Monday, May 21, 2018

Casa Querida: Rental Searches

The rental market in Tucson is like most college towns: overpriced and unforgiving. We are currently in a tight rental market as well, which doubles the anxiety.

Recently on the hunt again, we tried craigslist, our local MLS costa nostra website, and Zillow. Not much else needs to be said about craigslist, as enough skeezy anecdotes about anything having to do with its pages litter the internet. We even started down the road of a scam about a house in a neighborhood we were wanting to rent in. The place looked empty, ready for rental. There was a sign out front. Eva started texting the craigslist listing, only to get a spiel about overseas travel, and how they didn't trust the property management, and that you can work with them remotely. The rent seemed too good to be true. A quick google search and this seems to be a not uncommon scam in Arizona. There was even a news story about it.

Zillow, while still better looking that craigslist, is more or less the smoothed out icing on a birthday cake that you dropped on the floor when baking it for your friend. You're pretty sure you can salvage it with the right amount of "architectural" sugar. And no one will notice when it's cut into because they'll already be drunk by then and they'll eat anything. Zillow doesn't do rentals well in Tucson. Landlords seem to put their ads on autopilot and you're never sure if it's actually available. I messaged one once, and he lazily forwarded his dashboard email to my email address, instead of in-app messaging. I was then able to then take his rental off the market, because the access to it was included in the email he wasn't supposed to message me.

College town landlords can pretty much do whatever they want in this town. There will always be someone ready to rent to. They have carved up good looking neighborhoods that are teetering on the edge of historic recognizability by taking advantage of the market and installing "mushroom dorms." These are kludged together rooms tacked on to the back of older houses that just barely squeak by the lax building codes.

The other thing college town renting does is restrict the ways you can rent. Almost no-one will do a lease less than 12 months, and I've only come across one or two rental companies that will let you go month to month after your lease ends.

One rental company seemed to purposefully rent to Chinese national students attending the university, but then didn't seem to hesitate to sue them when they left after the semester was over, but their lease wasn't.

When we first moved here over 10 years ago, we had an apartment hunter lined up to help us the first day we were in town. They never showed, so we ended up cruising up and down the streets in neighborhoods we thought were close to the university. This is still our recommended way of finding rental housing. Almost all of the places we've rented in Tucson have been found by hitting the pavement. When you cross compile bike routes or areas of attraction, like retail or downtown areas, you can easily see which neighborhoods may be located well, and then drive up and down looking for rental signs. This is time and fuel consuming, but seems to be faster in the long run. It's like doing a drive by of a place before scheduling time to look at it. Plus landlords are almost always bad photographers, so getting a sense of the neighborhood might be a better indication of the quality of your surroundings.