How to find a good rental unit if you can't view it in-person

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By 

Yejean Kim

Updated

June 21, 2022

How to find a good rental unit if you can't view it in-person

How to find a good rental unit if you can't view it in-person

A lot can unfold online, and the apartment search is no exception. Most apartment search tips assume you’ll be dealing with the landlord and viewing the property in-person during at least one stage of your search. Sometimes, this just isn’t possible. For example, if you land a job that requires you to move out of state, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to go in-person like you normally would for most of the process. The move doesn’t have to be out of state, either. Even a move to the next county or city over can complicate things, resulting in an apartment search that’s entirely virtual. 

If you’re simply moving to another rental unit in your area, completing every stage of your due diligence in-person can also be time-consuming. With all of life’s demands, there are times where you’re just too busy to look at each apartment in-person. 

Since more and more renters are opting for the convenience and speed of the virtual apartment search, we’ve compiled some tips to help you find the perfect rental unit without viewing it in-person. 

Follow the three r’s: Research, research, and more research

The internet isn’t just home to billions of cat videos. It’s also an invaluable resource in the remote apartment search. First, many landlords list rental properties on online databases; this fact alone makes online research indispensable to virtual apartment searches. These listings are usually filterable by critical categories such as number of bedrooms and features in the unit, so it’s easy to find what you‘re looking for.

Even if you haven’t made up your mind about which rental unit you want to apply for, you can still glean a lot of important information online about your new locale outside of rental sites.

Using social media to enhance your rental search

Social media sites such as Reddit, Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram can be vital to the remote apartment search because they provide you with real-time information on the area you’re interested in.

What is there to do in the area? How is the neighborhood after dark? How walkable is the area? These are all questions that can be easily answered during a cursory look through social media. Threads on certain cities, neighborhoods, and complexes can usually be found by entering key terms into the search platform of your choice.

Other important considerations that can be explored online include public transportation options, conveniences such as grocery stores, and the attractions and sights.

Reddit: Renting subreddits galore

We all know Reddit is home to a seemingly endless amount of subreddits and other threads dedicated to broad and niche topics alike, and renting is no exception. Even the most casual Reddit browser can find information on renting in specific cities. If you do a deep enough dive, you can often find subreddits dedicated to certain neighborhoods. Try searching for the neighborhoods you’re interested in either directly on Reddit or on the search platform of your choice. It’s usually as easy as entering the relevant search term + “Reddit”.

Above all, the same thing that makes Reddit stand out from other social media platforms—mostly authentic, user-generated content—makes it an excellent and invaluable resource for the virtual apartment search. If you take a look at subreddits dedicated to the city and neighborhood of your choice, you’re practically guaranteed to find some useful intel on the area.

Facebook: Renters’ groups, marketplace listings, and more

Metaverse isn’t the only platform with plenty of real estate. Facebook has long hosted renters’ groups for everywhere from fast-growing metropolises to sleepy college towns. Facebook users use the platform to list rentals, find roommates, and bond with other residents of the area. Just like Reddit, it’s the information users provide in real-time that makes Facebook such a heavy hitter in the virtual apartment search. Try searching online for groups relevant to your areas of interest, and you’ll likely find groups of residents ready to share critical details on the neighborhood.

Another key resource for virtual apartment hunting is Facebook marketplace. Some landlords and property managers have taken to listing rentals on Facebook marketplace, and browsing these listings is a great way to get a feel for the cost of rent in some neighborhoods. Due to the nature of Facebook as a social media platform, you can often contact landlords or property managers directly through the app about specific listings. As such, Facebook marketplace can be a great way to initiate contact with some landlords and property managers.

Instagram: Follow the hashtags (and relevant pages)

Finally, Instagram can be a great way to glean information about rental properties, cities, and neighborhoods. You can also find apartment search tips, often in easily digestible infographics. You can search relevant hashtags for renters in your cities of interest, and some apartment complexes even have their own Instagram presence. Other good pages to follow include rental agencies in the area or real estate platforms dedicated to helping renters find apartments.

