How to score a new apartment, even with COVID-battered credit

November 30, 2020 by PEMCO Insurance

Like so many routine activities in our COVID-interrupted world, "routine" apartment hunting seems anything but (hello, virtual tours!).That's especially true for people who took a financial hit during the pandemic – maybe with reduced hours or furloughs – and now find themselves having to explain why their credit score isn't what it used to be.

GettyImages-929318420.jpgThe good news is, it's still possible emerge on the other side of the rental-application process with an apartment you'll love. That starts by showing there's more to you than what appears on your credit report:

1.     Be honest about what you can afford. Even in the best times, landlords get nervous if they see a rent-to-income ratio greater than 35%. If yours is nudging that, decide if you can do without that extra bedroom or exercise room amenities to reduce the amount you'll spend. Consider smaller properties (note: not less secure) than you otherwise might. They're often owner-managed rather than handled by professional property management companies, and they may not require a credit check. You also may be able to make a more personal connection with an owner who can empathize with your situation.

2.     Make a good first impression. That Zoom meeting with the landlord? Make sure you're well-groomed, neatly dressed and the background is tidy and quiet. Everything about you should scream "responsible future tenant."

3.     Don't get tripped up with little omissions. This isn't the time to forget to mention you have a pet (cue the barking dog during your Zoom meeting). Understand the complex's policy on pets before you apply. Also, make sure your application is neat, accurate and impeccably complete. If there's an error on your credit report, get it fixed before you apply, so you don't find yourself trying to explain it later. See more about how to do that from the FTC (and be sure to use only the official site it recommends).

4.     Show them the money. Demonstrate that you're serious by offering to put down a deposit the same day (if you're indeed sure about the apartment). Other ways to win over a landlord? Offer an early move-in, which minimizes the amount of time the unit sits empty, or suggest a longer lease, which tells the landlord they won't have to hassle with renting the apartment again anytime soon.

5.     Let your former employer or landlord speak for you. A letter of reference can help paint you as the responsible person you are. An employer can back up your story about temporary unemployment and how it's related to the pandemic, not your performance. Your landlord can attest to your efforts to pay rent even when your financial situation was tight.

6.     Share the burden. If you're just not sure about your ability to pay going forward, consider adding a roommate, preferably one with a good credit score. That may be enough to convince the landlord that, between the two of you, the rent will get paid. Another option? Have a heart-to-heart talk with a parent or other relative who could co-sign the lease with you and be willing (and able) to cover the rent if you fall short.

Finally, when you decide on an apartment, don't forget to protect your belongings and yourself with renter insurance. These tips can make this already affordable coverage an even bigger bargain. 

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