Are you facing the prospect of renting an apartment in a city you don’t live in yet? Renting a home without physically seeing it before you move in is not ideal, but it’s not impossible either. It just requires careful planning, the partnership of a good agent, and a willingness to trust photos and FaceTime video. Curbed spoke with Sydney Bennet, a senior research associate with Apartment List, and Janna Raskopf, an agent with Douglas Elliman, about how to stay on top of the game and not losing out on your perfect rental—even from afar.
Research the local market
Familiarize yourself with the market you’ll be renting in for a leg up. “The first thing that’s really important is thinking about what area you want to move to and honing in on that,” says Bennet. Talk to people who already live in the city of your choice and ask what neighborhoods they recommend. Then figure out what the rental process looks like there. Do listing become available months in advance, or do landlords wait to release them until the last minute? What standard amenities should you expect, and what might you expect to pay a premium for? “In markets like Dallas, where a lot of construction is new, you may be able to get a lot more amenities,” says Bennet. “But in older cities like San Francisco, it’s not common to have an apartment with a dishwasher.”
Raskopf, the Douglas Elliman agent, also suggests that you seek out local blogs and real estate websites (like Curbed) for up-to-date intel on the market. And, of course, scour online listings in the areas you are considering. By understanding the lay of the land as well as pricing in specific neighborhoods, you can rule out palces with asking rents above your budget.
Consider your commute
If you’re moving to a new city with a job lined up, you should consider your commute from the get-go. Bennet suggests asking the following questions: “What will the commute time be from any given neighborhood? Beyond miles and distances, what are the traffic dynamics during rush hour?”
Raskopf always makes it a point to ask renters about their commute expectations because knowing what they’re comfortable with “can almost create the search,” she says. Map the route from various neighborhoods to your future office space using a service like Google Maps, which will take into account walking, biking, driving, and public transit options.
Find a reliable agent
If you can’t be there in person for the apartment hunt, you’ll want to make sure you have a solid real estate agent to stand in your place. Referrals are always a safe bet, Raskopf says, but she also recommends “finding brokers with consistent listings in neighborhoods you’re interested in—because those will be the neighborhood experts.” A neighborhood-focused agent will be on top of their game when it comes to available inventory in that area. They can also provide accurate information regarding pricing, neighborhood amenities, and commute times.
Once you’ve found an agent you feel comfortable with, make sure that they’re willing to work for a client who can’t be physically available. For Raskopf’s remote clients, she sends them photos of prospective apartments and also takes them on video chat tours inside the apartment, through the building, and around the block.
Get all your documents in order
Once you’ve secured an agent, you’ll want find out what information landlords expect from prospective tenants. In competitive rental markets, that list might be long, so get these documents ready in advance and had them over to your agent as soon as you kick off your hunt. A complete renter’s profile may include pay stubs, credit checks, bank statements, and the like.
Research the building and landlord
Let’s say your broker has found a promising rental. There’s still research you can follow-up with online—head here to learn more about that process—to make sure you’re as informed as possible. Look up details about the building, including when it was built, how many units it holds, and what amenities are included. And if the building is owned by a large management company, you can usually find online reviews about the company. Smaller landlords may pop up in review sites like Rate My Landlord, Review My Landlord and Whose [sic] Your Landlord.
Be realistic about your apartment hunt
At the end of the day, when you can’t be present for your apartment hunt, there’s no guarantee that the search will go off without a hitch, so prepare to be flexible and willing to put a lot of trust in your agent’s judgment. And if a long-term rental solution isn’t working out, consider a short-term lease. Then once you’re in the new city, the search can begin again—in person.
Bennet notes that this arrangement can be the safest best when you arrive without a job—and don’t yet know what your commute will be like. “An interim apartment probably gives you the most flexibility,” Bennet says. “But of course moving twice isn’t fun.”