By the Month: Single-family home rentals one option for sellers

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Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
This home in Regent Square is up for rent at $2,750 a month.
Click photo for larger image.

In booming metropolitan markets such as Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., it's common for people to lease a single-family home for one or more years. Lofty sales prices translate into equally lofty mortgage payments, not to mention taxes. So for many, the cost of renting can be significantly lower than buying.

But in Pittsburgh? Buying is often a better deal than renting, so the house rental market is much cooler. As a result, single-family home rentals account for just a fraction of the local real estate business. Over the past 20 years, the ratio of apartment rentals to house rentals has held fairly steady at about 4 to 1, with 80 percent of all renters choosing to live in a multi-unit building, according to Peg Lampenfeld, an agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services.

That said, it is possible to rent a single-family home in many city and suburban neighborhoods. Coldwell Banker Real Estate, for example, rents about 100 homes a year in various locations and price ranges, says Elizabeth Foltin Langguth, the company's director of property management.

For example, a four-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath Victorian in Wilkinsburg's part of Regent Square is available through Coldwell Banker's Shadyside office for $2,750 a month. Built in 1909, the house at 1016 S. Trenton Ave. features three fireplaces, large and spacious rooms with period details, a newer kitchen and a park-like back yard that's enclosed by a fence.

Generally speaking, there are just a few reasons homeowners put a house up for rent. In markets where real estate prices are steadily climbing, for example, speculators very often buy houses strictly as an investment and then lease them to cover costs until they feel they'll make a big enough profit.

Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
Above: The master bathroom in the Regent Square home is spacious ...
Below: ... and its kitchen also offers plenty of room for the family cook.

Click photos for larger image.

On the flip side, you have sellers who can't seem to find a buyer and -- because they're unable to carry two mortgages at the same time -- have decided to rent the house to help cover costs.

But the most common reason people rent their house, says Mrs. Lampenfeld, is because they take a job out of town that may not end up being permanent.

"They don't want to give up what they have, so they rent it for one or two years," she says.

As for renting a house instead of buying it? That decision, too, is typically tied to a career situation. Some people, of course, simply don't want the responsibility and headaches that come with owning a house. But there are many, many more who rent single-family homes because they're in the city only temporarily for work or education, often law or medical school.

"If you're only here for a couple of years, it's very iffy if you're going to recover the out-of-pocket expenses of a sale," Ms. Lampenfeld explains.

Others -- most often transfers who are unfamiliar with the city -- choose to rent so as to get the lay of the land and develop a feel for which neighborhoods best suit their family with regard to schools, entertainment, shopping and commute to work.

Many people start their search for a single-family home rental in the classified section of the newspaper. It also helps to have sharp eyes, as "For Sale" signs can sometimes indicate a house for rent. But increasingly, prospective renters are turning to the Internet.

Today, it's possible to find single-family home rentals on a variety of Web sites, including,, and

In addition, both Coldwell Banker (www.pittsburghmoves. com) and Prudential Preferred Realty ( allow you to search for home rentals within the residential listings on their Web sites.

"People are really savvy today," notes Ms. Foltin Langguth. "They use the Internet and find us right away."

Howard Hanna doesn't have a formal rental division, but a handful of agents including Mrs. Lampenfeld, who specializes in properties in the eastern suburbs, handle requests for rentals that come out of the company's relocation department.

To put a house up for rent, homeowners will typically pay a finder's fee equivalent to one month's rent. If they want the real estate company to also manage the property -- that is, find tenants, collect rent and pay taxes and utilities, assist with legal proceedings, and oversee repairs -- that will generally cost an additional 8 percent to 10 percent per month. Currently, Coldwell Banker will provide property management; Howard Hanna and Prudential do not.

Screening of tenants always includes a credit check and occasionally a background check; Helene Prince, the Coldwell Banker agent who is renting the Victorian in Wilkinsburg, also asks for two pay stubs to make sure the renter's income is equal to three times the amount of the monthly rent.

Leases run anywhere from six months to one or two years. And while the house is being rented, owners have the option to keep the house on the market for sale, though most don't.

How much a house rents for depends on what the market will bear, along with location, condition and size of the house. The smaller the inventory and more luxurious the property, the higher the rental.

Homeowners, understandably, want a rent that will cover all of their home's mortgage, taxes and utilities. But that very often does not happen, says Mrs. Lampenfeld. Houses that would sell in the high $200s, for example, usually rent for between $1,500 and $2,000 a month.

"Sometimes, it's a matter of not having as big of a loss out of their pockets," she says.

Gretchen McKay can be reached at or 412-761-4670.


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