Looking for a sublet is like everything you hate about apartment hunting, only worse: Since these are usually short-term arrangements, there are fewer properties to pick from than if you’re looking for a one-year lease; the chase can be competitive so you have to jump quickly; and if you’re looking on Craiglist, you have to watch out for scammers.
However, there are happy stories too. Based on my experiences as a real estate agent, a landlady, and a subletter, here are three tips that will help:
1. Use Social Networks
Back before everything was computerized, this was how renters found apartments—my first NYC place came from my college roommate’s officemate’s landlady. Everyone nowadays is beset by requests for something on Facebook and on Twitter, but it still doesn’t hurt to try. Alumni listservs are also good bets; one enterprising Yale student just created a Yale-based subletting app called SubletMeYale. Also, check out internal company housing bulletin boards, which big companies often have.
2. Be Prepared to Pounce
The last time I listed my apartment for sublet, I put it on all the local real estate databases—but the tenant was somebody who came in quickly through word of mouth (a friend of the contractor who did my bathroom renovation). By the time other people called me for appointments, she had already seen the place and offered to write a check, so she was the one who got it. Things to have on hand to show landlords that you’re serious include:
- an “employer letter”—a letter from work stating your position and salary
- a recent pay stub if you have one
- a letter of reference from your current landlord, if you have one
- a copy of your last year’s tax return
- photos of pets, if you have them, along with a “good behavior” letter from your vet or groomer (“I have been taking care of Bowser, a French Bulldog, for two years, and he is a well-behaved, non-fighting dog.”)
3. Connect Up After
Sometimes, finding a sublet is only half the battle; making sure that you’re the winning applicant is the other. Once you’ve identified a property, try to chat with the landlord for a few minutes to see if you can establish interests in common. My last rental clients, for instance, were moving to New York so they assumed that they didn’t know anybody—but a little chatting revealed a shared connection with the landlord’s grandson. It may seem old-fashioned to you, but remember that the landlord is just as scared of you (and that you might be a deadbeat) as you are of him (and that he might be a slumlord). The best way to erase that fear is a little face time—and don’t forget to ask where the recycling goes, which will show you’re interested in taking care of the apartment.