I often have people call me to inquire about rental properties. It is common in large cities for Realtors to help people find rentals, but it is not really the case in Grand Rapids. I do not have any special access to rental property information like I do with homes for sale. Although I do not work with renters, here are some tips and resources that will help you in your search.
The first place most people will start to look is online. Here are some good rental websites to check out:
1) zillow.com- Zillow has been an increasingly popular place to list rentals. The website is easy to use and allows for lots of photos. Over the last few years, it seems to be the best place to look.
2) apartments.com- Much like Zillow, Apartments has a great website that is easy to use, has good search functionality, and multiple photos of properties. A popular site that has a lot of inventory.
3) hotpads.com- This website allows you to set up very specific search functions. It also has neat tools that tell you the stats of comparable rentals in the area, or whether it is better to rent or buy based on an individual's unique situation. Most of the larger apartment complexes are included in hotpads, however, it is hit or miss with single family homes or smaller multi-units.
4) craigslist.org- Very limited search functionality, but since it is free to use, lots of rentals are posted here. Craigslist is a great website, but be careful because there are a lot of scams. Never give out personal information through email. If you find something that interests you, arrange to see it in person. Before giving out personal information about yourself, ask to see the landlord's state ID. They should have no problem with that if they are collecting detailed info about you. Never pay deposits in cash. Always pay by check so it can be tracked.
Many property management companies around Grand Rapids only post rental listings on their own website. It is a little frustrating as a renter to have to check multiple different websites, but alas, it is the only way to truly find everything. Test out different search terms to find other local websites (ex. "rentals wyoming," or "property management grand rapids", etc).
It is also important to know your rights as a tenant. Is a landlord infringing on your right to privacy? Not returning your security deposit? These websites are great resources for information on tenant rights and landlord responsibilities: nolo.com, rentlaw.com, rpoaonline.org.
The last bit of advice- remember that everything is negotiable. You may be able to get a discount in rent if you sign a longer lease, or maybe they would allow a pet with an additional deposit. Rental vacancies are at record lows right now, so a renter may not have as much leverage as in the past, but there are still things you can do to help your position. Get a recommendation from a previous landlord to attest to your housekeeping and paying rent on time. It can also help to write a personal letter about yourself to provide to a landlord and create a more personal relationship.
Great info on everything real estate.