What to Look for When Browsing Apartment Listings Online

For many people searching for a new home, the internet is the first place to look.

When searching for a new living space, however, looking at an apartment online is not the same as seeing it in person. While it can be difficult to really tell if an apartment has everything you are looking for when you visit, it can sometimes be impossible to get the answers you are looking for if you have not yet seen the unit in person.

Tips for Safe Online Apartment Searching

To make sure nothing is going unnoticed, you may want to make a personal checklist of what you are looking for with the right apartment listing online. While there are many considerations that will inevitably be unique to your situation, some checklist items apply to pretty much everyone.

Apartment hunters searching online should make sure to avoid any common scams, keep the apartment’s location in mind and find out as much information as possible about the apartment itself before taking the time to go and see it. Below are some suggestions for checklist items that you will not want to miss when searching for the perfect apartment online.

Searching for your next apartment online presents some unique problems you probably would not face if you were physically visiting the home. Be aware that if you cannot visit an apartment at all before signing a lease, it may be especially useful to work with a realtor who can visit the property for you and even give you a virtual walkthrough.

Here are some of the major issues you will want to keep in mind when browsing for apartments online:

  • Who is in charge? Every online apartment listing should clearly state who is renting the apartment, whether a broker, an agency or the unit’s owner. If you cannot decipher who you are dealing with for the apartment or your contact person keeps changing, it may be a sign of trouble. Sometimes, owners renting their own property will ask you to make an agreement without a contract. This is illegal and ill advised. If you make an agreement without legal validity and anything goes wrong, you may have no legal right to even access the apartment you called home.
  • Watch out for scams : Like so many other online industries, renting housing online carries the risk of getting involved in scams. The first red flag that a listing might be a scam is an offer that is too good to be true. Try to be realistic and ignore offers that seem to offer unrealistic discounts on a unit. If you contact someone about a listing and get a response with information that does not correspond to the listing you saw, it could also be a trap. In short, if things seem off, do not take the risk.
  • Do not transfer money : Stealing money from online renters by asking them to transfer money for an apartment that does not exist is one of the most common scams people face when renting online. Those who say that you must make a deposit to reserve your viewing so that they can mail you the keys or any other similarly unnecessary reason are probably trying to scam you. There are few instances of renting an apartment that actually require you to transfer any amount of money before seeing a unit or signing a lease. If renting through a trusted and verified third-party website, for example, make sure the site offers a money-back guarantee for any deposit or payment for a rent.
  • Check the building’s background : Especially if you are not going to get a chance to check out your new apartment before moving in, you will want to do some online research about the building’s history. Depending on where you live, you may be able to access public real estate information online for free. Check out when the apartment was built to get an idea of the building infrastructure and age-related issues. You can also usually find out if the building has withstood any fires or other disasters of if it has undergone any serious renovations.
  • Get everything in writing and signed : A mistake of many rookie apartment hunters is to come to a great agreement about a place with a new landlord, shake hands over the agreement and move in within a couple days. However, informal, un-written and un-notarized agreements like these offer the renter no legal protection against being removed from the home, getting necessary and timely repairs and much more.

What to Look for in Online Apartment Listings

Although some online apartment listings are often incomplete, are some factors you should consider when looking for a new home. If not initially available via the public listing, you may want to try to contact the person managing the listing to ask for these details. In some cases, you may be able to glean the information you are looking for from pictures of the available unit if not from the description itself. Depending on your circumstances, these are some of the apartment details you may want to look out for when searching for your next home online:

  • What are the building’s amenities? These may include a security system, pool, gym, community center, etc.
  • Are there laundry facilities? They could be on-site, in-unit or nonexistent.
  • What appliances are in the apartment? Appliances in the apartment could include a microwave dishwasher, kettle, garbage disposal, etc.
  • Is there cable or internet in each room? Depending on your needs, you may want to inquire about the number of cable or internet hookups available throughout the home.
  • Is there an outdoor space? This could include a courtyard, balcony, garden, terrace and more.
  • What types of flooring is in the apartment? There are several types of flooring possibilities, with the biggest difference being between carpeted and tiled or paneled floors. Make sure you know how to take care of whatever flooring is in the apartment.
  • What are the room dimensions? One of the worst things that could happen is that you sign a contract for an apartment only to realize after the fact that none of your furniture fits into your new space. Find out the precise room dimensions before coming to any final decisions to avoid this problem.
  • How is the natural lighting? For those of you concerned about natural lighting, as well as heating and cooling costs associated with windows, you may want to ask about the apartment’s availability of natural light.
  • Is there adequate storage space? The availability of storage space can vary from in-home spaces like closets to entire floors like attics and basements.
  • Is there a parking area? The importance of this question will have a lot to do with what city and area you move to. If you have a car, make sure to think about whether or not you will have access to a private parking space, street parking or something else.

Important Reminders for Negotiating Apartment Rentals Online

In addition to the apartment aspects mentioned above, you will most likely have to ask some additional questions that have to do with your rental agreement and associated fees. Here are a few more aspects of negotiating a rental agreement online that you should keep in mind:

  • Are pets allowed? If they are, your next question should be about their pet policy. Is there a limit to what type of pet you can bring? Is there a size limit? Will you be charged any additional fees via deposit or rent?
  • Are utilities included? In most cases, renter pay for utilities themselves. Sometimes, however, all or some utilities are included in the monthly rent. You may want to inquire about the bills for gas, trash collection, street cleaning, electricity, water, internet, etc. You should also inquire about how much the total utility bill averages every month to get a better idea of how much your total housing costs will end up being every month.
  • What is the average annual rent increase? Depending on where you live, there may be an established or variable average annual rent increase. If you are looking for a long-term lease, this can be particularly important. Try to find information on at least the last three years.
  • Are there proper security systems in place? This question will vary significantly based on where you live. You will want to know if the entrance to the building locks and if so, how it locks. You can inquire about security cameras inside and outside the building. Ask when the locks to your apartment were last changed. You may want put in a new lock just to be sure no old tenants with old keys have access to your apartment.

Once you have completed the apartment-selection process and have signed the lease, you will begin the process of moving in and settling into your new home. However, before you do this, be sure to give your apartment a thorough inspection, particularly if you were not able to visit the unit before moving in.

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