Repeat after me and out loud if you like: the New Orleans rental market is not like other rental markets. And mantra or double down if it helps you: the New Orleans rental market is not like other rental markets. It is only the first week of March, and I wrote about this last April, but it has become my mission to educate the public on this. Since the beginning of the year my phone rings non stop abuzz with anxious returnees and largely clueless university parentals most all not even looking to rent till end of May and maybe August. Ready for some contradictory advice? Relax. But be ready to be ready. Why? Read on:
(1) Timing. Most rentals are only known to the market within 3-5 weeks of their availability. So if you seek a June 1 move in date, exhale. Don’t even think of reviewing inventory unless it’s mid April. It’s true, everyone will be clamoring, but that’s the way it goes. Too, if something is vacant and available now – as in today – why are you looking at it? That landlord wants their tenant muy pronto, not in 12 weeks.
(2) Use an agent. The lessor pays the agent (if it’s a listing), so it costs you nothing. Many won’t return your calls; they just won’t. We’re a busy market, and one-off calls have a way of falling through the cracks. Is it right? No. But expect it to happen. Few lessors are shopping the housing wanted ads on Craigslist so a little aggressiveness, assertiveness, and all around persistence on your part will serve you.
(3) Timing revisited. If you see something that clicks, put in an app. This is not the leisurely shopper’s market. If you are looking at other spaces be quick about it. The one you just saw might go to the next viewer, or the viewer that saw it before you. And our inventory is thin. How thin? You don’t wanna know. Thank Hollywood and an ever-improving reputation for this.
(4) You and 3 of your closest friends. Like each other today. Will drive an agent absolutely bonkers coordinating schedules for showings and who likes and doesn’t like what or this and that. Stop. Did you read (3)? Find a place and stay there, a 2/1 I’m talking. Choose one friend. Renew your lease next year. Same roomie? Great! Didn’t work out? Find another roomie, but keep that lease (unless you hate your place). Why? Again, our inventory is thin and – - -
(5) Rents are higher than you’ll expect. “Them’s Dallas prices” I’ve heard people kvetch. Maybe they are. Maybe they’re worse. I don’t know; I don’t live in Dallas. When tenant turnover happens invariably the rent goes up. How much? Some times a bunch. Why? Taxes, insurance, and supply and demand. If you stay some place, your rent is likely to stay the same too. If you moved out of state 2 years ago and want to come back to Mid-City today, expect shock. $1200 is the new $850.
(6) Pets. Oy, pets. New Orleans landlords famously don’t want any pets. There are those who will take them. Embrace (4). If you find a place that takes you and your non-human children, cohort(s), or otherwise companion(s), stay there. Or buy. When you own, who can dictate – apart from city code – what pets you have and how many? Not your lender. But your landlord can and will.
(7) Finery. Get the details out in the vetting process. Who pays for what utilities? What about pest control? Yard care? How’s the water pressure? What about tenant disputes with other tenants? Why’d the last tenant leave? If an appliance breaks who is responsible for fixing it? Are the walls, floors, and/or attic insulated? You can never know too much about what you propose to rent.
(8) Handicap accessibility. Most of New Orleans residential rental stock is around 100 years old, on raised piers, and has no inkling of ADA ramps or ADA baths. If you need these things, an apartment complex in Elmwood, Metairie, or Kenner is likely your best bet. Where there’s ground floor slab units with 36″ wide doors. The Crescent City has very few examples thereof.
(9) Go with your gut. Never challenge your instinct. If a place feels right, do it. If something seems off, it probably is. In finding the right place, the process can be frustrating but don’t let that sway your better judgment. True, you may have to settle on criteria whether on price, geography, or amenity, and that’s okay because epiphany: there is no perfect place. But your gut won’t steer you wrong.
(10) Being present. Sending a friend to check out a place for you falls in queue with drinking expired milk or the five-second rule. Don’t do it. And most landlords won’t do it. Your friend is not you. Commit to visiting the Big Easy prior to securing a place. And if you’re shopping schools for your child or children – whoa. That’s a whole ‘nother article. Let’s just say, don’t expect to appear, sign in, and call it a day. You have to put in the time to make these decisions yourself.
Now get out there! Or stay put. If I were you, I’d be inclined to the latter until I had enough of a down payment to buy in my favorite town. After all, with interest rates where they are, there’s a fantastic chance a monthly mortgage payment would be a whisper to today’s market-rate rent. Food for thought.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.