Tips For Apartment Hunting in a Pandemic

apartment building

Finding an apartment is tough work. Throw in a global pandemic and it might seem downright impossible. But while apartment hunting in a pandemic might not be ideal, it’s also not as difficult as you might think. Crisis or not, leases continue to expire, and whether you’re moving because you have to or because you want to, the rental market remains alive and well in most localities—you’ll just have to adjust your expectations a bit for what the process will look like.

Going in with as much information as possible is ideal whenever you’re embarking on an apartment hunt. Here some tips to help guide you through the task of apartment hunting in a pandemic, including advice on avoiding virtual renting scams.

  1. Research, Then Search

    If you’re planning to stay in an area that you already know well you probably won’t have much research to do. But if you’re switching neighborhoods, zip codes, or states, you’ll want to learn as much as you can before you get into the specifics of your search. And whereas we’d normally suggest that you go visit and explore the area that you want to move into, that’s easier said than done in the age of the novel coronavirus.

    Social distancing necessitates that we stay in our homes as much as possible. As such, going out for a stroll or a drive in your desired neighborhood isn’t likely to give you a great idea of what it feels like to live there in “normal” times. So instead, turn to online platforms that can help fill you in on what an area is really like. Sites like Neighborhood Scout can help break down demographics, crime data, and commute information, whereas somewhere like Yelp will give you an idea of the bar and restaurant scene. Look at walk scores, bike scores, and transit scores too, and take a digital walk on Google Maps.

    All this research should help you piece together a pretty good virtual picture of what an area has to offer, and from there it will just come down to filling in the gaps. Speaking of which….

  2. Work With a Local Rental Agent

    If you take away only one tip about apartment hunting in a pandemic from this list, it should be probably be this one. Rental agents, like real estate agents who specialize in buying and selling, are a fantastic resource for when it comes to understanding and navigating a local market. And because they’re paid in referral fees when you sign a lease, it doesn’t cost you a single cent to work with one.

    It’s a rental agent’s job to know a locality’s rental market inside and out, including areas and buildings to consider and those to avoid. Let your agent know what you’re looking for and what your budget is, and they’ll provide you with a list of good options in return. It’s a lot more efficient than trying to narrow down your options yourself, and you won’t have to worry about wasting your time with rentals that aren’t a right fit.

  3. Take a Virtual Tour

    Landlords and management companies are just as eager to find renters as renters are to find apartments, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a virtual tour of a unit. This is different than a 3D tour that might be available on a listing, and gives you a chance to “walk through” the unit via video chat with a building manager or landlord and ask any questions that you might have. Treat it just as you would an in-person tour, and have your guide show you the insides of closets, answer questions about where you do your laundry and take out your trash, and even give you a peek at what your view would look like.

    The added benefit of a virtual tour is that it can help you weed out a sketchy situation. If someone isn’t willing to guide you through the space and answer your questions, there’s a chance they might not have access to the unit at all.

  4. Be Safe If Touring in Person

    Different states are at various degrees of lockdown, which means that depending on where you live it might still be common practice for potential tenants to go view apartments in person. If you feel comfortable doing so and believe it to be low risk for your circumstances (so if you are not sick or high risk and have not been exposed to anyone who is sick), then an in-person tour could be okay to do. However, you’ll still want to be sure to follow safety procedures.

    If touring in person, wear a mask and maintain physical distancing throughout the visit. Bring hand sanitizer and avoid touching common surfaces like light switches and doorknobs. Avoid touching your face as well until you have had a chance to properly wash your hands for a full 20 seconds after leaving. And if weather permits, consider asking the person giving you a tour to open up the windows in the unit prior to your arrival.

  5. Look Out For Rental Scams

    Rental scams attempt to take advantage of people who are renting sight unseen, so it makes sense that you’d want to be extra vigilant when you’re apartment hunting in a pandemic and likely not visiting properties in person before signing the lease. Working with a qualified local rental agent will be good protection about scams, but you should still be aware of the major red flags to look out for. These include:

    • If someone won’t show you a property virtually
    • If the price is too good to be true
    • If the listing has rampant grammatical and/or syntax errors
    • If the person you’re talking to is trying to rush the rental process
    • If they ask for your financial information
    • If they ask you to wire money
    • If they want you to pay in cash

    If any of these red flags pop up, your best bet is to walk away. Any reputable landlord or management company will put in the time to vet you as a tenant—and they won’t ask for a wire transfer of funds before they hand you the keys.

  6. Move Safely

    Check out our tips for moving during the coronavirus for insight on what you should be doing to stay safe during your move itself. Moving companies and rental truck companies are deemed essential and are continuing to operate in all states, with procedures put in place for protecting both employees and customers. Your safest bet, of course, is to move on your own, but that’s not always possible. If you do have to work with movers, physically distance during the process, wear your mask, and have your boxed packed and ready to go before they get to your home.

Apartment hunting during a pandemic might not be the situation that you thought you were signing up for when you took on your previous lease, but it doesn’t have to be super stressful. Thanks to technology, pretty much the entire process of renting an apartment can be done virtually, including signing the lease. (And speaking of the lease, make sure to ask the right questions before signing, since you’re locked in just as soundly with a digital signature.)

Stay safe, take your time, and get as much information as you need prior to committing. Before you know it, you’ll be settled into your new apartment and ready to explore your new neighborhood for real once we’re out on the other side of the pandemic.