Renting in Tacoma is HARD right now. The stats are showing Tacoma Rents increased 13% over last year, which is squeezing Tacomans and making it harder for people to find places to rent. At the same time, there are very few new rentals being built- which has created the most competitive rental market anyone can remember.

Want to get a feel for just how rough it is out there? Don’t take our word for it.  Check out this great article by Kate Martin at The News Tribune.

The reasons for this are a combination of people coming south from Seattle to rent and commute up to King County, a steady stream of people relocating here from other states, and our own population growth. Millennials are the largest generation in history, and they are currently between 24-36 years old, which makes them a prime age for renting and buying homes.

The reason I bring this up is that the general narrative is that the squeeze is being caused by people moving into Tacoma, but the truth is we have not added enough housing units to handle our own population growth. Building a wall and making Seattle pay for it will not solve our problem. Only building more housing units will. Good news, over 1,000 units will be coming on line in the Tacoma area in the next 12 months. While they are all new and mostly marketed at the high end of the rental market rates more inventory is good news for renters and can help take pricing pressure off the market as a whole.

We’ve talked to landlords, property managers, and business managers to get the scoop on how to give yourself an edge in this tough rental market. Here are some tips:

1. Be open minded on neighborhood.

There just aren’t that many homes, apartments, condos, or townhouses for rent across the city. The ones you see on Zillow often have waitlists or are gone within hours. Being flexible on location will save you a LOT of grief. Check out our neighborhood guide to learn more about what each neighborhood has to offer, and keep an open mind.

2. The Rents SUCK. Be ready.

The rental rates quoted in most news articles and websites are usually out of date and are lower than what is actually available. Of course there are always exceptions, and you might find something for rent below the market rate, but while there are different numbers being thrown around, the average rents in Tacoma right now are well over $1000/mo for a modest 1 bedroom. Off street parking is usually $100-150/mo.  Additional charges are common for water, sewer and garbage for condos and apartments.

3. Treat applying for the rental like you’re applying for a job

Most landlords and property management companies are going to have an online application and you’ll need to attach supporting documentation. Scan all of that and save it in your email so it is ready to go the second you find something. Usually they want proof of income, but also including letters of reference from past landlords is a REALLY GOOD IDEA right now if you want to stand out. If you have pets this step is even more important. References from past landlords and/or your vet for your pets good behavior are invaluable.

When you call a property management company or landlord, be ready to take notes. They might tell you to call back in a few days when they’re expecting notices- get the name of the person you talked to and FOLLOW UP. There are so many people calling right now that they are probably not going to call you back, even if something comes up. If they don’t have anything when you call, ask them how often you should follow up or if they know any other buildings or places you can try.

4. Call on the 1st and 10th day of the month.

In our Tacoma Renters Guide we have a list of buildings and property management companies in Tacoma. The way that it works in Washington State is that renters who are month to month or at the end of their leases need to give 20 days notice. A lot of people don’t know this so they give 30 days notice, so calling on the 1st and the 10th means you might be able to find out about a place coming open before it is listed. Want to go the extra mile?  Mark Melsness from Spinnaker Property Management says, “Don’t just call. Stop by the office, text and e-mail more than once so you circulate back to the top of the agents response list. Really the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

5. Drive around. A lot.

You’ll figure out quickly that half the stuff on Zillow, property management, and other online sites is already gone or out of date. There are plenty of old fashioned or small time landlords in Tacoma that still do things the old way- just by sticking a sign in the window. Unfortunately these signs often don’t have the rental amounts listed on them, so this can be a frustrating process. That said, these are often the properties that are most likely to be under-rented, so it’s worth it if you’re on a budget. Go for walks, go for drives, enlist your friends (ask them to take a pic of the place and the sign and text it to you) and most importantly move QUICKLY. Show up at the showing with all of your paperwork and your deposit check ready to go.

If you use Zillow or Trulia, create a profile and set the criteria that covers you basic needs. When new homes or apartments are listed you will get a notification and can be one of the first responses.

6. Use your own social reach.

This is by far the most successful thing I have found. Obviously, this works best if you have a network here in the area. Post on Facebook what you’re looking for and ask your friends if they know anyone at all who has a rental coming up. If any of your friends are moving find out if you can approach their landlords directly once they give notice. Sometimes landlords are happy to re-rent it without listing it on the market. Sometimes people have mother-in-laws or basement units that they prefer to rent to someone they know or a friend of a friend. Your own network is a great resource, so don’t forget to let everyone know you’re looking.

Here is a the Tacoma Rental Guide we put together with a list of Tacoma area property management companies and buildings with apartments for rent. If you have any other good tips please leave them in the comments- and may the odds be ever in your favor.