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A Guide to Finding a Rental in Philly

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Curbed Philly has since updated our post about finding a rental in Philadelphia - a lot changes in a few years' time! Check it out here Happy apartment hunting!

From the archive...

Because of the high number of colleges and hospitals here, Philadelphia has always been a robust rental town. While it's still a buyer's market on the homebuyer's side, you can call it a landlord's market on the rental side.

Since the economy tanked, the rental market is more robust than ever. Some people can't afford to buy houses and other would-be homeowners are frightened by the market and simply don't want to commit. Meanwhile, many of the multihome rentals have converted to condominiums. So between the increased number of renters and decrease in inventory, finding the perfect apartment can be competitive.

So what's the key to finding the perfect rental? If you're out of town, start with Craigslist and If you're already in Philly, walk around neighborhoods and look up management companies and contact building owners directly to get a peek into rentals and an idea of the cost. Go to the neighborhood at night and ask people walking around what they do and don't like about the 'hood.

Or you could turn to an agent who specializes in rentals. John Featherman is one such realtor on the faculty at Temple University's Real Estate Institute who has been specializing in rentals since 2003.

"Before 2008, we tended to have a rental season, where three-quarters of the rentals had a commencement date in July or August," says Featherman. "However in 2008, we saw the rental season didn't end. [Now] it spikes in the summer time but it's not ending."

Used to be, most off-season renters were people moving to Philly for a job or because of couples breaking up. Now, says Featherman, it's everyone.

In Philly, rental agents don't automatically charge a fee of the client like they do in New York. Most of the time, they're paid a commission or fee by the owner of the apartment looking for a tenant. That's known as an "OP" for "owner pays."

But if a client wants to look at tons of apartments and selects one without an owner or management company willing to pony up, then the client pays the rental agent. Said fee can range from a couple of hundred bucks to a month's rent, or more.

There should be no surprises, though. All of this should be worked out in advance with the rental agent. If you're 100 percent unwilling to pay a fee, tell the agent that you only want to see apartments where the owner will pay the fee.

Sometimes, as with most things in life, a little work can get you out of paying that extra fee. Say you're looking for a chic one-bedroom in Northern Liberties. It's near the Standard Tap for all your local microbeer and duck confit salad needs (no, seriously, try the duck confit salad) and also close enough to Honey's that you can get there for brunch on Saturday before every other Philadelphian with a hangover and hankerin' for fried green tomatoes strolls up and gets in line before you. You come across a Craigslist ad that says, "Chic One Bedroom in Northern Liberties." Cue the strings section. What a coincidence!

Now take a closer look. If the Craigslist ad doesn't have an exact address listed, there's a good chance the broker is advertising an open listing. This means the agent got a list from a management company that owns the building and is saying in the ad (though not expressly) that they're the only person who can show you this property. Not true. Familiarize yourself with the management companies that represent the buildings you're interested in. If you find a listing on their website that looks stunningly similar to that chic apartment ... it probably is the same apartment, and now you have extra money for all the duck confit and fried green tomatoes and microbrews a new Philly renter could ever want.

But, if you are going to pay the fee, make sure you know if it's going to be one month or 15 percent. You can try old-fashioned bargaining, but of course that only works if you have leverage, which in this instance means the apartment has been hard to rent. If it's an amazing apartment packed with all the bells and whistles that make affordable Philly living seem like a dream to non-trust-fund Brooklyn friends—and you've spent more than a few weekends zipping around town checking out apartments to know—you probably have to suck it up and pay the fee. But you won't care, because your new place rules and the rooftop parties will be insane.

Just make sure you know about all the fees up front, and check if there are any application fees and/or credit check fees before you sign any documentation.