How to Rent a House: The Ultimate Guide

by Erica Sweeney | Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Buying a new home is a major expense and a huge commitment, and it's not always an option for everyone. But there are plenty of homes available and knowing how to rent a house can help you snag a great place to call home.

In some parts of the country, it's cheaper to rent a house, as home prices are rising faster than rents, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. Renting a home has other advantages, too. Nearly half of consumers prefer renting because they can avoid the cost of repairs and maintenance, and 38 percent appreciate the flexibility of renting, a LendingTree survey found.

Not sure how to rent a house? Here are nine steps to take.

1. Decide on your budget

Renters typically spend about 30 percent of their income on rent. But how much can you afford? It's a good idea to examine your income and expenses. Then, look at how much the homes in your area cost to rent and consider whether it's in your budget.

Don't forget to factor in other expenses, such as application fees, pet deposits, utilities, renter's insurance and other property-specific costs, like parking or homeowner's association fees.

2. Check your credit score

A credit check is a part of the application process to rent a house. Property owners verify that you'll be able to pay rent each month. They look at your credit score, your bill payment history and the ratio of your monthly income to rent.

A good credit score is anything above 670. Even if your credit score isn't that high, you can still rent a house. You just may need a guarantor on the lease, someone who agrees to step in and pay your rent if you can't.

3. Make a list of what you want

With so many options out there, it's critical to figure out what you need and what you want in a rental home. It'll help you stay on budget, while still getting a house that meets your needs. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a certain neighborhood you want to live in?
  • Do you need a specific school district?
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  • Do you need a fenced-in yard for a pet?
  • Do you prefer a gated area for extra security?
  • Is a designated parking area or a garage important to you?
  • Do you need the home to have a washer and dryer or dishwasher?

4. Browse properties

Along with deciding how much you can afford and what you want in a home, how to rent a house involves browsing rentals online, which you can do at You can narrow down homes to rent based on price, the number of bedrooms, amenities and whether they're pet-friendly.

You can also drive around your favorite neighborhood, ask friends and family members for suggestions or post a message on social media seeking suggestions.

Couple touring a house

5. Take a tour of homes

After searching for rental houses online, narrow down your top choices, maybe three to five, that you want to see in person. Contact the property owner to schedule a viewing. As you walk through the home, make sure it checks all the boxes on your must-have list.

Also pay attention to other details, like where electrical outlets are, the amount of storage and closet space and whether there's existing damage to the home. Generally, does the home seem well taken care of? And does the neighborhood seem as nice as you thought?

Snap photos while you're there so you can easily compare all the homes you look at and decide which one you want to rent. Another tip is to drive by the home at night to see how it looks and what the street is like at different times.

6. Ask questions and negotiate rental terms

When you've decided on the home that works best for you, talk to the property owner or manager to find out about the rental terms. Double-check the rent amount and ask these questions:

  • What's the maintenance policy? What does the landlord handle and what's required of you?
  • What's the pet policy? Are there extra fees?
  • How do you contact the property owner if you have an issue?
  • Can you pay rent online? If not, how is rent collected?
  • Will you be able to renew the lease at the end of the term?
  • Are guests allowed to visit?
  • Are you allowed to paint a room or decorate the house?
  • Can you plant a garden?
  • Does the property owner pay for any utilities or offer any amenities?

Sometimes you can negotiate the rental terms. It never hurts to ask, anyway. Property owners want to find quality tenants who pay rent on time and live in the house for a long period of time, so try to work out an arrangement.

7. Complete a rental application

Once you come to an agreement with the property owner, it's time to fill out a rental application. These forms typically ask for personal details like your name, current and previous address, phone number and email address.

It also asks about your employment status and income details and you usually have to provide a photo ID and pay stubs. The rental application will ask you to list details about your pet, emergency contacts and personal references.

Woman holding her pet dog

8. Pay the application fees and rental deposits

A rental application fee, which typically runs between $35 and $75, is usually required to pay for the background and credit checks and process your application.

Once you're approved to rent the house and get ready to sign a lease, you'll have to pay a security deposit, a one-time fee that property owners charge in case tenants don't pay their rent or they cause damage to the home. States have different laws for a security deposit, but it's commonly one month's rent. Often, the property owner refunds all or a portion of the deposit as long as there's no need to pay for repairs. You'll also likely have to pay a pet deposit if you're moving in with a four-legged family member.

9. Sign the lease and move in

When you get your lease, read it carefully before signing. Check that everything you've discussed with the property owner, including the rent amount and any terms you negotiated, are in the lease. Raise any discrepancies with the property owner.

Also, make sure that the lease aligns with your state's landlord-tenant laws. Look up the laws yourself or contact an attorney if you need help. After signing, you'll receive a date when you can pick up the keys and move in.

Renting a house vs. renting an apartment

Whether you choose to rent a house or an apartment is a personal decision. But, renting a house offers several advantages. Houses typically have more space and usually feature outdoor living areas, like a yard, patio or deck. You might have more privacy, and since you're not so close to your neighbors, living in a house is quieter. There will probably be parking, too. The downsides are that utility bills might be higher, you might have to do yard work and you'll have access to fewer amenities.

Apartment buildings or complexes often feature pools, gyms and other amenities. Utilities are sometimes included when you rent an apartment, but they're smaller, so there's less space to clean and maintain.

How to rent a house

There are several steps when it comes to how to rent a house. The bottom line is that you need to find a home that's within your budget, meets your needs and features the characteristics that you want most. It may take a little time, but the effort will pay off when you find the perfect place to live.

Categories: Landlords, Renters

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