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How to Rent an Apartment Sight Unseen

March 23, 2020

The world is suddenly at a standstill trying to work indoors and make the most out of social distancing. But what happens if you need to move in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak?

Your current landlord may offer flexibility during this challenging time. However, some people just really need to pack up and move regardless of the timing.

The issue is you might not be able to tour an apartment while practicing social distancing. Not to mention, apartment tours are being put on pause across the country. So, how can you responsibly rent an apartment without seeing it first?

Here are six tips for how to rent an apartment sight unseen.

1. Do Your Research

Research is your best friend when it comes to renting an apartment sight unseen. Take a deep dive into the neighborhood you want to move to and all of the nearby apartment complexes. Make notes of the rent prices at each complex and determine your shortlist of winners.

Using Google Street View is also paramount for checking out an apartment complex and the surrounding streets. Thoroughly investigate side streets, area businesses, and the conditions of the surrounding buildings and homes.

Look up reviews on every platform imaginable, from Yelp to Google reviews. You can also put out a call on your favorite social media channels, asking for input from friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends.

2. Work with Reputable Property Management Companies

Renting an apartment sight unseen requires a leap of faith. Mitigate your risks by only working with reputable property management companies with a track record for success. Renting an apartment during the height of coronavirus or any other emergency isn't the time to take any risks.

After speaking to a property manager, look up the number for the main office online. Then, call and verify they actually work there just to be safe.

To minimize risk, use a site like Apartment List to find trustworthy property management companies.

3. Contact the Property Manager

Once you're armed with research and reviews, contact the property manager and confirm the availability of the apartment.

You should also have a comprehensive list of questions to ask before you rent the apartment. Crucial questions include:

  • What are my lease terms
  • What are my initial move-in costs?
  • Will my rent ever go up?

Need more ideas? Here are 12 crucial questions to ask when renting an apartment.

4. Request a Virtual Tour

Even before COVID-19 swept the world, Facetime and Skype apartment tours were already becoming popular. Request a virtual tour to get a better feel for the layout and condition of the apartment. Some properties may already have 3D tours for units on their sites.

If Virtual Tours Aren't Possible, Request Photos

In the absence of virtual tours, detailed photos of the apartment can help. You can also request photos of shared amenities like the laundry room or pool for when the pandemic passes.

When you ask for photos, you should also inquire about specific dimensions and measurements for your unit. That'll give you an idea of how your current furniture will work in the new apartment.

5. Consider a Shorter Lease

Landlords and property managers will likely become more flexible on lease terms during social distancing and sheltering in place. If you don't want to commit to a place fully without seeing it, ask about a month-to-month lease or short-term lease.

However, there are downsides to a shorter lease. They are typically more expensive. They also leave you vulnerable to needing to move again quickly. But due to the current state of the world, a short-term living arrangement and reevaluating in a few months makes a ton of sense.

6. Look Out for Rental Scams

Unfortunately, rental scams are common with too-good-to-be-true deals and requests for payment upfront. Seeing an apartment in person is still the best way to avoid rental fraud.

Do your due diligence when renting an apartment sight unseen. Stay proactive about your financial safety.

Here are some common rental scams to watch out for:

  • Bait-and-Switch: Scammers could try to collect a deposit or get a lease signed on a different property than advertised.
  • Phantom Rentals: Fraudulent listings are created with low prices that don't exist and they try to collect on a deposit.
  • Hijacked Ads: Fake landlords or property managers post an ad for a real property but alter the contact information.
  • Missing Amenities: Scam artists may try to score a higher rent for enhanced amenities that don't exist.
  • Already Leased: A landlord or scam artist may list an already-leased apartment to collect additional application fees or deposits.

Need more help? Here are our top tips on identifying and avoiding rental scams.

It may seem daunting, but doing your homework can make renting an apartment sight unseen a smooth experience. Take your time and trust your gut instincts along the way. Just remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And if you need help finding an apartment that checks all of your boxes, click on the button below.

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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