The Inside Scoop: Renting an Apartment Sight Unseen

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Today’s post is brought to you by Amalia Otet, Creative Writer for RENTCafé, an apartment search tool designed to make your life easier. Browse apartments, apply online, and manage your entire rental experience through the app after you’re moved in!

In today’s modern world, renting an apartment in a new city is easier than ever. For some renters, the prospect of renting sight unseen may be a bit nerve wracking, but we have some tips and ideas to make it easier for even the most adventurous renter!

Get Online to Start Your Apartment Search

Many people need to rent an apartment sight unseen due to a career change, a move that takes them to a new city or out of state, or simply because of issues with their existing living situation. Once you have your state and city decided on, it’s time to hit the online rental marketplace (ideally 30-45 days before your projected move-in date) and choose which part of a city you want to live in. This can be the most exciting part of the search as you get to explore everything a place has to offer.

There are a lot of great websites available that can help you pick the best area to call home. The RENTCafé Local Scoop blog, for example, offers an inside look at many neighborhoods and communities within cities, such as Beverly Grove, a renter-friendly section of Los Angeles boasting tree-lined streets and awesome shopping venues, and Wicker Park in Chicago, a neighborhood full of great housing options for young professionals and families alike.

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1500 N Damen Apartments in Chicago’s Wicker Park Neighborhood; image via RENTCafé.

Then there are user-generated content sites such as City Data, where you can see what locals think of a place, or even the local community pages where you can ask questions and get answers directly from people living there. And sites like Walkscore that help you determine the friendliness and safety of the neighborhoods you’re considering moving to.

Decide on Your Must-Haves

Once you have your destination in mind, it is time to decide what the next most important thing is in terms of apartment amenities. The list will be different for every renter. Some things to consider are: space versus price, community safety, access to public transit, proximity to great restaurants or parks, pet friendliness, possibility of paying rent online, amenities like a pool or workout room, and so on. All of this info and more, such as real-time unit availability and pricing, can be found online. The best way to keep track of these must-haves is to make a list. We like to break them out into two categories: Non-Negotiable and Would Be Nice. The things you have to have go under Non-Negotiable, and the things like pools or on-site recycling or a neighborhood library go under Would Be Nice.

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Presidential City Apartments in Philadelphia come with all the bells and whistles and a reasonable price tag; image via RENTCafé.

Reach Out to the Property Manager

Remember to make technology work for you in a situation where you have to rent sight unseen. Calling property managers is a must. Requesting the opportunity to Skype or Facetime with the manager is even better. This way you can “meet” your landlord face to face. Many communities have video tours of apartments available online but if no tour is uploaded to their website, ask if the property manager can give you a brief tour via video chat. At the very least, they should be able to email photographs of the individual unit you’re interested in and should be happy to answer any questions you have about it.

Get on Google Street View and Start Walking

You can peruse neighborhoods and community exteriors at your convenience and then call the managers of your favorite communities. Keep in mind that apartment websites will only show their best units and best angles so using Google Street View and Google Earth can give the sight unseen renter the most accurate sense of the area and community. Are you set on getting a place in Los Angeles? You might want to take a closer look at less hyped neighborhoods of the city such as Westlake or Koreatown, where you’ll get more bang for your buck. As you browse through Koreatown apartments, copy the exact address of an apartment you’re interested in, paste it in Google Street View and “take a walk” around a few blocks. This will give you an idea of the feel of the place, enough to make you either want to see more of the apartment community or keep on walking.

Complete Your Transaction

Even after you find a neighborhood and apartment you love, modern technology can greatly help your moving and renting process. Rental applications can be completed online and in many cases applications, fees, and deposits can be sent electronically and securely. Many communities have electronic signature softwares that make signing the lease a breeze. Just be sure you have spoken with the property manager before sending any funds electronically to protect yourself.

Pro Tip: Before you sign the lease, make sure to ask the manager if there is a required minimum number of days for giving move out notice. Knowing your lease options for a sight unseen move will protect you on the off chance you arrive at your new apartment and realize you made a mistake!

With a creative use of technology and resources, it’s absolutely possible to find the perfect home in a new city without ever stepping foot on the premises.

About the author

Interested in sharing your tips or advice with our readers? Contact our editor, Michelle, with your ideas at michelle.moore@imove.com.

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