How NOT to rent a house

It’s now week 4 of our water damage disaster and repairs are nowhere near complete. Despite not planning to move this year, we’ve begun exploring potential rental houses — since all our stuff is in boxes, moving doesn’t seem like as much of an effort.

But we had no idea it was such a competitive time in the rental market! Any house that meets our specs is rented within days, for high prices. It’s a total seller’s market. This contrasts with our last hunt two years ago when multiple landlords, including the one we chose, were willing to negotiate lower rent and friendlier lease terms.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Craigslist and Padmapper. We’ve toured eight houses and applied to three, but no success yet. In retrospect, here are some of the mistakes we’ve made.

Fall for a great house in the wrong location


This house (yes, the one I already mentioned) had an absolutely incredible backyard. Private decks and terraces led down into a leafy canyon that channeled an light breeze. The interior was nicely updated although we didn’t like its layout with lots of tiny rooms arranged in a weird puzzle. The price was right. But the home was just too far from commercial areas — we really don’t want to give up our walkable lifestyle. I don’t know if we’ll see a rental house with such amazing outdoor space ever again… it was very hard to let it go.

Ask for improvements


This house’s location was perfect. It was on a quiet cul-de-sac between two of our favorite business districts, a two-minute walk to an excellent grocery store. The yard was small but private, with fig and banana trees. The interior was charming and spacious, though not in the best shape. But the kitchen was not good. There was a very vintage (1940s?) stove, no dishwasher, and the fridge was set in an adjacent room. Although it was expensive, the pluses of this house outweighed the minuses, so we made a conditional offer that included a request for a dishwasher (which the landlord had said was possible). But he declined our offer.

Underbid on an expensive house


With a secluded, leafy location 12 minutes from a great commercial district, this house had a wonderful “country in the city” feel. The spacious interior had some luxury features, including a double oven and a double bathroom vanity, but was painted a fleshy peach tone and carpeted in beige berber. Huge sliding doors opened the entire living space onto the yard. But the yard was uninspiring and didn’t have a view of the canyon behind the big fence. The master bedroom didn’t have a door — just a huge opening closed with an accordion screen. Given the downsides, we were not willing to exceed our budget, but we still could see ourselves living there. So we applied and offered slightly lower rent, giving our good financial record as evidence we’d be great tenants. He said we would have gotten the house if we were willing to pay the full amount.

Say you still need to give notice


My very favorite house so far was located just a few blocks from Balboa Park and a 12-minute walk to great restaurants. It had gorgeous wood floors and built-ins, a couple bonus rooms for office space, and a basement for storage (rare in San Diego). The private backyard had lemon, lime, and avocado trees, vegetable garden beds, and shaded arbors. And it was in our price range. Honestly, I saw no major downside. Dan was excited and I was totally smitten, so we applied. But the landlord wanted to call rental references the very next day (a Sunday!) and we explained that we haven’t given notice at our current place, and would like to avoid doing so unless we were his top pick. Unfortunately, I think that was what ruined our chances. He told us we were well-qualified but gave the place to someone else. I cried.

Stop looking

This is a mistake we haven’t made yet. Although I’m tired of all the uncertainty and upheaval, Dan reminds me that since we’re on a month-to-month lease, we have the luxury of time. We can wait until we find the ideal place — there’s no rush. We can use these hard-earned lessons to become better candidates. And we might encounter less competition or lower prices once the summer moving season ends. So keep your fingers crossed for the hunt…


…and in the meantime, for the repairs, too.


One thought on “How NOT to rent a house

  1. ugh, what a stressful time. both house hunting and house repairs are draining enough on their own, but when you combine the two….yikes. my heart truly goes out to you guys. i’m a little misty eyed for you on that “give notice” house, too. talk about something slipping through your fingers…

    here’s hoping the next few days offer some relief from your troubles. sending good vibes your way, and i just know you will find something spectacular. and SOON!

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