If there is one piece of advice that I can bestow upon any apartment hunting neophytes it is this: Do not rent an apartment sight unseen. Just don’t do it. Always, always, ALWAYS make sure to actually visit the place in person before you sign anything.
There is no surer way to get stuck in a miserable one year lease than to rent an apartment sight unseen. Did I mention you shouldn’t do it?
Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. What, after all, does “sight unseen” even mean? When you rent an apartment sight unseen, it means you enter into a rental agreement, i.e., a lease, without first visiting the apartment you are promising to pay rent on for a year. As you may have been able to glean from my foreboding language above, doing this is not advised.
The problems go beyond your typical I-showed-up-and-there-was-a-giant-blood-stain-on-the-carpet variety. You may turn up on your first day to find the place looks fantastic, only to later discover your alley is the local drunks’ favorite 3 a.m. performance venue, the pipes are rusted, thus obstructing the majority of the hot water necessary to make bathing comfortable, and the deli downstairs makes everything smell like pork, always, forever, all the time.
Read: Apartment Tour Checklist
You see, there is only so much that your thorough online research is able to reveal about a place. Photos can tell part of the story, but not all of it. If a picture is worth a thousand words, an apartment visit is worth a thousand million billion trillion zillion.
Exceptions to the Rule
That being said, there are times when you may find yourself in a situation where you are forced to hold your nose and take the plunge. Maybe you are moving across the country to a new city and can’t afford to go out and visit apartments first.
Or perhaps you are moving across the globe and don’t even know enough of the local language to ask, “How far away is the grocery store?” in the first place. Ok. Fine. I get it. Life throws us curve balls all the time and sometimes we just don’t have any other choice.
For those of you whose circumstances require you to rent an apartment sight unseen, there are a few ways of ensuring that your apartment search is as thorough a possible. Here we will break down what you should do if you need to sign a lease without first making a visit.
Sidenote: You will notice that completing all these tasks is bound to take more time and effort than just visiting the apartment. Therefore, if you are just a lazy person looking for a shortcut to bypass going to see the apartment in person, save yourself the time and just GO LOOK AT THE APARTMENT.
Even if that means you have to move a bit early and stay at a hotel or crash on a friend’s couch while you apartment hunt, it will all be way worth the effort. OK, enough stalling, here is what to do if all your other options have failed:
Research, Research, Research, and then Research Some More
If you can’t physically be in the apartment, then you need to find as much information as you can to make you feel as though you are there. This means beyond just requiring pictures—ask the landlord to give you a Skype walkthrough.
Next, get on Google maps and explore the area. Street View is going to be your new best friend. Drag that little yellow man all through those streets until you are confident you could find your way around your new neighborhood in the dark, with a blindfold on … while you’re drunk.
This is going to be important not just for those Saturday nights you stay out late, but also for figuring out where the nearest grocery store is, where the pharmacy is and where the nearest Chinese take-out is (the holy trinity of apartment living).
While you are on Google Street View, be sure to check out any nearby businesses that may give off a strong smell. You might think you like pizza now, but live above a pizzeria for 12 months and it is likely the mere mention of tomato sauce will make you break out in hives.
Phone a Friend
If you have any friends in the area, enlist them to be the eyes on the ground. Ask them really nicely to check out any potential apartments for you and take copious notes. They will be more willing to help if you frame it as a spy mission (then again, that may just be my friends).
If you are moving in with roommates who you have never met to an apartment you have never been to, well, good luck. But more importantly, be sure to talk to these new living partners on the phone at least once.
Flying in blind is dangerous enough when it is just the apartment that is unknown; throw in some strangers and you are going to want to be extra careful to cover all your bases.