10 Ways to Rise to the Top of the Rental Applicant Pool

When the applicants are spilling outside from an open house, you can bank on some fierce competition for the apartment.

You attend an open house for a swanky new apartment … and fall in love at first sight. The place is everything you hoped and dreamed it would be. You can already picture yourself living there.

Just one problem: there’s stiff competition. You see several other people drooling over the same unit, and you know the management will receive multiple applications. You want to make sure that yours rises to the top. How can you stand out from the crowd?

Here are 10 tips to put yourself at the top of the list – and snag that apartment of your dreams:

1. Arrive Early

If you fall in love with an apartment the instant you see the online listing, contact the landlord or property manager to see if it’s possible to view the unit before the open house.

This gives you a chance to make a personal connection with the management before the open house, and even if you aren’t able to schedule a separate viewing, at least you’ve set your name in their mind as someone who’s eager and interested. On the day of the open house, show up the moment the house is ready for viewing, and fill out an application on-the-spot (more details about that below).

2. Stay Later

There’s no need to hover while the landlord is trying to clean up, but sticking around a bit longer than other applicants helps solidify your impression as a serious renter.

Use that extra time to chat up the landlord. Ask questions about the unit and the building, convey what you like about the unit and emphasize the ways you’d be a great fit as a renter. (See below.)

3. Talk Up Your Plusses

Landlords and property managers like to lease to people they know will be quiet, clean and respectful. The open house is a great chance to demonstrate how well you’ll fit the bill.

As you share a little about yourself, mention the various ways in which you’d be an ideal renter. Maybe you’re a homebody whose ideal Friday night is curling up on the couch with a Netflix marathon. Maybe you’ll miss your old apartment because you became good friends with your neighbors. Maybe you love how shiny the kitchen countertops are because you’re a bit of a neat freak yourself.

You obviously don’t want to come across like a used car salesman, but discreetly slipping things like this into the conversation can help sway the landlord’s opinion in your favor.

4. Be Prepared

You can expect most landlords to request some if not all of the following in order to apply for a unit:

  • Cash or a checkbook to cover a credit check or application fee
  • Copies of recent bank statements
  • Copies of recent tax returns
  • Verification of employment and/or employment history
  • Contact information for your current landlord

Come prepared with these items so you can hand in your application on the spot. Not only will you get your name in quicker; you’ll show the landlord you’re thoughtful and organized.

5. Bring References

A reference letter from your current landlord can be the defining factor when it comes to distinguishing yourself from other applicants. Make sure it acknowledges how long you’ve lived at your current place, that you have always been on time with payments, and that you’ve been a quiet and responsible tenant who has taken good care of the property.

Want to really seal the deal? Include a reference letter from your employer or a neighbor at your current building who knows you well.

6. Money Talks

If you can afford it, offering to pay a few months’ rent in advance can also help push you to the front of the line. Not only is cold, hard cash universally attractive; it shows the landlord you’re financially secure.

If this isn’t an option for you, you could also offer to pay a bigger deposit or pay slightly more in rent per month. If it really is the apartment of your dreams, and doing so won’t strain you financially, it may be worth the extra cost.

7. Sign a Longer Lease

Another way to demonstrate good faith—and financially stability—is to offer to sign a longer lease than is required. (This can also be a perk for you as it locks you in at the same rent price over a longer duration.)

8. Be Flexible

Landlords hate having an empty unit, and they also hate the hassle of coordinating when an old tenant will move out and a new one will take occupancy. If you can demonstrate flexibility on the move-in date, you’ll earn brownie points for making their lives easier.

9. Act Fast

See a place you adore from the get-go? Then act quickly. Come prepared with the items listed in Tip #4 and fill out the application on-the-spot.

The landlord will need to process your rental application before you can sign the lease, so you (probably) won’t be able to secure the apartment on the day of your viewing. Nonetheless, ask how long the application process will take, and schedule a time to sign the lease the moment that you’re approved.

10. Follow Up

Keep yourself top of mind by sending a quick, polite follow-up (email is fastest) after the open house. Thank the landlord for their time, reiterate how much you loved the apartment and toss in a couple of those reasons why you’d make the ideal tenant. It’s an easy way to leave them with a positive final impression.


Cover photo courtesy of Michael Hicks.