Other factors to consider include the location of the property and the number of tenants who are renting it. If the property is near public transportation or near a college or university, for example, you may be able to charge more than if the same property were located at a distance from places deemed valuable by tenants.
For homeowners who are new to becoming landlords, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's housing choice voucher program might be a good way to go. Section 8 vouchers are for low-income families, and public housing authorities pay part of the rent while the tenant pays the rest.
"The program is through HUD and they do a lot of pretenant screening," says Hertzog. Because the program is subsidized, you're also more likely to get your money on time, Hertzog adds. If you want to rent to Section 8 voucher holders, contact your local Housing Authority or go to HUD's Web site.
Figuring your profitOnce you come up with your rental amount, crunch the numbers to see if you'll come out ahead. Add up the yearly cost of the rent and then subtract all of your expenses, which include the mortgage payments, insurance, taxes, utilities, repairs and the services of a property management company, if you decide to use one. Also factor in the amount of time the home will be uninhabited. Nationally, the rental vacancy rate is near 10 percent, according to real estate market research firm Danter Company, so knock off 1.2 months of rent in your calculations. At that point, you'll see whether renting your home will be profitable.
Even if you aren't going to make a huge profit, there may be other reasons to rent out your home, particularly if you're having problems selling it. The tax deductions you get may improve your overall financial situation, since you can deduct the cost of repairs, property management services and even travel that is related to the rental property.
There's also the issue of timing. If your home has recently lost value, you may be able to recoup some of your losses by holding onto it until the real estate market turns around. But be prepared for a long wait, says Richard Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. "I think we'll see a slow recovery to the housing market -- slower than normal -- and it will extend well into 2009," he says.
If you're concerned that renting your home out will hamper your chances to sell quickly if an opportunity arises, you can cut some of your risk by offering short-term leases, or advertising for tenants who would prefer not to be locked into a long-term lease.
"You can decide who you advertise to," says Hertzog. "That's one way you can maintain some control."