Renting a Home: Step-by-Step

If you’re getting ready to move, whether this is your first time moving out on your own or if you’ve gone through this process several times, there are important decisions that should be made up front before you get started. An obvious one being “where should I move?”. You’ll need to decide on what kind of housing suits you best – an apartment, house, condo? Then you’ll need to decide if renting or buying will be most beneficial.

If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and determine that renting is the best route for you, it’s still crucial that you do your research, really think things through, and have the right tools and resources at your disposal to make the best decision possible for renting your new home.

1. Figure Out Your Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves

Before you start the rental process or searching for homes, it’s important to determine what it is you’re looking for. If you plan on having a roommate or moving in with your partner or spouse, be sure to have open communication and figure this out together so there are no surprises along the way.


It’s helpful to put everything down on paper and make a list of what you need (must-haves) and what you want (nice-to-haves). Be honest with yourself here and keep this list close throughout the process of searching for your new home.

2. Determine Your Budget

Calculating how much you can afford to spend on housing is the key to being able to search for homes efficiently and avoid putting yourself in a tight spot financially. You’ll need to consider your income, current bills and expenses, and any other financial changes in your life that could impact your ability to pay rent.

How Much Should I Spend on Rent?

Most experts recommend following the “30 percent rule”, which says that your housing payment should not exceed 30% of your income before taxes. Stretching your finances beyond that can lead to difficulty in the event of an unexpected life event or changes in your income.

3. Prepare Your Finances

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for and what you can afford, take the time to make sure they align and adjust your needs and wants list if needed. Next, it’s time to prepare yourself financially to take on renting a house or apartment.


You’ll want to check your credit and review your credit report to ensure that there are no inaccurate items that could negatively impact you. Landlords will run credit and background checks before agreeing to take you on as a tenant. 


It’s also a good idea to save up some money before renting a place, as there are additional expenses to start your lease agreement beyond the monthly rent payment that will be due at the time of signing. These often include:

  • Security deposit
  • Rental application fees
  • First and last month’s rent
  • Moving costs

4. Explore Different Properties

Finally, it’s time to tour some houses! You’ve probably already started some searching whether it be in person or online. You’ll want to be familiar with what kind of houses are available in the area you’re searching and get an idea of rental rates. It’s important to not be too hasty and put in the time to look around before deciding on your new home.


Tour lots of properties. You can do this in person as well as online in many cases. Especially with the world becoming increasingly digital following COVID-19, there are often online tours that will allow you to explore potential homes without needing to go too many places. We do recommend that you visit the property in person before making that final decision however.


Reference your needs and wants list as you’re touring homes. Use it as a checklist so you can compare properties – if you end up with multiple properties that all satisfy your must-haves, take a look at how they fare in your nice-to-haves list!

Beware of Rental Scams

Scepticism is a good thing when house hunting. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s why it’s so important to become familiar with the areas you’re searching. If you find a property with rent for $500 per month, and all of the surrounding properties are priced at $1000+, there are probably some questions you should ask to find out why.


Any landlords that are overly pushy, ask for cash too soon, or hesitate to show you the property should trigger you to proceed with caution.

5. Negotiate Rental Terms and Ask Questions

When it comes to talking with your soon-to-be landlord about rental policies, payment, and terms, don’t be shy. Ask all of the questions that you have and make sure that all details of your rental agreement are clear and thoroughly reviewed.


Essentially, you want to know everything you need to about being a good tennant and confirm that the property and management will be a good fit for you.


Here are a few points to make sure you think of when negotiating and talking with your potential landlord.

  • What are the policies for pets, guests, and roommates?
  • Is this a long-term rental property? This is important so there are no surprises if your landlord tries to sell the property after your lease is up.
  • What are your lease payment options?
  • Be clear on penalties and late fee policies
  • Review renewal and termination policies
  • To what extent are renovations (internal or external) allowed?

If there are any terms that you’d like to negotiate with the landlord or management company for the property, now’s the time to do it. Whether this is pricing adjustments, accommodations, or exceptions to a certain policy (within reason), negotiating and setting expectations now will pay off.

6. Complete the Rental Application

By this point in the process, you’ll have all your ducks in a row and (hopefully) are excited to move into your new home! Now it’s time to submit your rental application and get all the needed documentation in order.


During the rental application process, there will be a credit check and background check. This is considered a hard credit inquiry, so don’t be surprised if you see a dip in your credit score. This isn’t anything to be concerned about and it’s a necessary step in the rental process.


In the event your credit isn’t quite up to par, you may be asked to have a cosigner on your lease agreement. If you think this is a likely possibility, try to think through who would be willing and serve as a good cosigner for you and approach this proactively. 


To avoid any back and forth or delays in the application process, try to prep all of your documents ahead of time. Here are some common things you’ll need, although it’s important to discuss this with your landlord for awareness of any differences or additions to what’s on this list.

Rental Application Documents Checklist

  • Driver’s License (with copies)
  • Recent Bank Statements
  • Pay Stubs
  • Proof of Employment
  • Checking, Savings, & Investment Account Statements
  • Last Year’s Tax Returns

7. Sign Your New Lease and Move In

Upon approval of your rental application, you just need to finalize the rental agreement, pay any fees that are due on signing, and move in!


Be sure to give everything one more good look before signing your lease and ensure it includes any pricing adjustments that you’ve negotiated and the terms are in alignment with your previous conversations and understanding. If there is anything that doesn’t look right, be sure to ask.