As a general rule renting sight unseen is far from ideal, and, overall, is considered inadvisable.
There is only so much that you can determine through photographs and enticing unit descriptions; that may not tell the full story. A thorough walk-through of a property is crucial to ensure that the unit has up-to-date safety measures and necessary amenities. An in-person examination with your rental property checklist in-hand is by far the best way to ensure that there won’t be surprises down the road.
However, the ideal scenario is not always reflective of your real-world options, and there is always a chance you may be in a situation where you are unable to examine a property in person before committing to a lease term.
How do you ensure that you end up in a great rental situation even if you cannot meet your potential landlord or manager in person and cannot view your potential future home? For those instances, there are tricks available to help you evaluate the property to the best of your abilities–even though you will rent sight unseen.
Become A Detective
Chances are, a simple property description won’t be enough for you to find out the neighborhood and state of the rental. Instead, put on your deerstalker hat and become a detective. Use Google Map’s street view option to peruse the areas neighboring your potential new home. This will give you a better idea of any nearby red flags, area hotspots, and the neighborhood’s overall feel. Check for unkempt landscaping or junk in yards, as these can be an indication that the neighborhood is not well maintained as a whole.
(Keep in mind that less-trafficked roads may not have their street view updated as often, so there is a chance that the current-day view will not be the same, but in general, this can be a good indicator of a neighborhood’s aesthetic.) Beyond simple appearance, check for the listing’s distance from local hotspots, grocery stores, and public transit. Keep your eye out for nearby freeways or train tracks as these could indicate a potential noise problem.
Get By With A Little Help from Your Friends
Existing friends or relatives that currently live near the property you are thinking of renting can be an invaluable resource. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to be your eyes and ears during a walkthrough; it may even be prudent to ask them to video chat with you and allow you to see the place as they examine it. Have your helper check for security measures, water pressure, and lighting within the rental.
Ask them to do a quick overview of any existing appliances and their condition. Ensure they know to look for red flags like exposed wiring or flickering lights. Moreover, ask them to drive by the listing during different times of day to listen for noise from neighbors or traffic. The rental may seem like a gem midway through the day on a Wednesday, but could quickly turn into a hub of commotion when noisy neighbors get off of work.
Find a Trusted Real Estate Professional
If a friend or relative is not available, or if you would simply like an extra safeguard of expertise during your search then utilizing a real estate professional can be an ideal solution. Not only do they act as your eyes and ears when visiting a location, but they have the knowledge and experience to weed out any potential scams, assist you with finding the best bang for your buck, and find a neighborhood that fits your needs and preferences.
A professional also can take the guilt out of saying no to a place that doesn’t fit your needs. While you may feel obligated to accept the first place your friend looks at rather than send them searching for another, it is much easier to explain to a real estate professional that you would like to find another option.
Look Out for Red Flags to Avoid Scams
Scammers love to prey on vulnerable renters. To ensure you don’t become the victim of a scam, start your search for a rental early. Allow yourself the time to verify a listing, a landlord, and the deal. This way, you will be able to walk away from a red flag situation without feeling regret.
Learning how to avoid rental scams is an important part of your search process, and while there are some red flags to look out for, a lot of it comes down to a few common sense rules. If a listing looks too good to be true, it likely isn’t true.
Furthermore, if a landlord claims to be out of the country for any reason, or would like you to send money via wire transfer in exchange for keys, you are likely dealing with a scammer. A serious rental property owner will use a property manager who handles leasing if they live out of the area to manage their property, and wire transfers through companies like Western Union or MoneyGram are untraceable and non-refundable. It is easy to see why scammers prefer this method of payment and why it should be a HUGE red flag to prospective renters.
Remember, scammers will try to create a sense of urgency and will attempt to pressure you into making a decision by stating that other people are very interested. Keep your cool and do your research; it’s better to have a minor chance that you’ve missed out on a property than to discover you’ve been duped into giving your hard-earned rental funds away. After all, if an actual landlord is being pushy or hard to communicate with, you can save yourself from a tenuous landlord-tenant relationship in the future.
Finding your dream apartment can be hard enough in-person, but renting sight unseen can feel like a gamble if you are not fully prepared. Thankfully, with a little pre-planning, and some help from friends and professionals alike, you can find a rental you will feel content with during your lease term.