If you’ve been hunting for a single-family home to rent, you know how difficult it is to find available, affordable rentals in the current market. Not only does demand far exceed supply, according to recent data from Dwellsy, asking rent for single-family rental homes (SFRs) rose more than 22.4 percent from November 2021 to November 2022. (Yes, the decimal is in the right place.)
So—when a decent-looking SFR listing appears in your price range, you might be tempted to sign a lease ASAP before someone else snaps it up. No quite so fast, says Jonas Bordo, CEO and cofounder of Dwellsy.
“I get it—many renters who prefer single-family homes are desperate to find somewhere (anywhere!) to live right now,” says Bordo. “But allowing a scarcity mindset to drive your decision-making might lead to long-term rental regret.
“Just because an SFR is available to rent doesn’t mean it’s right for you,” he adds. “Sure, you may never find the perfect rental, and you should expect to compromise on small things—but make sure they are, indeed, small. It’s better to wait on a good SFR fit—or look for another type of rental like a townhouse or apartment—than to lock yourself into a lease that will end up making you miserable.”
Here are six questions to ask yourself before signing a lease:
How much will it (really) cost per month? Remember that asking rent is only one piece of the financial pie. You’ll probably have upfront costs like an application fee, a security deposit, a pet deposit, and renter’s insurance. As a tenant, you’ll be responsible for monthly costs like water, gas, electricity, and Internet. And it’s likely that you’ll want to set aside some money to furnish or decorate your new rental home.
“If your monthly housing budget is $2,500 and rent alone is $2,350, you may want to keep looking,” advises Bordo. “It’s easy to say to yourself, I can make this work—I’ll cut costs elsewhere…but will you still feel that way if you have to cut back on your family’s recreation and entertainment budget, for instance?”
Do the size and layout work for our family? How many people will be living in the home? Does everyone need their own room? Will you need to set aside space for a closed-door office? If you have small children, is an open-concept floor plan or a master bedroom near a nursery important? What about a fenced-in yard or garage space?
“Floor plans dictate how we interact with our family members in our homes,” points out Bordo. “Consider beforehand how the size and layout of a new home will benefit or detract from your lifestyle.”
Is the location reasonably convenient? Sure, the rental you’re considering seems perfect…but does that outweigh the fact that your previous 15-minute commute would now take 45? Just as important as the rental home itself is its proximity to work, family members and friends, activities, and amenities.
Bordo adds, “If you have children, you might also need to consider questions like, ‘What school district is this home in? Are there parks nearby? What’s traffic like on this street?’ etc.”
What are our responsibilities as tenants? Landlords or housing associations are often responsible for fixing issues that arise and for maintaining the home’s interior and/or exterior—but not always. Some landlords may require their tenants to complete tasks ranging from changing the air filters to mowing the lawn and raking leaves.
“Make sure you’re clear on what your responsibilities will be—and how much time and money they will cost you,” urges Bordo.
Are there “little things” that might become “big things”? Let’s say one of your primary reasons for wanting an SFR is so your dogs will have more space. The rental you’re considering has hardwood floors that might be easily scratched by canine claws, and the neighborhood is not walkable (no sidewalks!).
“These things aren’t necessarily dealbreakers, but you do want to make sure you’ve thought through them before moving your furry friends into their new home,” says Bordo. “The same thing applies to many seemingly small issues that might impact your routine, daily responsibilities, or quality of life.”
What is the home’s overall quality? Always try to view the home in person before signing a lease so you can assess its quality. Remember, listing photos can be deceiving…and they can completely skip any “problem areas” like a damp, flood-prone basement or outdated appliances.
“If a rental home doesn’t seem well maintained now, that’s probably not going to change after you sign the lease,” Bordo points out. “On a related note, ask what you can expect if you put in a repair or maintenance request. Who’s coming to fix that burst pipe—a plumber or your landlord who fancies himself a handyman? Will this person show up within hours, or days?”
“Despite my advice not to jump into an SFR lease willy-nilly, the fact is that single-family homes don’t tend to stay on the rental market for long, especially these days,” Bordo says. “You won’t have much time to spend deliberating. So don’t wait until after you see a listing to start asking yourself these questions. Think about what your needs, wants, and dealbreakers are beforehand. Know what you’d be willing to compromise on and what’s set in stone. You’ll be in a much better position to confidently say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when a promising SFR property pops up.”
Services like Dwellsy can also be a big help when you’re looking for a single-family rental that fits your lifestyle, preferences, and budget. With over 13 million verified listings, Dwellsy has the largest and most diverse selection of current, accurate, and fraud-free residential listings in the U.S. And since it allows you to filter searches by features and amenities, you’ll be able to zero in on properties that work for you, fast.