Stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures may have put a serious dent in your plans to relocate. The entire process of searching for and touring new apartments has become infinitely more difficult. But, pandemic be damned, you can still successfully search for and “visit” an apartment under quarantine—virtually.
“Renting an apartment sight unseen is not unheard of. It is common and, if done correctly, can work out in a renter’s favor,” says Denae Montesi, a licensed real estate salesperson with William Raveis Real Estate in New York.
So how can you conduct a successful (and safe) apartment hunt without leaving your sofa? It’s time to leverage technology and reach out to local experts who know your new city inside and out.
So, get cozy and follow these tips on how to virtually find apartments for rent.
Zero in on cities and neighborhoods
Your best tool right now is your computer or smartphone. Experts suggest starting off by searching the internet for neighborhoods in the city or area you are planning to move to, and doing a deep dive on those specific areas. Use Google Maps and Yelp to look up local amenities and attractions like restaurants, coffee shops, parks, and grocery stores. NeighborhoodScout is also a great source of information on crime data, demographic trends, job access, and popular neighborhoods within a city.
“You’ll be able to get an idea and feel for a neighborhood,” says Jennifer Brimhall, a real estate agent for Casa Pacific Realty in San Diego.
To get a firsthand account of the neighborhood you’re interested in, Brimhall suggests reaching out to a local real estate agent who can help you identify neighborhoods that are desirable, taking into consideration factors that are important to you, such as good schools, nightlife, or work commute.
Real estate agents can also help you identify potential properties in good neighborhoods whose listings include photos and virtual walk-throughs.
“It is imperative you have an experienced eye looking at the listings of interest,” says Montesi.
Use online tools to find an apartment
Websites such as realtor.com let you take the search into your own hands and find listings that fit your specific criteria. High-resolution photos of the unit and property grounds will give you a good sense of the age, color scheme, and interior features. For the most part, you should use photos to narrow your list of possible places to rent.
From there, since in-person tours are considered unsafe for the time being, you can rely on the power of video to get a better impression of the inside of the unit.
“During these times of social quarantine you can ‘see’ an apartment via a video or 3D virtual tour,” says Brimhall.
If you find an apartment that doesn’t offer that option in the listing, experts suggest renters ask property managers or landlords if they’d be willing to film a walk-through of the space.
Send emails, set up calls, chat on video
When virtually searching for an apartment, it will help to have an actual person answer questions that a 3D tour, videos, and photos cannot.
“If you think you’ve found a good option, call right away! Make telephone interview appointments immediately,” says Brimhall.
A quick phone call or video chat can also help you determine if the person you are dealing with is a shady landlord or property manager. It will also tell you if the person is adhering to health and safety precautions.
“Ask how the building is keeping up with cleaning and sanitizing. You want to know you are moving into a safe environment,” says Montesi.
You can also deal directly with a real estate agent or broker to help you home in on a rental.
“Since we are not able to physically see listings, the renter should discuss in great length the pros and cons of each property of interest with their trusted real estate adviser,” says Montesi.
Optional: Take a drive
If you happen to be moving within driving distance of your new location, consider driving by a few properties that are in the running. You are still adhering to social distancing measures and, at the same time, able to eliminate any properties if you’re not satisfied with the neighborhood.
If you’re working from home at this time, you can also test-drive your commute from your potential new home to your place of business. This will allow you to gauge the traffic patterns and give you a better sense of what living there will really be like.