It’s common when searching for an apartment in a new city to get the ball rolling online. And for those under stringent shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions, even visiting an apartment across town is now off the table. This has led many brokerages and real estate companies to pivot to virtual open houses and tours. But how do you know if the ‘virtual’ apartment is a realistic version of what you would find in real life? You can gain reassurance in the fact that 92% of renters search for a new apartment online – it’s positively mainstream and gaining traction.
When you’re looking for an apartment before arrival, maybe you’re wondering if online viewing can constitute viewing in-person. Humans have become more globally mobile, resulting in more modernized and flexible rental processes. Properties online are now being seen by a global audience.
You may have come across listings with video tours, detailed photography and floor plans. Much like a candidate applying for a job remotely, communications with landlords and rental applicants start online. This means it’s not necessarily an advantage to be there in person. Typically, landlords target renters searching for an apartment online while living abroad. This can actually make a landlord’s life easier too. Without the hassle of scheduling viewings around current tenants, they have a wider pool of applicants and swifter access to electronic documentation. Tenant screenings and interviews can often be conducted online, as well as the actual signing of a lease.
A recent survey by Realtor.com found that 18% of Americans had changed their living situation as a result of the onset of COVID-19 and their latest data shows that over 30% of respondents would be confident (very willing or somewhat willing) in renting a home without having visited it in person.
The most sensible place to start searching is a reputable online listing site, like Zillow or Hotpads. They offer map-based searchers, handy statistics on local areas and feature verified listings. Classifieds like Craigslist are still one most visited sites for apartment searches. Craigslist has 60 million users, but with over 80 million ads, you can come across fake listings.
Social media is a place to shout out if you’re looking for a room or an apartment. This can often cut out a middleman and offer some reassurance via a friend. Facebook groups are also widely used as alternatives to traditional listings sites.
There is still an element of the unknown when it comes to viewing and signing up for an apartment before arrival. There are some specific indicators of what makes a listing more credible. To reflect the experience of viewing in person, the online listings offering the fullest picture should include:
The most realistic rental viewing videos should offer a walk-through of the apartment, highlighting deal-breakers, such as storage space, air-conditioning, or a well-equipped kitchen.
If you were viewing in real life, you’d see everything including the surrounding area. A video tour should include outdoor areas and provide well-lit footage, preferably in daylight.
The images that come with an online listing are often an indicator of the quality of the property. Low quality, grainy images of un-staged interiors are red flags to watch out for. Instead, stick to considering web listings with professional photography and watermarked images, to avoid being misled by a fake ad.
The real estate industry and its agents have adapted quickly to prohibitions on in-person open house visits by uploading a mix of virtual/3D tours, video tours, and even real-time FaceTime or video call visits. Video and virtual tours offer prospective renters extra detail over staged or edited photos, in that they can better understand spacial dimensions, apartment floorplans or orientations, wider window views and the interplay of natural sunlight.
Blueground, a real estate tech housing provider with a presence in 12 cities worldwide, started recording virtual and video tours prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Their detailed listing pages provide all the information for a seamless stay with select apartment listings including 3D tours. You can also get a full video walk-through for a curated list of their furnished apartments worldwide on their YouTube channel.
Even more valuable to browsers and interested tenants, since Blueground rents their homes fully-furnished, you’ll also get a true impression of the decor and furnishings as you should expect them on move-in day. On their Matterport virtual tours (look for the button hovering over the apartment listing’s header image), you can take your time exploring the apartment, zooming into high-res images to see the fine details, understand where the walk-in closet sits in relation to the en-suite bathroom and even take measurements!
If you’re now feeling more comfortable with assessing a property virtually, it’s wise to look out for some essential facts from afar, like:
You’ll also want the 411 on the location, a full picture of what your day-to-day life would be like. A map can give you a starting point to do your own homework on what kind of lifestyle the wider neighborhood offers. How well is the area serviced with public transport? How long would your commute be? Other information to gather can include local recreational amenities, local parks, or entertainment options – this, of course, comes down to personal preference. Do a Street View walk around the block to see if there are any unsightly or possible red flags in the area. Web listings covering these details are worth prioritizing as they save time assessing properties worth shortlisting.
Setting up a Skype, Hangouts or Facetime call with your potential landlord can give you a better indication of the future relationship. Sometimes fuller explanations to a query require a phone conversation. It’s important to feel at ease with your landlord. It’s also important to see that they respond in a timely and professional manner. Warning signs can be spotted in email correspondence. If you’re not receiving professional and polite written communications, this could bode badly for future maintenance requests or emergencies.
Conversely, a landlord with an excellent reputation and a great rental apartment won’t be sitting around waiting for you to call – you’ll be in competition with other renters. Establishing a personal connection with a landlord online ahead of time can help you secure your ideal apartment before you’ve arrived.
If you’re still uncomfortable about finding an apartment long-distance, there are some ways around it.
For peace of mind, get a second opinion from a contact or friend you have local to the area who can check the apartment in person. They can send back evidence with photos and videos. Viewing in person yourself may require (possibly expensive) last-minute travel. So it’s important you’re ready to act with all the documentation and funds required to place an offer. However, once you’ve viewed the property, you can see for yourself if the area and the property instinctively feel right for you.
Hiring an agent is a more targeted option, with someone working on your behalf to deliver your ideal apartment. An agent will be able to be your boots on the ground, checking apartments in person to verify what you’ve seen online. They’ll also be familiar with the professional jargon and will be able to spot anything that looks slightly off with the space or with the situation.
Alternatively, consider renting a fully-furnished apartment such as those offered by Blueground. Every property comes equipped, serviced and outfitted with the amenities necessary for guests to just show up and start living. For a minimum of one month stays, this real estate tech company is the mid to long-term perfect property solution.
The high-quality apartments also come with flexible lease terms, providing the option to move between apartments, areas or even cities – depending on availability. These turnkey type of rentals make it easy to settle in straight away and can be reserved online without visiting in person, with virtual tours and video tours available for select apartments.