Rental race: How one family navigated Atlanta’s ultra-competitive market

What the Anglin family learned while searching for the perfect home on a budget
Real estate
Photograph by Todd Burandt

Just over a year ago, the Anglin family—Mark, Tanya, and their two small children—were living in Maysville, about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta, when Mark got a job in Marietta. The only problem? It was a 90-minute commute, each way. After a few months, the Anglins, whose Maysville residence was actually a basement apartment in the home of Mark’s father, started looking to rent closer to town. They knew what they wanted: a two-bedroom condo (“We figured we didn’t need a whole house,” says Tanya) with room for their then four- and one-year-olds. At least that’s what they thought.

With a budget of $1,200 a month, the couple figured their best bet would be OTP. They spent a day looking at properties in Roswell and Sandy Springs, where they saw a two-bedroom townhome with amenities like a swimming pool and tennis court. And at $1,200 a month, the price was right. But “the [one] day was enough for us to realize we wanted something different.

“Having neighbors so close, not having a private yard for the kids . . . it just wasn’t ideal,” says Tanya. They also wanted walkability. In Australia, where the family lived for a year before moving to Mark’s home state of Georgia, “we could walk to school, to the park,” Tanya says. “It was important to us not to have to drive everywhere.” She redirected her search to eastside, intown neighborhoods, this time seeking a single-family home with a small backyard.

An afternoon spent driving from Virginia-Highland to Edgewood, however, quickly convinced Tanya that $1,200 a month wasn’t enough to get them a home that would comfortably accommodate four people in a safe, walkable neighborhood. Then on Zillow, Tanya spotted a two-bedroom house on Faith Avenue near Glenwood Park advertised at $1,400 a month. Just a few blocks from shops and restaurants and a stone’s throw from a small park, it seemed too good to be true. “It was lovely,” she says, citing the roomy back deck, finished attic, and updated kitchen with new appliances. Tanya filled out an application and left a deposit but was beaten to the punch by another prospective renter. “The people who were walking out the door as we were walking in were the ones who got it,” she says. “Lesson learned.”

Back at square one, Tanya spent hours every day perusing listings and driving around the city looking for “for rent” signs in front yards. She came across another listing that seemed to fit almost all of her criteria: a two-bedroom home in Reynoldstown with a fenced-in backyard, just a short stroll from the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. The rent, however, was listed at $1,800—50 percent higher than their original budget.

Tanya hesitated at first. But the couple changed their minds when they learned that it was an EarthCraft home, an ecofriendly designation that can mean a significant savings in heating and cooling costs. Figuring that it could help offset the higher rent, the family decided to seal the deal—quickly. “The house had been listed that day, and already a few people had been in to look at it,” says Tanya. She wasted no time in writing a deposit check, and they moved in the following week.

For a family of four on a budget, finding an affordable home in the desirable eastside neighborhoods wasn’t easy. Units are snatched up quickly, rents are climbing, and for someone not intimately familiar with the many nuances of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods (knowing, for example, which streets are prone to flooding, abut noisy construction projects, or become traffic-choked during rush hour), sifting through online listings proved to be overwhelming.

Still, the Anglins are pleased with their find, even if it’s a bit smaller and more expensive than those gleaming condos they’d considered early on in their search. “There are ceiling fans in every room and a covered porch out in the back,” says Tanya. They’ve even pondered the possibility of making the move from tenant to landlord.

“We didn’t originally think about buying, but now that we’ve realized what’s happening here, we might,” she says. “Even just to buy it and rent it out ourselves.”

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This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.