Life in the U.S.
Nov 11, 2020

Finding an apartment in the US – how to beat the competition

Finding an apartment in the US can be tricky business, especially if you’ve just arrived from abroad. You’ll need to convince your new landlord that you’re reliable and likely to pay the rent on time, every time. That’s no easy feat without a US credit score! 

If you’re wondering how you can beat the competition and find your dream apartment as a newcomer in the United States, we’re here to help. From searching in lesser-known areas to providing impeccable paperwork, this advice will have you settling into a new apartment in no time.

1. Start building your credit score

Sure, finding the actual apartment should be high up on the list, but we’ve put this one first because it’s so important. Put simply, your US credit history is a crucial financial tool, and with a decent score, access to credit – and life in general – can be a lot, lot easier. 

Your US credit score could also be called your trustworthiness score, because all sorts of creditors – from phone network providers to letting agencies – use it to determine how reliable you are. The trouble is, if you’ve arrived in the US from abroad – even with a faultless credit score back home – you’ll have to start from scratch in building it up. 

To start building your credit history, we recommend getting a US credit card as soon as possible, using it for all regular purchases, and ensuring you pay it off on time and in full each month.

In our humble opinion, Sable Card is the perfect US credit card for foreigners. You don’t need to have a US credit history or a Social Security Number – just grab your US visa and passport, and you’re done! Once you’re set up with a card, you can help your US credit rating along with other small forms of credit, like temporary car rentals and phone contracts. 

As you gradually build up your US credit score, you’ll vastly increase your chances of finding an apartment in the US. Just make sure you stay within your credit limit and only opt for purchases you can afford to repay. 

2. Find an affordable apartment 

When it comes to finding an apartment in the US, you can get an edge over the competition from the second you start looking. Do some research about each of the neighbourhoods in your new city. Are any of them particularly pricey or cheap for renters? Is there an up-and-coming neighbourhood that’s great for students? Could you add ten minutes to your commute but save a fortune in rent? 

As a rule of thumb, it’s often worth looking just beyond the most popular and central neighbourhoods to places that other flat hunters may overlook. The neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the most sought-after boroughs are often the hip neighbourhoods of tomorrow – so bear that in mind on your search.

Armed with your expert neighbourhood knowledge, head to an apartment-finder site like rent.com or hotpads to see what’s on offer. The competition for flats on these sites can be fierce, however, so it might also be worth exploring alternative options like local newspapers and listings sites such as Craigslist, where private landlords often advertise. 

When looking at the costs of each apartment, remember that landlords often require an annual income of around 40x the monthly rent, or a monthly salary of around 3x the rent. So, with an annual salary of $30,000, you should be looking at apartments for $750 a month or less. With an annual salary of $50,000, meanwhile, your rent should be no more than $1,250. 

3. Put together an application

So, you’ve found your dream apartment, and now it’s time to put together an unbeatable application. You’ll need to fill in a form, pay a fee to cover admin and background checks, and also submit some additional documents. 

Here’s a rundown of what you may need when finding an apartment in the US:

  • Valid US visa, green card or US passport
  • Pay stubs and bank statements 
  • Social Security Number (SSN) 
  • Character references 
  • Details of rental history
  • Job history / Resume 

To give your new landlord an idea of what kind of renter you are, it’s often worth putting together a ‘renter’s resume’. Provide details of each of your previous rentals, including the dates rented, the monthly costs, and reasons for leaving. You can also include some contact information to allow the letting agent to get in touch with your previous landlords.

We recommend making a digital folder with scans of your visa and passport, proof of income, references and other important documents. By making them easily accessible, you’ll be able to send off a speedy application every time. 

4. Demonstrate reliability

When finding an apartment in the US, a good credit score is often the best way to demonstrate reliability. But if you’re only just starting to build credit in the US, don’t worry – there are plenty of other ways to prove your trustworthiness.

One of the best ways to demonstrate your character is to get a reference from a respectable organization or individual. This could be an old employer, a college professor or former landlord. Ask them to write a short letter confirming your honesty and reliability, and submit this as a reference with your application. 

If you’re worried about getting accepted on financial grounds, you could always offer to pay a slightly larger deposit or a few extra months’ rent in advance. Up-front payments can go a long way in convincing a new landlord that you’re financially stable and capable of paying the rent each month.

Another option for reassuring the landlord is to get a guarantor or co-signer on the lease. If you have family or friends in the US with a good credit history, this may be the best solution for you.

If you’re finding an apartment in the US on a tight budget, you might also consider using a service like TheGuarantors. For around 5-10% of the cost of a deposit, this company will insure your tenancy, giving the landlord a guarantee for any lost rent or damages.  

5. Be upfront with the landlord

It may sound obvious, but when it comes to finding an apartment in the US, open communication and honesty are the best policy. If you don’t have a long-standing US credit score yet, it may be worth calling the letting agent or sending a short note explaining your situation. 

Ask if they would like you to supply additional documentation such as character references, a letter from a previous landlord, or evidence of savings. By working with the landlord from the beginning, you may be able to come up with a workable solution for both parties. 

Most importantly: don’t get discouraged. Finding an apartment in the US can take time, but with the right approach, we’re sure you’ll find a great place to call home. 




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