Looking to rent a house? Try one that's for sale

SMART MOVES `

October 20, 1991|By ELLEN JAMESMARTIN

Looking to rent a lovely individual home with the classic picket fence and grassy place where your children can romp? Then look for a home with a "For Sale" sign stuck in the front lawn.

Under normal circumstances, most home sellers are reluctant to consider renting. Yet, as a home lingers unsold on a market month after month, the owner's need to get financial help to carry the property can grow intense.

"Some sellers become exasperated and simply need the income. There are those who just want the alligator off the leg," says Norman D. Flynn, a past president of the National Association of Realtors.

A homeowner may be especially interested in renting if his house has become vacant and he's moved out of town, says Joan Solomon, sales manager for the Pikesville office of the Prudential Preferred Properties chain.

The recession and other factors mean that, in many Baltimore-area communities, large numbers of homes are going unsold. And any unsold home could be a rental unit.

"Clearly, the most highly prized rental unit in all of America is the single-family detached home -- as opposed to town houses, condos and the like," Mr. Flynn says. "People love privacy. They love a yard. And they love the idea that there's no one living above, below or beside them."

The strong demand for quality rental housing means you may have to compete with others who have the same goal. "There are some plums out there, but the most pluckable are already in someone's basket," Mr. Flynn says.

The obvious way to find a rental property of any sort is to look in theclassified section of your local newspapers under "Houses for Rent." But the resourceful may also attempt other, more clever techniques. Real estate specialists offer these pointers:

* Approach home sellers through their agent or directly.

The fact is that most homeowners are reluctant to rent a property they intended to sell. They've heard scare stories about their home being trashed by a tenant or worry a tenant won't pay, forcing them to go to court to get the tenant evicted. Even homeowners who think such worst-case scenarios are unlikely are loath to get into the hassles of renting.

But, as Mr. Flynn points out, many owners can't afford to keep a "For Sale" property on the market indefinitely. "They may not be able to hold out after six to nine months," he says. Faced with carrying costs such as mortgage payments, insurance and taxes, the homeowners could be willing to rent just to cover expenses.

Pick the community where you plan to rent and take names and phone numbers off "For Sale" signs. Then telephone the agents involved, asking about each property and how long it's been on the market. If the home seems like a good rental candidate, tell the agent you'd like to see the place and to submit a rental offer directly to the owner.

If an occasional agent is put off by this idea, don't be surprised. Remember that an agent makes far more money on commissions if he sells rather than rents a home. (A rental commission is usually a single month's rent, while a sales commission can be thousands of dollars.)

Still, most agents are under the legal obligation to present all good faith offers, including rental offers, to an owner. Anyway, smart salespeople know that careers are based on good will and relationships over a long period of time. Who knows? You may be a buyer tomorrow.

* Ask a realty agent to run a computer search for rental properties. Many people aren't aware of it, but the Multiple Listing Service lists not only homes for sale but also those for rent that are being handled through an agent.

You may be surprised to know that some properties are both on the rental and sales market simultaneously. "Sometimes people will move out of the area and put their house on the market either for rent or sale," says Ms. Solomon, the Pikesville sales manager.

* Calm the fears of a prospective landlord by prequalifying yourself as a tenant.

Suppose you'd like to rent a nice split-level in Perry Hall from an elderly couple nervous about acting as a landlord. Wouldn't it be nice for such a couple to get a letter from you describing what you like about their house and promising to care for it? Assuming you've rented in the past, the letter could be accompanied by a reference from your last landlord.

"Remember," says Mr. Zick, "you're not dealing with corporations. You're dealing with people who have a lot of emotions involved in their home."

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