To conclude: while social media can provide an unfiltered look at the area you’re interested in, you should be careful and only consider the opinions of people who are actually living/have lived in the area. Make sure that the latter group’s experience is also relatively recent. If someone hasn’t lived in the area for a few years, their information might be outdated. It’s also worth noting that information that isn’t from an official source should be taken with a grain of salt unless you can verify the claims. 

Hone in on an apartment (or apartments)

Once you’ve settled on a specific city and neighborhood you like, you should narrow your focus to apartments. 

Big decisions first, finer details later 

During a remote or virtual apartment search, a good philosophy to follow is to make big decisions (such as what part of the city, which specific neighborhood, and any critical considerations you may have for the surrounding area) before you try to work out the finer details. 

While you can do this in the reverse order, it can be disheartening to find that the apartment of your dreams is located in a completely different zip code than the one you have your eye on or have heard great things about. 

During in-person apartment searches, renters usually consider key factors such as budget, location, amenities, the commute, and what the surrounding area has to offer. The same considerations apply to a virtual apartment search. 

Sleuth like Sherlock 

Once you’ve chosen an apartment or apartments, you should do a deep dive and try to find as much information on your complex of choice. At the bare minimum, you should look for photos of the property and the unit you’re interested in, written descriptions of the amenities, and the specific dimensions of your unit. If you have a pressing or even minor question about the property, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the landlord or the property manager. After all, where you call home is a big decision, and you should feel confident in your decision, even if it’s made virtually. 

While the prospect of doing your due diligence online can seem daunting, there’s not much of a difference between this phase of the apartment search and how you would go about it in-person. 

Look up your landlord 

When you’re done compiling a list of apartments that meet all your requirements, a good next step is to get in contact with the landlord or property manager for each option. It can be tempting to do this all over email, but if possible, try to set up a phone call or video chat. It’ll be much easier to discuss any questions you might have (that aren’t answered by the apartment’s online listing or virtual tours). More importantly, even a quick phone call or video chat can help you determine whether the landlord or property manager is trustworthy. Unfortunately, rental scams do exist, and since it’s easier to fool someone online, you should be extra careful at this stage. 

If you’re confident that the landlord is trustworthy, you can apply. 

Apply yourself 

Some landlords have gone paperless when it comes to the rental application process. After all, it’s hard to beat the convenience of electronic documents, and taking the guesswork out of the application process makes things easier on everyone involved in the rental equation. This makes it much easier to fill out basic application forms for apartments even if you can’t go in-person to the rental office. 

If the apartment you’re looking at doesn’t have an online application process, most property management offices and landlords are perfectly amenable to mailed in applications. Obviously, you shouldn’t just assume they accept mailed in applications, so be sure to call or email ahead and ask. Most offices are happy to send you an application or direct you to where you can print one. 

Whether you apply online or through the mail, usually the only in-person component of the application process for apartments is the interview. Luckily, there are plenty of tools available to conduct interviews online, including Zoom, Skype, and other video conferencing services, and most landlords will happily utilize these tools. 

Beware of any landlords or property managers who don’t attempt to talk to you over video conferencing. Anyone who isn’t interested in full transparency with their tenants shouldn’t be an option. 

TL;DR

To quickly recap, the most important aspect of the virtual apartment hunt is research. Use every tool and platform at your (online) disposal, including social media sites, rental unit listings, and search engines to find all the information you can about your city, neighborhood, apartment, and landlord of choice. Finally, make sure to pay special attention during the rental application process, since it can look a little different when you’re searching virtually

Virtual apartment hunting can be done 

Renting may predate the internet and other virtual and remote renting technologies, but finding a rental unit virtually or remotely is now easier than ever thanks to these tools. If you complete your due diligence and make sure to vet your landlord and the property thoroughly, it’s entirely possible to find a place to call home without going in-person. 

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