Apartment hunting can be a stressful process. Between moving fees, hidden defects and rental scams, finding a place that fits your lifestyle and budget may cause more than a few headaches.
Nowadays, the added pressure of COVID-19 has made finding a new apartment even more difficult in a lot of ways. But there are also ways in which the pandemic has spurred new technology, allowing renters to search for an apartment and sign a lease completely virtually. However, there are tell-tale warning signs renters should be aware of when apartment hunting exclusively virtually.
This article will explore ways to strategically approach your apartment hunt during the pandemic while staying safe and getting the best deal.
Begin Your Search Online
In an age where renting has gone digital, it only makes sense to begin your search for an apartment online.
Searching for an apartment on a dedicated listings website is not only safer than doing it in person during the pandemic, but you can also rent directly from the property manager, eliminating the fees of working with a real estate agent to find an apartment.
You can filter your search by budget, requirements and neighborhoods of interest, which will save time sifting through apartments that aren’t right for you.
Understand You Might Have to Rent Sight-Unseen
Due to social distancing measures, you may have to rent sight-unseen. The idea of signing a lease on an apartment that you’ve never been to before might seem terrifying, but there are certain measures you can take to ensure that you understand what condition the unit is in while avoiding rental scams. For instance, if the price is too good to be true, if someone won’t show you a property virtually or if they ask you to wire them funds, these are all red flags.
As you get used to doing virtual tours and asking the right questions, renting sight-unseen won’t seem as daunting anymore. However, if it still makes you uncomfortable, talk to the property manager and ask for a self-guided tour. Most properties will allow this under the new circumstances.
Take Advantage of Virtual Tours
Most rental properties nowadays offer virtual tours. For everyone practicing social distancing and minimizing the risk of exposure, virtual tours allow you to conduct your apartment search from the comfort of your own couch.
There are a number of ways you can do a virtual tour. Some property managers or agents may use Zoom or FaceTime to take a potential tenant through the unit. Other properties use 3D tours that allow users to “walk” through an apartment. They may also have a pre-made video tour of the apartment and grounds.
As you virtually explore, imagine where your furniture would go, try to determine if the space is the right size, and use an extra careful eye to see if there are hidden defects in the unit.
Knowing which questions to ask during an apartment hunt is critical to finding your perfect place, especially in today’s digital age. Make sure you are thorough with your questions and you understand everything you need to know about the property.
For instance, you can ask things like:
- Are online rent payments available?
- What will my total move-in fees be?
- Are utilities included?
- Who pays for maintenance?
- What is the guest policy?
- Are any parking spots included?
Do Your Research
When you’re renting and apartment hunting in a virtual environment, thoroughly researching the area and complex is super important. Use features such as Google Street View to “walk” around the neighborhood and get a feel for surrounding businesses, homes and buildings. You can also get a general idea of rent prices in your target area, as well as understand how the area is connected to other major points of interest by public transit, and these will help you make informed choices.
Yelp and Google are also great sources when trying to determine the management quality and conditions of your potential new rental, as are the property reviews you can find on the listing website.
Set a Budget
Setting a maximum budget before you start your apartment hunt will save you from viewing or touring apartments that aren’t feasible.
In addition to monthly rent, make sure you factor in all potential costs such as application fees, security deposit, first and last month’s rent, moving fees and pet deposits. Also, don’t forget to budget in utilities such as electricity, internet and water.
Sell Yourself as a Suitable Tenant
Considering 1 in 3 renters have missed a rental payment since the pandemic started, it’s important to make sure your landlord knows that you’re a stable and reliable tenant.
If you have a strong credit score, steady income and no previous evictions, emphasize that during the negotiation process. Prove to the landlord that you will take care of the property and pay your rent on time every month.
If you decide to do an in-person tour of an apartment, be safe by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and bringing hand sanitizer. Remember, you can also ask the agent or the property manager about self-guided tours.
Moreover, don’t be shy about asking your new landlord about the building’s safety protocols. Feel free to inquire about how often the common areas are cleaned, whether multiple people are allowed in the elevator, and which preventative measures are currently in place.
Renting in the age of COVID-19 might be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Between virtual tours, knowledgeable real estate agents and a myriad of research tools available to apartment hunters, this pandemic doesn’t have to stop you from finding your new dream home.
About the author: Luke Babich is the Co-Founder and COO at Clever Real Estate, the nation’s leading real estate education platform for home buyers, sellers and investors.