Here’s How to Move Apartments Without an In-Person Tour

Here’s How to Move Apartments Without an In-Person Tour

By Anna Davies

Moving to a new apartment rental is stressful. That's especially true if you can't see a place in real life. Here, how to rent an apartment sight unseen.


Because a 3D virtual tour can't give you the whole look (or scent) of a home.

By Anna Davies

Moving to a new apartment rental can be filled with question marks. No matter how well prepared you are, you’re going to wonder what your life will be like. What furniture will you need? What will become your local take-out joint? Who will your neighbors be? And what will be your overall cost of living? 

These answers can become even blurrier if you need to move sight unseen.

Because rent is a huge portion of your paycheck, it’s smart to be thorough. “We’ve always had renters who were willing to move sight unseen, but it’s been such a wild pivot due to recent events,” says Igor Popov, chief economist for Apartment List. “If you had asked me a few months ago if people would adapt to virtual tours, I would say it would take five or 10 years for it to be the norm. Now, it’s necessary.” This means 3D images, real-time virtual tours and comprehensive maintenance logs are what renters now use to assess potential homes.

But those data points don’t tell the whole story. Is the apartment that looks quaint and quiet in the video tour actually facing a highway? Does the lack of an on-site garage mean a parking spot scavenger hunt every day? “There’s a lot you don’t realize is important,” says Ben Mizes, founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate, an online service based in St. Louis that connects renters with agents. If you’re moving locally, Mizes recommends at least doing a drive-by of the area if possible. That way, you can get a feel for the neighborhood, including a safety assessment.

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Beyond the monthly rent, it’s important to consider other factors. For example, how much are average heating and air conditioning bills? Mizes recommends asking to see copies of bills, if possible. Asking about past maintenance — when was the washer/dryer installed, for example — is also smart. Also ask: Under what circumstances do appliances get upgraded? Is there a possibility that might happen before you move?

The disadvantage of a virtual tour also comes from limiting other sensory input. An apartment could be beautiful, but the scent of your neighbor’s 24/7 cooking could be off-putting. “I moved down to Savannah, Georgia, sight unseen and was really captivated by this romantic carriage-house-style apartment,” says Jenna Scott, 28, a fitness instructor. “What I didn’t know is that the buildings around me were primarily student housing. That meant a lot of late-night parties. My bedroom window also faced a back alley, which I called ‘Breakup Boulevard.’ At least once a weekend, someone would be crying back there because it was the alley that connected the party houses to the street. If I had known that, I probably would have moved elsewhere.”

Dogs barking or sirens blaring can also be problematic. To get a fuller view of what life would really be like, Mizes suggests looking on local Reddit threads and apps like Nextdoor. You may get some anecdotal experiences from people living in the neighborhood you’re considering. Taken with a grain of salt, these experiences can give you a more comprehensive view of the property.

Right now, it’s more of a renter market, so you may have some wiggle room.

Ben Mizes, founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate

Once you choose a place, Mizes says it’s important to see if you have any wiggle room in the lease. For example, a 30-day opt-out clause allows you to break the lease if the apartment isn’t the right fit. “This is unusual, because it can be risky to a landlord if a tenant moves in and damages the property,” notes Mizes. But it could be possible to ask for a six-month lease, or ask for a rent reduction if you are able to sign for a longer term. “Right now, it’s more of a renter market, so you may have some wiggle room.”

The other issue to be aware of is renter fraud, says Popov. This could be an unauthorized person “listing” an apartment online that isn’t really for rent — or one they don’t have the authority to rent — to try to pocket money from you. It could also be someone not being up-front with information. “I was in Tennessee, moving to a different state for a job,” recalls Kristin Luna, a digital marketing strategist who was 23 at the time. “I saw an ad online that sounded within my price range. The photos looked great, but the actual place was a dump. The advertisement said it was fully furnished, which meant an air mattress with dirty sheets. Never again.” Then, when Luna tried to back out of the short-term lease agreement, the scammer threatened to sue her. 

To avoid this type of scenario, it’s smart to pay attention to details and ask as many questions as necessary. Be wary if there is no background check. Most rentals will do a credit check and ask for certain details, such as proof of employment. It’s also smart to be wary of rentals that ask you to use a third-party platform, like a cash transfer app, for a down payment. You should also make sure you know the address of the property. Googling the address can confirm that the listing truly is an active rental. And listen to your instincts. Feeling pressure and anxiety, or second-guessing the landlord, is a sign it may be best to look elsewhere.

Finally, before you move, make sure to make a plan. Even if renters insurance isn’t mandatory, it’s a smart idea to obtain coverage: You’d be surprised at how much all your stuff costs when you add it all up and you’ll want to make sure it’s protected. Make sure you understand what the policy covers and how to make a claim. Update your address with bill providers, provide a mail forwarding address, and know the contact info of your management company or landlord. Moving can be stressful, but doing your due diligence can mean that the place you fell in love with online is absolutely perfect for you to move in for real.