How to Rent an Apartment Sight Unseen
Renting an apartment sight unseen can be one of the most challenging things a person can do when trying to move to a new city or suburb. Just about, everyone will tell you the same thing- avoid it at all costs. However, what if you don’t have any other option? What if your circumstances put you in a position where a trip in advance is not possible?
Each year tens of thousands of local and international students move across the country; some find out they have been accepted at the very last second causing a mad dash to find housing. There is also the repeated scenario of a professional who just scored an incredible job and the company wants him to move immediately to fill the role. One thing we do know is that we rent at least 5% of our apartments in our portfolio sight-unseen. With new technologies and better virtual tours, videos, and pictures, we expect this number to continue to rise.
While signing a lease on your future apartment without seeing it in person might sound like a recipe for disaster or for potential scams, there are a myriad of ways to successfully accomplish this endeavor without ending up disappointed or worse.
Here are the top eight tips for renting an apartment sight unseen:
1. Go through a Specialized Real Estate Office
First and foremost, not all real estate companies provide service that is equal to ours. Some companies specialize in apartment leasing and are experts at structuring deals and using technologies to help you get an apartment that you will enjoy. There is a huge difference between a team based apartment rental agency and a residential or commercial sales company that might seldom lease apartments.
Always look for the market leader with the most inventories because they will often know the most flexible landlords who can give you the best deal. Some landlords do not rent their apartments sight-unseen so it’s important that you work with an expert company with a long track record of success. Always ask how many apartments they rent per week or month so it gives you an indication of their experience and inventory level. Never be afraid to ask them how many apartments they rent per year sight unseen. You want to know they have done the paperwork properly and it’s not their first time.
2. Look at Reviews
Reviews can play a huge part in the success of your search. Look for real estate companies with the most and best Google reviews. People generally shy away from Yelp as they often filter good reviews and many of their postings can be highly suspect. Look for long reviews that provide specific details or recommendations of certain agents who consistently do a great job. Not all real estate agents meet our standards. Some real estate companies have superstars that negotiate pricing and work hard for you others may not be as skilled. Great real estate agents will hit the phones for you to find you that great place. Others might not and tell you “what you see is what you get” on our website.
3. Consider an Airbnb or Hotel First
There are certain times of year in every city or location when Airbnb’s or hotels are priced lower than peak season. It might make sense to check that pricing out and maybe utilize that service for two weeks or less. During that time, you can hit the ground running and check out as many apartments as you can. While this approach could be a stressful and cost more money than other strategies, it might bring you some piece of mind.
Some people will put down a deposit sight unseen and ask for a two week or less contingency clause and quickly book a flight to try to see if they like the property or not. If you can get a landlord to give you a window of time, you can also check out other places just to make sure you are making the right choice. Most landlords will not take a property off the market with a refundable deposit; in this case, you could provide a refundable deposit, allow them to keep it on the market but give you first right of refusal if another tenant applies.
4. Research the Neighborhood
The internet provides an incredible amount of information on neighborhoods. Better real estate websites also provide a ton of content on the local scene and general feel of the area. Knowing how close the best gyms, restaurants, nightlife, parks and other attractions are can swing you towards a location that matches your taste. Many cities such as Boston have a tremendous amount of traffic so studying proximity to your work and/or school can make a huge difference.
You really can’t go wrong spending at least half of your time checking out neighborhoods online first before you even decide to make that first call. Your friends and family are probably going to tell you to check out the crime in each neighborhood. It’s important that you perform your own due diligence because your realtor cannot comment on the safety of the neighborhood. There is a whole host of websites out there in different cities that track and show crime statistics.
5. Many Websites have Great Pictures but are they Up to Date?
One of the bigger challenges of renting sight unseen is that you simply do not know the age of the pictures of the property that you are viewing. Perhaps the landlord took the pictures five years ago and there has been a lot of wear and tear from tenants who were rough on the property. Do not be afraid to ask a real estate agent to go and text you current pictures of the property.
Your agent can put some kind of marker or dated paper in the place so you know the photos are current. Some cameras can date stamp photos and that will help to raise your confidence. There are also many other forms of technology and software that an agent can use to help you feel at ease. Many agents now tell their clients to download Marco-Polo or WhatsApp and create long video tours of the property.
6. Ask for a FaceTime or Skype Tour
Many agents are now very accustomed to going to a property and walking through doing FaceTime with you so that you can get a great feel for the place. FaceTime and Skype have been a proven way to ease the jitters of renting remotely. It’s important to note that many landlords and property managers may not be technically savvy so it may not happen. Some are also too busy to honor your request because they do not feel that many people that try to rent in this manner are serious customers. Let the landlord or agent know that you very serious and have the funds to put down that day if everything checks out properly.
7. Get a Short-Term Lease if Possible
Short term leases are generally more pricey than longer term leases, but it will give you time to put your boots on the ground and start trying to find the best landlords with reasonable market prices. Find an apartment that you can rent month-to-month. This is essentially a tenancy at will with 30 days’ notice to vacate by either party.
You will also start to notice that some neighborhoods or cities have renting leasing cycles that correspond to universities, so you may be able to catch it at the right time when you only need a three-month lease. If you work the deal correctly, you might be given time by the landlord to have the option of signing a longer lease when you have a better idea of whether the place meets your needs. More often, shorter leases are furnished as well, so this could give you a better adjustment period to see what local retail outlets are cost effective and to your liking. This will give you the time you need should you decide that you want an unfurnished apartment and/or a longer lease.
8. If Possible, Ask Someone You Trust to Look at Your Chosen Apartment(s)
Believe it or not, many larger employers with solid HR departments will go check out a place for you and even recommend you to some of the best apartment-leasing experts in the city. It never hurts to ask a friend if you know of anyone who lives nearby. You can also check Facebook and possibly find friends whom you have known since high school who may have moved to your future location .They might be up for helping you and catching up later for a cup of coffee. Your employer might also know neighborhoods and apartment complexes to recommend because of previous reviews of their other employees.
If you are moving for school, call the off- campus housing department and see what their take is on the marketplace. Describe your budget and see where they recommend before you start searching. Many cities have huge pricing gaps in rent that vary by neighborhood.
While there are many ways to rent an unseen apartment that go beyond this article, we hope this outline will serve as a helpful guide to making your journey to finding a place as smooth as possible!