Finding a realtor for renting is a good option if you’re…
- Moving to large and competitive markets (where demand for rentals exceeds the supply)
- Selective about what you want in your next rental
- Not able to tour units in person
Otherwise, searching for a rental through a website like Zillow or contacting a property owner directly can save you time and money. You can still work with an agent to find a rental. It just isn’t quite as common in smaller, less competitive markets.
Ultimately, whether you should work with a rental real estate agent or not depends on your market and how important it is to get a specific property. Your confidence in negotiating terms and reading a lease is also a major factor in whether you will benefit from working with a rental agent.
What does a rental real estate agent do?
A rental real estate agent — also known as a locator or leasing agent — acts as an intermediary between landlords and prospective tenants. Common services can involve:
- Locating apartments, condos, or single-family homes for rent
- Scheduling showings
- Negotiating rental terms
- Vetting renters’ credentials
- Advising on appropriate rents
- Helping tenants understand the lease
- Coordinating moving into a rental
In some cities, it’s common for landlords to pay agents to find quality tenants. In more competitive markets, however, you may be the one hiring the agent to find the right rental.
How do I find a realtor for renting?
You can contact the agent of an online property listing that meets your criteria. On Zillow, for example, you can search for rentals and connect with the agent who published the listing.
When you search for rentals online (e.g., on Zillow or Apartments.com) and you find one you like, you can contact the agent who published the listing. Even if the original rental doesn’t work out, that agent can help you find similar properties and send you applications. They’re also usually paid by the landlord, so you might get this help for free.
You can also use a locator company to connect with an agent before searching for rentals. Depending on the company, this could cost you up to a month’s worth of rent, but they will help you find the right rental unit from the very beginning.
Locator companies in major metros include:
- AptAmigo (Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Nashville)
- Loftey (New York City)
- Midtown Rental Experts (Detroit)
- ROOF Aloha (Los Angeles and San Francisco)
- Smart City Locating (Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas–Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, San Antonio)
Pros of using a rental real estate agent or locator
Expert advice is especially important if you’re moving to an area you’re not familiar with. Cities have different standards regarding fair rent, tenant rights, and transportation.
A local real estate expert in your corner can help you navigate:
- Which neighborhoods are right for you
- Transportation options (driving, biking, around public transit)
- Who covers utilities
- Pet restrictions and allowances
Protection against rental scams
Agents can verify that listings are legitimate, speak directly with a property manager or landlord, and ensure the terms of your lease are reasonable and legal. Since they are familiar with your market, they can also help you steer clear of bad landlords and property managers.
🚨 Consumer warning: According to the FBI Boston Division, rental scams have spiked in recent years.
Edge in a competitive rental market
Major cities like Dallas, New York City, or San Francisco are some of the hardest places to find quality rentals.
With demand outpacing supply, tenants often struggle to find a rental that meets their needs without breaking the bank — and landlords don’t need to lower rents to attract quality tenants.
In these markets, rental agents help you figure out where and how to apply for rentals while staying within budget. Good agents notify you as soon as units become available — and sometimes even have access to units not yet on the market (also called pocket listings).
The downside is renters usually have to pay these agents themselves, since the agents’ primary responsibility is to assist renters, not landlords.
Cons of using an agent
Between all the other expenses involved in moving, the cost of a full-service rental agent — i.e., NOT a locator service — may not be worth it unless you’re in a competitive market and you’re planning on sticking around for more than a year.
Agents who specialize in rentals often have relationships with specific companies and direct you toward those units. This makes it easier to find similar kinds of rentals, but it also narrows the scope of rentals your agent considers for you.
Looking on your own means you can consider a wider range of rentals from many landlords in your area, and you can view the units on your own schedule without an agent.
What if you plan to rent a single-family home?
You may not need a realtor if you’re looking at single-family homes. But you’d be responsible for vetting the property manager and unit by yourself before signing a lease. You can usually find family-home rentals on Apartments.com, Redfin, and Zillow.
Unlike apartment rentals, family homes are often listed directly by homeowners. They typically have less competition and more stringent application requirements, which benefits you if you qualify because of the smaller applicant pool.
Tip: If possible, find out what past tenants have to say about their experiences renting from a potential landlord. Single-family rentals could be an easier and more personal option if they’re listed by the owners, but that could also mean you’re dealing with an amateur.