So, How Much is the Rent? A Quick Guide for Determining the Perfect Market Rent

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Before I ever bought a property, I thought that my landlords set the rent through some type of irrefutable science. I never questioned how they came up with the numbers. I took it as a given: The sky is blue, the grass is green, and that 3/2 on Irwin Street is $1,550 a month.

As a landlord, I now know that pricing your rentals is part research, part guesswork. Fixtures, layout, square footage, view, amenities — these variables make figuring out the ideal rental price an art, rather than a strict formula.

Here are some of the ways I determine the rental prices for my units. (Hint: It’s a lot of trial-and-error!)

  • Craigslist. Craigslist is my best friend when I’m buying a new property or trying to fill a vacancy. Just set the search criteria, such as the number of bedrooms, and search using keywords that anyone looking for a rental in your neighborhood would use. “4-bedroom in Smyrna.” “2-bedroom in Decatur.” You can instantly see what the competition is charging. Lately I’ve been further narrowing my search through more specific keyword phrases like “walking distance to X” or “rent includes water and trash.”
  • Zillow, Trulia, Redfin. If you’re an agent or you have direct access to the MLS, look there. If you don’t, check out the websites that reflect similar data — Zillow, Redfin, Trulia and others. You’ll see a broad cross-section of listings — some of which will repeat the Craigslist rentals, and some of which won’t.
  • Signs! Yard signs are one of the most underrated ways to scout a neighborhood. Most will list only basic information: the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the rent, and a phone number. You won’t see pictures of the interior, but a glance at the exterior will give you a generally decent idea of the property’s condition.
  • Market Demand / Seasonality. I’ll admit, I charge higher prices for vacancies that come on the market during the months of March through August, when there’s lots of turnover in my area (and plenty of prospective tenants are filling my Inbox). I’ll ask for a lower sticker price in December, when units are tougher to fill. That schedule is location-specific, of course. In my former college town, the rental schedule was very different: move-ins peaked in August and again in January, and move-outs/sublet availability peaked in May.
  • Updates. Ah, the four words that will make a listing shine: “granite and stainless steel.”  As a general rule, I’ll raise the rent by $100/mo as compared to a similar unit with white appliances and laminate countertops. Don’t just copy my lead, though — real estate is the most local business on earth.
  • Moving Target. I’ve occasionally asked for rent that was too far off base, but I learned my lesson quickly when no one responded to the ad. (Conversely, I once priced a unit too low, my Inbox flooded with replies, and the first person who toured the unit wrote me a deposit check on the spot.) In some regards, the rent is a moving target, a trial-and-error experiment — I test a price for a few days, and adjust it based on the feedback.

Rent is certainly not the unquestionable number that I once imagined it to be. Setting rent is far more of an art than a science.

How do you set the rent?

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Fair Market Rents

Photo: Doug Waldron

About Author

Paula Pant

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, invested in 7 rental units, and traveled to 32 countries. Her blog, Afford Anything, shares how to shatter limits, build wealth and maximize life. (At, she shares EXACT numbers from all her rental investments -- costs, cash flow, cap rate; it's all published for the world to read.) Afford Anything is a gathering spot for a tribe dedicated to ditching the cubicle. Read her blog, and join the revolution.


  1. When I’ve used Craigslist in the past to rent out my properties, I’d say 2 out of 3 times the person wants to negotiate the price. So now when I post new rentals there, I always add $50-100 to the monthly rent price in expectation of these low ball inquiries (but it works)!

    • @Lee — That’s a great idea. I’ve always said “no” outright to attempts to negotiate, feeling that the tenant would probably be high-maintenance once they moved in, as well. Has that been the case with the negotiating tenants that you’ve found?

  2. Shari Posey on

    I love advertising a rental on Craigslist. If you’ve estimated the rent too high you can readjust it so easily. If we don’t get several calls the first day or two, we know we listed it too high. Also, I try to limit showings to weekend open house type showings on Sat. & Sun from 12-2. When potential renters see a stream of other prospects coming and going it creates a sense of urgency, plus I don’t have to make so many trips to show.

    I would rather try to offer a good deal to a renter so I can get one in faster with less turnover. Although I know other landlords prefer to let a vacant unit sit there for a few months trying to get more money.

    • Rentometer is a good resource if your property is “in line” with the other properties in the neighborhood. If it’s significantly nicer (or worse) than the neighbors, though, it’s not too too helpful (but it’s a good starting point!)

  3. Haim Mamane Palman on

    Great article. I use two different sources to determine the rent before buying a rental property.

    1. – very quick way to get a rental range. And it’s free. You can’t rely on it 100% but it give you a good ball park #.

    2. I call a property management company and ask if they manage properties in that neighborhood and if yes, ask for their opinion on how much they think the can rent this house for me if I use their services.

  4. I kinda did it backwards, as my realtor and I were looking at houses for my first rental property, we would text my soon-to-be property manager the address and he’d text back what he thought he could get for rent. By the time I found a house I really liked, rents had skyrocketed in my area and I was able to get a few hundred more per month than initially expected.

  5. Just tried “” — cool! Seems to be very accurate for local rents, both for the house I own and the one I live in.
    Zillow is always ridiculously out of touch for rural property, and for some reason is incredibly enchanted by my particular property (but if anyone wants to buy my 3/3 manf home for the $200k + that is the “Zestimate” by all means let me know!)

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