Work with one rental agent. It may be really tempting to hit craigslist and message 30 different agents about apartments you found online, but ultimately it creates a lot more confusion and stress for you. Sure, you may have more control in the timing and scheduling, but what you don't have is an advocate for you who can help position you more competitively against other renters. By working with one agent, they can get you into all of the units you want to see and look out for your best interests. Remember--the agent listing the apartment works for the landlord; you want to have someone who works for you! The reality is you will have to pay a fee to someone most of the time, so it may as well be to the person who is sticking by your side. And the fee itself can bee seen as an investment. If you're paying out $1600, that's about $135/month over a year (less if you lease longer). The other reality: many agents have access to most of the same apartments.
Draft a "Love Letter" to the landlord. If you are submitting applications at the same time as another person, this can sometimes nudge the owner into choosing you. It's basically a cover letter explaining who you are, where you're from, why you're looking to live in the area, and how much you love the apartment. This can be prepared like the other documents in #3 too; just draft a basic template and add specifics about a property as needed. Your agent can also outline the specifics of your application in the cover letter too so the owner can quickly touch on any major points: rental amount, lease length, special requests, pet information, annual salary, credit scores.
Terms may be negotiable! If you are looking at an apartment and you and your agent get the sense that no one else is going to be putting in an application at the same time as you, then try to negotiate. Don’t get carried away, but know that renters can give themselves the upper hand if timing is right. You can often ask for something as a renter and get it. Whether it’s a reduction in the rental price, a different start date, a different lease length, or a request for a repair, you may have some wiggle room. I advise renters to ask for what they care about most, and to ask for only one thing. Make sure that ask is economical for you and the landlord. Delaying a lease and a rent reduction are both ways to offset your cost as a renter, and they subsequently effect the landlord’s income. So think about the amortized ask and position yourself accordingly.