There's a lot to consider when renting a house or an apartment. While a variety of personal factors go into signing a lease—ranging from the regularity of your cash flow to the urgency of a move—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 home at a price you can afford.

Renters looking for the widest range of choices should plan to move between May and September; for the best prices, between October and April. Here's why that's so—along with other tips for timing your home-hunting.

Key Takeaways

  • The real estate market tends to be cyclical and seasonal; paying attention to these cycles can affect the ease of your search and the price you'll pay for a 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—October through April—with demand and prices reaching their nadir between January and March. 
  • An apartment search should begin in the middle of the month prior to the target move month.

Summer Months Are Best for Rental Selection

The busiest rental and moving period tends to be between the months of May and September. 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 college or jobs. Many college graduates are seeking real estate close to where they will start their careers. And, of course, for families with kids, it's between school years.

Also, it's easier to move during warmer weather—to drive, to load and unload furniture, and carry boxes.

These life changes and weather conditions mean a much higher turnover rate in real estate. Thus, finding an apartment is easier, and there is a wider selection of apartments from which to choose, during the summer season. 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 rates and rental fees, sometimes up to double what might be negotiated during the off-peak seasons of fall and winter.

It can also be a more stressful time to hunt: You might face more competition in your quest for the perfect space. Would-be renters often have to be ready to act fast—sometimes even signing on the spot—if they find a space they like.

The economic crisis seems to be having a variable effect on rents, with year-over-year prices for metropolitan-area apartments between May 2020 and May 2021 decreasing in San Antonio, Tex.; Seattle; Washington D.C.; and Fort Wayne, IND., but increasing in Las Vegas; Houston; Winston-Salem, NC; and Jacksonville, FL. There are also discrepancies depending on the size of the apartment: In New York City, for example, the average rent for a one-bedroom fell over 12%—but rose over 16% for a two-bedroom.

Winter Months Are Best for Rental Savings

As the temperature drops, so do prices. The lowest rental rates are usually found between October and April, particularly right after the December holiday season: Fewer people are interested in moving—the weather's bad, schools are in session, etc. So, individuals renting between the months of December and March typically find the best rental bargains. 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.

Rent Price Ranges in 10 Major Cities

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 you plan to move in 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's really 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.

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 move-in month can prove lucrative, as landlords trying to fill vacancies become more eager to secure new renters.

Discrimination during the rental process is illegal. If you think you’ve been discriminated against in the course of your search or application, based on your race, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps you can take—such as filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. 

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 greatest amount of choice in residences should target May through September for their searches, while individuals focused primarily on the best prices should time their moves from October through April.