As a general rule of thumb, renting sight unseen is far from ideal.
There is only so much you can determine through photographs and enticing unit descriptions – they may not always tell the full story. A thorough walkthrough 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 the best way to ensure that there won’t be any surprises down the road.
However, the ideal scenario is not always reflective of your real-world options; there is always a chance you may be in a situation where you are unable to examine a property in person.
How do you ensure that you end up in a great rental situation even if you cannot meet your potential landlord in person and cannot view your potential future home? For these instances, there are tricks available to help you evaluate the property to the best of your abilities – even though you will rent sight unseen.
Chances are, a simple property description won’t be enough for you to learn about the neighborhood and state of the rental. A great trick is to use Google Maps’ street view option to peruse the areas neighboring your potential new home, and perhaps even get a view of the property that wasn’t chosen by the landlord. This will give you a better idea of any nearby red flags, area hotspots, and an overall feel for the neighborhood. 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 may have changed. Generally speaking, this is a good indicator of the property’s and neighborhood’s aesthetic. Beyond appearance, check out your potential new home’s distance from local hotspots, grocery stores, and public transit. Look for nearby freeways or train tracks as these could potentially be a noise issue.
Friends or relatives that currently live in the area you are thinking of renting in can be an invaluable resource. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to be your eyes and ears during a walkthrough – you might even ask them to take a video for you, or video chat you during the walkthrough.
Have your helper check for security measures, water pressure, and lighting. Ask them to do a quick overview of any included appliances and their condition. Ensure that they know to look for potential red flags such as exposed wiring or flickering lights. If they are willing to go above and beyond, ask your friend or family member to drive by the unit at different times of the day to listen for noise or traffic. A rental may seem quiet and peaceful in the middle of a weekday, but could quickly turn into a hub of commotion when all of the neighbors get home from work.
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. Give yourself time to verify a listing, a landlord, and the lease terms. This way, you will be able to walk away from a situation that doesn’t feel right without scrambling to find a home.
Learning how to avoid rental scams is an important part of your search process, and while there are some known red flags to look out for, most of it comes down to common sense. 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 asks you to send money via wire transfer in exchange for keys, you are likely dealing with a scam. A serious property owner will use a property manager if they live out of the area to manage their property and handle leasing. Wire transfers through companies like Western Union or MoneyGram are untraceable and non-refundable, so it is easy to see why scammers prefer this method of payment and why it should be a HUGE red flag to prospective renters.
Scammers will try to create a sense of urgency and will attempt to pressure you into making a decision. Keep your cool and do your research – it’s better to chance missing out on a property than to find yourself sending off a security deposit without an actual home to rent.
Finding your dream apartment can be hard enough in person, but renting sight unseen can feel like a huge gamble if you are not prepared. With a little planning and some help from friends or professionals, it is absolutely possible to find a place of your own to call home.