Renting a house or an apartment can be confusing, but knowing what time of year to start hunting for a rental can help you snag a better deal. The real estate market tends to be cyclical and seasonal. By paying attention to these cycles, you might have a better chance of landing your dream rental.

While a variety of personal factors must be considered when choosing the best time to rent an apartment—such as cash flows and the urgency of a move—whenever possible, a potential tenant would be wise to wait to rent at a time of low rental rates.

Key Takeaways

  • The real estate market tends to be cyclical and seasonal; paying attention to these cycles may help you land your dream rental.
  • Apartment inventory is higher between the months of May and September, given the considerable turnover during these months. Rental rates also tend to be higher during the summer months. 
  • The lowest rental rates are found during the winter months, between January and March, as demand is lowest then. 
  • An apartment search should begin in the middle of the month prior to the target move month.

Summer Months Are Best for Rental Inventory

The busiest rental and moving period is between the months of May and September, according to the digital marketing solutions website Rent.com. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: A number of life changes tend to occur in these months. Many high school graduates are leaving home, for example, and college graduates are seeking real estate close to where they will start their careers.

Also, warmer weather makes for a more convenient moving process, including the loading and unloading of furniture.

Renters looking for the best options should plan to move between May and September; for the best prices, between October and April. 

These life and weather changes during the summer season mean a much higher turnover rate. Thus, finding an apartment is easier, and there is a wider selection of apartments from which to choose. However, precisely because the summer season sees the highest levels of rental activity, the demand for rental space is also extremely high. This boosts the cost of rental fees, sometimes up to double what might be negotiated during the off-peak seasons of fall and winter.

Also, with the additional demand, the quest for the perfect apartment leads to higher-than-normal competition for the same space. This may force individuals to act fast to lock in an apartment.

Winter Months Are Best for Rental Savings

The lowest rental rates are usually found during the winter season, particularly right after the celebration of the Christmas and New Year holidays. Demand is typically at its lowest at this time of the year, when fewer renters are interested in moving. Individuals renting between the months of December and March typically find the best rental bargains, according to the rental listing website RentalHop.com. However, low levels of moving activity and turnover typically mean that it is more difficult to find exactly the type of apartment you would like at this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be having a variable effect on rents, with prices between April and June 2020 decreasing in Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, and Houston, but increasing in New York City, New Orleans, and Phoenix.

How Early to Apartment Hunt

Once you've determined a target moving season, narrow the choice down to a specific month. Let's say that the target move month is August. The ideal time to begin the search for an appropriate apartment is at the end of the month prior to the target move month; so, in this example, begin the apartment hunt during the last two weeks of July.

While this tactic may seem last minute, it is optimal because the majority of renters have leases that expire at the end of a month or within the first few days of the next month. Renters who are about to leave vacancies will have given or will be giving their 30-day notices during this time, which means you are apt to get the first choice of available space if you begin your apartment search within that time frame.

Discrimination in renting and mortgage lending is illegal. If you think you’ve been discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, marital status, use of public assistance, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps you can take. One such step is to file a report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

Individuals willing to take a gamble or who have the flexibility to move on a moment’s notice could employ a different apartment-hunting approach. Waiting until the second week of the month to move can prove lucrative, as landlords trying to fill vacancies become more eager to secure new renters.

The Bottom Line

The best time to rent depends largely on your circumstances: your desired housing and price, as well as your moving flexibility. Individuals concerned about having the most options for rentals should target May through September, while individuals focused primarily on price should target October through April.