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Moving Into a Rental Sight Unseen: Avoiding Scams and Finding the Home

When Agnes Choi made the decision to move from Korea to Los Angeles for work in 2019, she knew that touring apartments in her new city was out of the question. She found herself in a situation faced by many individuals or families relocating; the need to choose a rental home sight unseen.

The Reality of Moving Into a Rental Sight Unseen

Despite the pressure to select the right rental home without being able to set foot inside, Choi felt comfortable with the research process. She ended up selecting an apartment in Los Angeles that checked all the boxes for her. The one thing she wishes she could change? Her view. Choi took advantage of her apartment complex’s virtual tour to get a feel for the style of unit she liked, but she was not given the option of checking out the exact unit that was available for her move-in date. 

“That was one of the things that I was super disappointed in when I moved in. It was actually facing a really ugly parking structure. That was something I couldn’t verify before moving in,” she said.

When Choi and her now husband moved from Des Moines, IA, back to LA, they had to again choose an apartment without being able to tour it in person. The only other big surprise for them was where their unit was located within the complex. “Our apartment right now is super far from the elevator that takes us outside and to other amenities (in the complex),” she said. But other than these details, which Agnes classifies as “little things,” she is happy with the results of multiple apartment searches conducted from across the globe!

How to Find a Good Apartment

In today’s digital world, an array of online tools and resources make choosing an apartment without a physical tour a realistic undertaking. The best place to start a search for a home rental is by researching online listings. Begin your research using sites like these:

Most sites will allow you to create a profile and save listings that appeal to you. Once you have a shortlist, it’s time to start making inquiries. Listings usually include contact information, so reach out to the leasing agent or owner to start a dialogue. Ask if a virtual tour is available. If you have a friend or family member in your new home city, ask if they would be willing to take a tour of the rental with you on Facetime.

Another way to narrow down your options is to use Google maps street view. In many places in the United States, you can take a virtual “walk” around your potential rental home, checking out the neighborhood and getting a feel for local parks and restaurants. You can also use Google to calculate driving times to your new office, the airport, your child’s school, or other places that you will have to get to regularly.

Agnes relied on Google reviews for her apartment search, but sites like Zillow, Yelp, and RentLingo also provide feedback from renters that may be helpful in closing in on the best option for you. In terms of neighborhood security, you might consider sites like Neighborhood Scout and Area Vibes to gather information about how safe you are likely to feel in your new home.

Hire a Realtor to Check Out Your Potential Home

Agnes had success navigating LA’s rental market on her own, but sometimes a realtor is an attractive option for renters who are looking for extra assurance or an expert’s perspective. This is especially true in large cities like New York or Chicago, where the neighborhoods are endless and each one has its own unique characteristics to be aware of. And while realtors can be expensive, in places like Massachusetts, many rental property owners will not show their homes without one. 

Beware of Rental Scams

While finding an apartment yourself using online tools and resources is a safe option for many, it’s important to be aware that rental scams are out there. Craigslist is a great resource for finding an apartment but is also one of the largest breeding grounds for these scams because the listings are largely unmonitored. Pay particular attention to any apartment listings you find there, and look out for red flags that may signal a fake listing. 

Massachusetts-based realtor Kevin Vitali has seen many examples of rental house scams over the years. Some rental red flags for Craigslist scammers include:

  • Advertisements with lots of typos
  • Extremely low monthly rent that seems too good to be true
  • Advertisements with no pictures
  • Homes where “the owner doesn’t allow tours”
  • No screening process for tenants
  • The property manager only wants to communicate by email and won’t give out a phone number
  • The property manager asks for the rent or security deposit before the lease is signed (especially via wire transfer)

“I have had Craigslist scammers stealing listing photos of a house I have had for sale online to use as a fake rental. This has happened many times over an 18+ year career as a listing agent,” he said. In addition to the red flags listed above, Vitali says listening to your gut is absolutely crucial.

“Most people who have been part of a rental scam on Craigslist said they felt something was not right. Follow your instincts,” he said.

If a sight unseen move is in your future, it’s good advice to take to heart. Trust your instincts, do your research, and take advantage of all the virtual resources available to today’s renter. Best of luck with your move!

Categories Moving