The language barrier, lack of knowledge of the real estate market, new neighborhood, new city or new state… in the US, the search for accommodation can very quickly turn into a headache. So to see a little more clearly, here are the essential things to know to find the rental of your dreams.
We’ll help you understand this sometimes-confusing process when deciding to move to the United States to live there or stay for a short time for professional reasons or as a tourist.
Tools and trends: new technologies to the rescue
For a long time, newspapers were the most effective means of knowing the list of available properties. This is no longer the case today. Real estate professionals are increasingly turning to new technologies. The websites of real estate agencies are constantly innovating. You can find room renting websites and blogs that are constantly adapting to the growing expectations of visitors. Accessible worldwide, these high-performance sites are available in several languages.
In addition, the accommodations presented are no longer only those of the region. Borders no longer exist, which makes it possible to launch international searches from a single website.
Master the US real estate vocabulary
There is specific US real estate terminology that you will come across in your research. It is, therefore, essential to master a few vocabulary words. Indeed, during your search, you will be able to find rental houses and apartments, but also condos, the abbreviation of “condominiums.” These condos are buildings with multiple apartments owned by various persons and have facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, or gardens.
“Rental unit” is the term Americans use to describe an apartment for rent when it is part of a building made up of several units.
During your research, you will have to deal with a “broker,” a real estate agent attached to a real estate agency, or who acts on his account as an intermediary to present you with properties for rent. The “Landlord”owns the apartment or house for rent.
The “amenities” correspond to the advantages and equipment of the accommodation: gym, swimming pool, games room, business center, projection room, party room, etc.
The advertisements sometimes include “on-site super” or “live-in super” “Super” means “superintendent,” which corresponds to the caretaker of the building. The “on-site super” indicates that a caretaker is present on the spot and that he ensures surveillance, the maintenance of the premises, and mail distribution.
Differences between furnished and unfurnished accommodation
You will have the choice between furnished and unfurnished accommodation. In the USA, the furniture is most of the time rented with household appliances (stove, refrigerator, air conditioner, and sometimes dishwasher). Furnished accommodation includes furniture and other small everyday objects.
In both cases, and contrary to what is practiced in Europe, you will systematically find curtains or blinds installed at all the windows.
Choose a rental or a roommate?
If you decide to move with your family to the United States, renting is the preferred solution. On the other hand, if you are a student, moving to the USA alone, or if your budget is a little tight, shared accommodation (called coliving) may be a very good option.
You will be able to find much more affordable rents and, at the same time, integrate smoothly into your new community. This option is all the more interesting since, in the USA, roommates are very common, whether among students, young employees, or even expatriates (mostly young people).
To ensure your roommate is the type you can live with, try to meet them to ensure that your lifestyles match and thus avoid potential tensions.
Finally, for coliving, be aware that each of the tenant’s names must appear on the rental contract. This point is very important. If you do not appear on the contract, you expose yourself to the risk of having to leave the accommodation if the other roommates present on the lease leave.
The American Lease
In the USA, rental contracts are for one year renewable. But it is sometimes possible to negotiate a shorter-term in exchange for a small increase in rent and vice versa.
On the “lease” (rental contract) appears the amount of the rent or the expenses related to the maintenance of the premises (garden, swimming pool, sports hall, etc.). Other information of primary importance is up to the owner to take out home insurance, and it will be up to you to insure your property if you wish.
The monthly lease in the USA
There are also certain contracts allowing the lease to be renewed every month. In this type of contract, there is a tacit renewal of the lease each month until the tenant (or the owner) decides to end it. If you opt for this solution but are afraid of finding yourself outside, know that, theoretically, the rental company cannot terminate the contract without a good reason.
Practical: thanks to Google maps, locate your future place of residence, and with Google Street View, stroll through the streets with access to 360° panoramas
In which area to look for accommodation in the USA?
This question may seem innocuous, but in reality, it takes on its full meaning in major American cities. The distances to be covered in large American cities are often much great.
Determining the neighborhood where you want to live is essential and will greatly facilitate your research afterwards. You can start your search remotely, but most of the time, it’s once you’re there that you’ll find the neighborhood you like.
Do not hesitate to exchange via social networks with other people of common interest in the US. There are many Facebook groups for virtually every major US city, with ex-pats always ready to help.
Don’t forget that Google is your best friend when searching for rentals! Maps, satellite views, 3D images, photos… Google offers several free tools to explore the planet on the scale of a country, region, city, neighborhood, or even a house.
The price of rents in the United States in 2023
Regarding the amount of rent, it can vary significantly from one US state to another, from one city to another, and even from one neighborhood to another.
The average rents for studio apartments in major US cities is around $2,000. For a one bedroom apartment, the average is around $2,500 and for a two-bedroom apartment, the price is usually upwards of $3,000.
It’s advisable that you check the prices yourself in a room renting website. For furnished accommodation, there is no maximum ceiling. Owners can therefore charge the price they want.
Good to know: in the USA, the price of rent must not exceed 30% of your salary.
USA Rental Agreement
Before signing the rental contract, the real estate agent (“broker”) will ask you to fill out an “application form” (rental file) where you must indicate your identity and address, accompanied by supporting documents. As an expatriate, you will need to provide your payslips, your last tax notice, a photocopy of your passport and visa, and your proof of employment in the territory.
As in the USA, nothing is free. You will have to pay a fee to create your rental file. In major US cities, you will have to pay up to $500.
When you rent a property in the USA, you are also asked for an advance corresponding to 3 months’ rent which includes a deposit equal to the amount of one month’s rent (“security deposit”) which is returned to you at the end of the rental period.
Landlords will likely want to check your credit history or credit report.
What is Credit History?
The credit history is the evolution of your “credit score” during your stay in the United States. This “credit score” is a note assigned to anyone with an American social security number. This rating is supposed to indicate your ability to pay and financial reliability. The “credit score” is calculated, among other things, based on the regularity of your payments, the types of credits you have been able to make, and their use. The higher this score, the easier you will access banking services (payment cards, credits, etc.), the possibility of renting, etc.
If you are new to the United States, you will not have a credit history. Instead, you will need to present the rental company with statements of account (usually for three months) attesting to sufficient funds to cover your rent. Alternatively, you can ask your employer to be your guarantor.
Use the services of a real estate agency
Using an agency or “real estate agency”based in the United States is certainly the easiest solution to find a rental if you have the means. American agents take a commission on accommodation found (generally 15 days to two months’ rent). If you go through an agent, avoid having to pay registration fees. Some agencies charge non-refundable fees before they find you accommodation, even if they don’t!