11 Ways to Win at Renting an Apartment You’ve Never Seen

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Looking for an apartment in a far-away city or town is rough. You could pay for a hotel until you can find an apartment, but this costs a pretty penny. Searching for an apartment remotely is much easier on your wallet, but it’s also really easy to end up living in a dump. It’s okay! Don’t get overwhelmed yet! There are plenty of precautions you can take to ensure you’re getting a good place with landlords that you can trust.

Things to Request from the Landlord

Give the Landlord a Phone Call  Though communicating via email can definitely be more comfortable than talking on the phone, phone communication with your potential landlord will let you feel them out. It’s much easier to lie on paper or through email than over the phone or in person. Ask them questions and measure their responses. Generally ask yourself if the person you’re talking to seems trustworthy. You can’t base your judgement on this point entirely, but it can be helpful.

Gross apartment bedroom

But the Craigslist ad made it look so cozy…

Request Lots of Pictures  Be sure to ask the landlord for multiple pictures of every room in the apartment. This will allow you to get a good idea of what the place looks like both inside and out. Even better, ask the landlord to take you on a video tour of the place. If they seem hesitant to show you high-detail pictures of the apartment, then it’s probably not for you. You don’t want to rent a place that has something to hide!

Measure the Space  Though pictures are certainly helpful, they can also be deceitful. Certain camera angles and flattering lighting can make a space look much bigger than it actually is. Ask the landlord for a floor plan and exact dimensions of each room if this information isn’t already listed online, then try to physically represent the size of each space. This will give you a good idea of just how roomy (or not-so-roomy) the apartment is.

List of Furniture and Appliances  Simply saying that an apartment comes furnished isn’t enough info. Technically, even one piece of furniture qualifies a place as “furnished.” Ask the landlord for a list of furniture and appliances that come with the apartment, along with the dimensions of all major furnishings like sofas or beds. If you want to be thorough, ask for the brand and year of every appliance included in the kitchen. This way you’ll know exactly what to expect before walking through the door of your new place.

Rat roommate

They’re cute until they’re in your kitchen eating your food.

Ask Landlord About Infestations  Sounds like an awkward conversation, but it’s gotta be discussed at some point. If there has been a history of pest control problems, you might want to think twice about signing a lease. In many states, landlords are required to inform prospective tenants about a history of infestations – particularly in the case of bedbugs. But it’s important to know that many landlords, especially sketchy ones, may not offer up this unsavory info unless you ask outright. Put your mind at ease and ask before you’re stuck in a bad (and disgusting) situation.

Things to Look Into On Your Own

Check Out Online Ratings  If you’re living in an apartment building, it’s important to check out current and former tenant’s reviews of the building. After all, who knows what a place is like better than the people who’ve lived there? You never know if you might be investing your extra cash into a money pit. Of course, be sure to take reviews with a grain of salt. When you have hundreds of people coming and going from your building, there’s always going to be one sour apple in the bunch. But the same goes for one or two positive reviews as well. You should pay attention to buildings that garner overwhelmingly positive or negative reviews.

White Trash Cafe

If this is across the street, you might want to reconsider…

Utilize Google Street View  Getting a street view of your place can give you a good idea of what your new building will look like from the curb and your surrounding neighborhood looks like. Seeing a place that looks run down and is standing next to boarded up buildings and grungy streets is usually a good sign to stay away. Though you can’t always judge a book by its cover, you’ll have to be a little more judgmental. Unfortunately, there’s no way to really get to know the place better, so first impressions definitely count when trying to rent an apartment remotely.

Research the Neighborhood  It’s important to get a feel what kind of neighborhood you’re going to be living in. Hit your city’s local neighborhood associations, forums discussing city neighborhoods, or ABODO (that’s right, we offer neighborhood guides). Checking crime stats can also be a good idea. No one wants to end up getting robbed. Once you know the quality of the neighborhood, you can get a feel for what kind of street your apartment or home is on. Is it a busy thoroughfare or a quiet side street? Are there some of your favorite hot spots nearby? What bothers you and what doesn’t is entirely subjective, but choose wisely.

College neighborhood.

Your University’s housing offices can give you the skinny on good and bad neighborhoods in the area.

Get the Inside Scoop  If you’re relocating to attend school or get a job in a new place, you already have more connections than you may know. Ask the University’s off-campus housing director or HR at your new job for neighborhood info. Most of the time they will be happy to help you. You can even take it a step further. If you have any friends in the area, see if you can recruit them as a scout to go take a look at prospective apartments. You can always ask them to do this for a small amount of money.

Consider Getting a Shorter Lease  Desperate for last-minute housing? Have reservations about this whole renting-without-seeing process? Ask your potential landlord if you can get a shorter lease and talk about signing a longer one once you’ve lived at the place for a month or two. After all, living in a dump for a few months and finding a better place is better than being stuck in a hovel for a whole year.

Photo Credits: Harbart MagazineShutterstock, Bushwick Daily, Google Street View, Tufts Observer