Renting a Boston apartment sight-unseen can seem like a daunting endeavor. Nearly everyone will tell you to avoid a sight-unseen apartment renting scenario by all means necessary. The problem of renting sight unseen becomes even more acute when you look at history-filled cities such as Boston with a far greater percentage of older housing stock. 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 going to happen?
Each year thousands of national and international students move to Boston. Many student find out they have been accepted to the university of their choice with incredibly short notice. Having rented over 100,000 college students in Greater Boston an apartment, we have seen all flavors mad scramble to secure last-second housing. It is often chaotic as best, but it doesn’t have to be, with proper highly concentrated planning.
Speed Dating For Apartments
The other scenario we see quite frequently is the working professional who just scored an incredible job in Boston and their company requires them here to promptly fill the role— fun times in Boston house hunting. Talk about speed dating your apartment. You are going to need an effective and efficient process.
One thing we do know is that we rent at least 10% of apartments in our portfolio sight-unseen. The incredible advance of smartphones with better cameras and video capabilities has certainly had an impact on our real estate showing process. Better technologies seemingly popping up daily helping to improve the speed and quality of virtual tours, facetime, videos, and pictures. We fully expect the number of virtual showings that help close leasing and sales transactions 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 myriad ways to 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 are created equal. It might be a good idea to seek a company with an impeccable long standing track record of success. Find technology equipped companies with great professionalism and exceptional agent training. Seek apartment leasing leaders that are experts at renting thousands of apartment and using advanced technologies. Examine the breadth and scope of the real estate platform or team that you will be working with to find your housing.
There is a gigantic difference between a fully equipped team oriented apartment rental agency compared to a traditional residential brokerage or commercial sales outfit. Most residential brokerages and commercial sales companies rarely lease apartments on a consistent basis to understand market fundamentals as well as source great apartment listings. Fact.
Work with Boston Real Estate Leaders
It is vital and necessary that you work with apartment leasing leaders because they will be the ones to know the best landlords with the finest product. 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.
Before engaging in working with a real estate agent in Boston, ask a few questions. Always ask how many apartments their platform rents per day, week and 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. There is often significant additional paperwork that is required for sight unseen apartments. You will want someone to explain it properly to you.
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. Scroll through their reviews and see how many years of great reviews they have. Keep in mind it often takes years for real estate offices to acquire great apartment listings because awesome landlords usually only give their apartments to market leaders. It is also important that you find reviews on trustworthy platforms.
Most people generally shy away from Yelp and other low quality review sites as they often filter good reviews and many of their postings can be highly suspect. Look for long well written reviews that provide specific details or recommendations of certain agents who consistently do a great job. Not all real estate agents meet high standards. Some real estate companies have superstars that negotiate pricing and work hard for you. Great real estate agents with large landlord databases will hit the phones for you to find you that fantastic place. Others might not and tell you “what you see is what you get” on our website. Before you start working with anyone, step back and look at the big picture.
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. One thing is for certain, it is important that you line up as many apartments as possible in the shortest period of time so that you can make a good decision with confidence.
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 negotiate a refundable deposit, allow them to keep it on the market but give you first right of refusal if another tenant applies. There are a lot of great strategies to try to rent an apartment in Boston; never be afraid to ask an agent for ideas.
4. Research the Neighborhood
The internet provides an incredible amount of information on our local Greater Boston neighborhoods. Be leery of national portals as they often have general high level data but it is often quite inaccurate when you get down to the local neighborhood level. Better real estate websites with active blogs and can often provide you with compelling and timely content on the local scene to help aid your decision. 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. The best real estate offices that specialize in apartment leasing have a large paid staff that aggregates listings and pictures and curates and checks the accuracy of the listings. Don’t be afraid to ask the agent how many apartments their database receives each week and how many people go out and get galleries of these units on a daily basis.
Ask your agent for transparency in the process. Don’t be afraid to ask your agent to go and take pictures the same day and use some kind of marker or dated paper inside the apartment 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 the application of their choice and create long video tours of the property.
6. Ask for a FaceTime or Skype Tour
Nearly all agents are now very accustomed to going to a property and walking through doing FaceTime with you. This often helps give you a great feel for the place. FaceTime, Zoom and other real time video services have been a proven way to ease the jitters of renting remotely. It’s important to note that some older landlords and technology challenged property managers may not be smart phone savvy enough to do a real time video. You could always offer to pay a nominal amount of money to a landlord to bring along a tech savvy assistant to help show the apartment in a virtual manner.
Many landlords will not honor your request for a virtual tour. A lot of landlords feel that virtual tour apartment seekers are not serious customers. It is what it is as they say. Let the landlord or agent know that you very serious and have the funds to put down that day if everything checks out properly. You may have to sell yourself more or be more convincing to make that virtual showing happen if you are working with a landlord directly.
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.
Generally speaking, what you are going to find is that most furnished apartments are going to be between $200- $400 more per month than non-furnished apartments all things being equal.
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. There are multiple HR departments all throughout Greater Boston that will recommend you to some of the best apartment-leasing experts in the city. It also 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.
We understand that it is a big ask – but perhaps they need a favor as well and it strengthens your friendship or relationship. They might be up for helping you and catching up later for a cup of coffee or a great dinner. Your employer might also know neighborhoods and apartment complexes to recommend because of previous reviews of their other employees. Just start asking and it is quite possible the universe will make way for you to a great apartment in Boston.
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. Our team is always available to show your hot properties seven days per week!
Published November 30, 2023