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How to Rent an Apartment When You Can’t Tour It

In a time of social distancing, finding a new place brings all kinds of new challenges.  Used to be that you could take a look around the web, walk the neighborhood and go see the specific apartment or rental home – in other words, do a classic rockstar rental search.  Now you’re faced with renting when can’t tour. So, what do you do?

Here’s how to do a rental search right without visiting:

1. Start with online research

When touring a rental is not an option, use a tool like Dwellsy as a starting place.  Use the Dwellsy Match to narrow down and find the right types of places for you.  Bringing your puppy? Make sure the place is dog friendly. Working from home? Look at the floorplan to make sure there’s enough room for a desk.  

2. Double check

Renting when you can’t tour in person is hard enough. During times like this, rental fraudsters seek to take advantage of vulnerabilities, so you need to be extra vigilant.  That means finding the landlord’s website if possible, and looking there to confirm that it’s a viable organization.  Plus, then you can usually see some additional information about the place and about the landlord. Good to see that and get a sense of what they’re like.  

But remember, many landlords are small (often they own just one house or condo!) and don’t have a website.  In that case…

3. Get in touch…by video

Reach out to the landlord.  Start by submitting an electronic inquiry via Dwellsy or by picking up the phone and calling.  Whatever you do, make sure you connect with a real human being.  

Then – and this part is exciting – because you can’t tour the rental, ask for a live video tour of the apartment.  The landlord may be off site, but you can certainly ask to schedule that within a day or two.  And when you do, make sure to…

4. Ask questions!

Too many renters forget that they’re the customer – don’t be the one who forgets that!  And what does the customer get to do? Get the information to make a purchase decision. So, ask a ton of questions, such as:

  • Tell me about the community – what’s the environment like?
  • How’s the cell service in the apartment?
  • What are the exact dimensions of each room?
  • Can I have more photos?  Remember, you want photos of the specific apartment or home, not generic beauty shots of the gym.

And, if you’re on a live video tour on Zoom, Skype or FaceTime because you can’t tour the rental in person, there are other specific things you can ask the landlord: 

  • Can you turn on the shower?  (So you can see the water pressure)
  • Can you open some drawers in the kitchen?  (Shows you the space and cleanliness of the kitchen)
  • Can you show me the view from the windows? (Look for both the view itself, listen for noise and see how clean the windows are and the condition of any screens)
  • Can you walk me to where I would park my car?  (Helpful to give you an idea of what it will be like as you come and go from your apartment/home)

5. Do your research

In spite of the circumstances of renting when you can’t tour, you did it! You’ve done the video tour and you like the place – it feels like home.  The price is right and you’re thinking that this might be your next place.  What next? Research – lots of research. You need to make sure your landlord is a good one, and that the landlord isn’t a scammer.

Sad to say, but unfortunately renters have become a fraud target, much of it coming from fraudsters posing as landlords on sites like Craigslist.  The good news is that you have lots of tools at your fingertips to make sure you can suss out whether the landlord is legit and high quality.  

If the landlord is a company, make sure you can find the company online.  Does the website look credible? Call the number on the website and make sure you get the company.  If the landlord is an individual, see if you can find them on Facebook, LinkedIn or another social network, and see what you can learn about them.

When you’re searching on Dwellsy, check for the verified badge, which is a sign that we’re confident it’s a legit listing.  If you see an unverified badge, do your homework extra well.  

Look for reviews for the apartment complex and landlord on Yelp, Google or other sources.  Good or bad, if there’s lots of reviews, you’re learning about your future landlord.  

And remember if anything seems “off” to you, then be extra careful.  Someone want you to paypal money to a strange account? Run away. The landlord can’t get access to the apartment within two or three days to do a video tour or get you some extra pictures since you can’t tour the rental in person?  Not a good sign. Keep an eye out for anything that looks strange and don’t hesitate to walk away. And watch out for screaming deals – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  

6. Negotiate the terms, sign the lease, give notice

By now, since you’ve read other articles on the Dwellsy blog, you know that you should be negotiating your lease terms, so you’re ahead of the curve.  What else do you want to ask for? Rent a little lower? Extra parking spot? Longer or shorter lease? December or January lease expiration? Those are all things that can lower your current or future expenses.  You can negotiate all of these over the phone without touring the rental in person. 

The landlord should be able to do all the paperwork electronically at this point – run the credit check, execute the lease, etc.  

Once you’ve got the new place lined up, give notice on your current place, if you haven’t already.  For help on how to do that, see our article on how to write a notice to vacate letter

7. Move!

This is the exciting part – you conquered renting when you can’t tour and now you finally get to move into your new rental!  Book your movers or call your friends to help. Pack up and move! Congrats on your new home.

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