 2 months from now and you need a place this week why waste your time. Yet the first question is "can I come see this"
Here is an example introduction you can modify and copy and paste when you inquire for properties.
Example inquire text
Hello, my name is x… my husband/partner/roommate and I are seeking a # of bedrooms full house/mainfloor/townhouse/condo/apartment/basement suite for ourselves and our # children.
We need a fully fenced yard for the kids and our (type of dogs)/pet friendly home for our cats/rabbit…. What are the pet fees?
Our household income is x. I work at and my….works at …. So we can afford the advertised rent of x plus utilities. How are the utilities split between the main floor and basement residents? Is the laundry shared?
I drive a …. And my ….. drives a …… we are hoping to find garage/off-street/street parking for ….
My credit is bad because/good and I am happy to show you my credit report at the showing.
This house looks like it will work for us. We are interested in renting it starting xxxx and would like to rent it for at least x years.
If this home is vacant can we come to see it on this day or that day anytime between time and another time, please?
Step 4: Interview your landlord
The first question people have is when can "I come to see this." Your first question should be is this home vacant. Not only will you determine the eagerness of the owner to get it rented you have also determined if it's safe for you to enter so you don't get infected by COVID. When you ask for a showing without asking or answering any questions it actually shows little consideration for our existing tenants and our staff.
You're requesting that you travel to a strange location and enter a strange house with who knows who inside.
If my wife is doing the showings I really prefer to have looked the potential tenant up on social media or have an application to establish their identity. You should look landlords up too. Landlords interview you. Why wouldn't you interview a landlord? Because of licensing and insurance businesses are safer to deal with than private owners. You can see if they have a history of conflict by looking them up at Better Business Bureau. You can check their reviews on Google maps and Facebook. Take advantage of social accountability.
As a property manager, It's our job to find out what you need and make it easy for you to get it.
To keep yourself and others healthy it is important to work cooperatively with your real estate professional.
If you have bad credit you don't have to only rent from private owners. Professional Property Managers have many ways to help you overcome a credit challenge and get accepted.
If you follow the terms of your lease we love to hand out Certificates of Satisfactory Tenancy. It is a reference letter that will make it easy for you to get approved in the future.
Step 5: Tackle the application and approval process
Now that you have narrowed down the potential properties with your internet search interviewing the landlord, and using walkthrough videos to save you time and money. You have become familiar with what is available and for how much. Its time to make sure you get the best house possible for your family.
Renting a house without physically seeing it is very common. It's ok to put a deposit against the first month's rent or at least fill out an application. We rent to people moving from other provinces or countries based on the walkthrough video and ad photos all the time.
The only reason to do a physical walkthrough is to confirm the property is everything you expected it to be and to measure for your furniture. If you haven't been able to confirm that the property manager is legit you might want to make sure that the online property looks like the real place and that the property manager has access to it. (has the keys and takes you inside.) It doesn't happen often but no one wants to be a victim to an online scam.
If this home is the one for you, make it easy for the property manager to approve you. Bringing your own RentFaster application is fast and easy. Showing the manager your credit report, your last pay stub to prove employment and ideally, a certificate of satisfactory tenancy gives them every reason to rent to you.
They need to do their own diligence still but you would definitely be on the top of their list bad credit rating or not.
Most property managers will accept a deposit against the first month's rent of $250 to stop advertising the property and call it yours. It is a non-refundable deposit because it costs money to remobilize all the advertising but the property manager would have to prove the information you gave them was false to not approve you.
All transactions should be done by check (preferably certified), e-transfer, or direct debit so there are records and a receipt.
Don't pay cash. If a property manager accepts cash, run! Don't do business with them!
(you can get your credit report at www.consumer.equifax.ca/canada )
If you're going to negotiate on the rent rate you're going to need to justify why you think it is priced too high and why renting it to you will be less risky than renting it to someone else.
You run the risk of being perceived as someone who isn't going to be able to afford the house or who will move out as soon as they see a cheaper one if you negotiate. Don't go there without doing your homework first.
Now you have all the information you need to secure the property you want. You're actually a very desirable tenant because you're considerate and organized.
Happy house hunting!