How to (Successfully) Rent an Apartment Sight Unseen

Looking for an apartment in a far-away city or town is rough. You could pay for a hotel until you can find an apartment, but that costs a pretty penny. Searching for an apartment remotely is much easier on your wallet, but it’s also much easier to end up living in a dump. Moving without seeing your apartment first is overwhelming, but we promise, it will be okay. There are plenty of precautions you can take to make renting an apartment sight unseen a successful mission, with a quality place and a quality property manger.

Things to Request from the Property Manager

  1. Give the Property Manager a Call  Although communicating via email can definitely be more comfortable than talking on the phone, vocal communication with your potential property manager will let you feel them out. It’s much easier to lie on paper or through email than over the phone or in person. Ask them questions and measure their responses. Generally ask yourself if the person you’re talking to seems trustworthy. You can’t base your judgement on this point entirely, but it can be helpful. If you have trouble getting them to return your calls at all, that’s definitely an apartment hunting red flag.
  2. Request Lots of Pictures  Be sure to ask the property manager for multiple pictures of every room in the apartment. This will allow you to get a good idea of what the place looks like, both inside and out. Even better, ask the property manager to take you on a video tour of the place. If they seem hesitant to show you high-detail pictures of the apartment, then it’s probably not for you. You don’t want to rent a place that has something to hide.
  3. Measure the Space  Pictures can tell you a lot about an apartment, but they can also be deceitful. Certain camera angles and flattering lighting can make a space look much bigger (or more well-maintained) than it actually is. Ask the property manager for a floor plan and exact dimensions of each room if this information isn’t already listed online, then try to physically represent the size of each space. This will give you a good idea of just how roomy (or not-so-roomy) the apartment is.
  4. List of Furniture and Appliances  Simply saying that an apartment comes furnished isn’t enough info. Technically, even one piece of furniture qualifies a place as “furnished.” Ask the property manager for a list of furniture and appliances that come with the apartment, along with the dimensions of all major furnishings like sofas or beds. If you want to be thorough, ask for the brand and year of every appliance included in the kitchen. This way you’ll know exactly what to expect before walking through the door of your new place.
  5. Ask the Property Manager About Infestations  It sounds like an awkward conversation, but it has to be discussed at some point. If there has been a history of pest control problems, you might want to think twice about signing a lease. In many states, property managers are required to inform prospective tenants about a history of infestations — particularly in the case of bedbugs. But it’s important to know that many property managers, especially sketchy ones, might not offer up this unsavory info unless you ask outright. Put your mind at ease and ask before you’re stuck in a bad (and disgusting) situation.

Finding the right apartment sight unseen means doing a bit of your own research.

Things to Look Into On Your Own

  1. Check Out Online Ratings  If you’re living in an apartment building, it’s important to check out current and former tenant’s reviews of the building. After all, who knows what a place is like better than the people who’ve lived there? Of course, be sure to take reviews with a grain of salt. When you have hundreds of people coming and going from your building, there’s always going to be one or two sour apples in the bunch. But the same goes for one or two positive reviews as well. You should pay attention to buildings that garner overwhelmingly positive or negative reviews.
  2. Utilize Google Street View  Renting an apartment sight unseen also means diving into a neighborhood you’ve probably never been in. But getting a street view of your place can give you a good idea of what your new building will look like from the curb and your surrounding area looks like. Seeing a place that looks run down and is standing next to boarded up buildings and grungy streets is usually a good sign to stay away. Although you can’t always judge a book by its cover, you’ll have to be a little more judgmental. Unfortunately, there’s no way to really get to know the place better, so first impressions definitely count when trying to rent an apartment remotely.
  3. Research the Neighborhood  It’s important to get a feel what kind of neighborhood you’re going to be living in. Hit your city’s local neighborhood associations, forums discussing city neighborhoods, or Rentable (that’s right, we offer neighborhood guides). Checking crime stats can also be a good idea. Once you know the quality of the neighborhood, you can get a feel for what kind of street your apartment or home is on. Is it a busy thoroughfare or a quiet side street? Are there some interesting hot spots nearby? What bothers you and what doesn’t is entirely subjective, but choose carefully.
  4. Get the Inside Scoop  If you’re relocating to attend school or get a job in a new place, you already have more connections than you may know. Ask the University’s off-campus housing director or HR at your new job for neighborhood info. Most of the time they will be happy to help you. You can even take it a step further. If you have any friends in the area, see if you can recruit them as a scout to go take a look at prospective apartments. You can always ask them to do this for a small amount of money.
  5. Consider Getting a Shorter Lease  Desperate for last-minute housing? Have reservations about this whole renting-without-seeing process? Ask your potential landlord if you can get a shorter lease and talk about signing a longer one after you’ve lived at the place for a month or two. After all, living in a dump for a few months and finding a better place is better than being stuck somewhere you dislike for a whole year.

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