While most of today’s renters browse through online apartment listings when they need to find a new home, it is important that they take several precautions when doing so. Not only do apartment hunters need to remain aware of any red flags or potential scams when searching for online listings, but they should also keep their personal safety in mind. Therefore, it is important for apartment hunters to conduct plenty of research before signing a new lease, especially if they cannot view the building in person before they move in.
Moreover, even those who cannot physically walk through the apartment building before signing a lease may wish to work with a real estate agent, as the realtor may be able to take them on a virtual tour of the complex. While an apartment complex may seem decent in its online listing, viewing the building in person will help consumers to determine whether the complex is right for them. For more online apartment hunting tips, review the sections below.
Your Personal Checklist
Before you begin your online search for apartment listings, you may wish to create a personal checklist to help you find the perfect housing unit for you and your needs. Then, you can compare your personal checklist with any online listings that may you come across. For instance, you may wish to rent an apartment with laundry facilities, additional storage space, or free parking, but not all buildings provide tenants with these types of amenities.
While most checklists will vary from one tenant to the other, several factors to keep in mind as you search for an apartment include:
- Amenities, such as a gym, pool, community center, tennis court, or security system.
- Appliances, such a dishwasher, microwave, or garbage disposal.
- Laundry, including in-unit options or onsite facilities.
- Cable or internet, including the number of hookups you need.
- Outdoor space, such as a garden, balcony or courtyard.
- Flooring, such as carpet, tile or natural wood.
- Room dimensions, to ensure that the unit fits all your furniture.
- Heating and cooling costs, including the availability of natural light throughout the unit.
- Storage space, such as closets, storage units or attics.
- Parking, including your preference for street parking, an outdoor lot, or a garage.
- Security, such as indoor and outdoor cameras and secure entrances to the building.
After creating your checklist, keep it on you as you browse through online apartment listings, as this will help you to find a property that best fits your lifestyle and needs. Additionally, browsing through any photographs of the apartment unit and building can help you to determine whether the rental is right for you. If an online listing is incomplete, however, you may contact the listing agent to obtain additional information.
Additional Factors to Keep in Mind
In addition to the items on your personal checklist, you may also want to keep several other factors in mind as you browse through online apartment listings, as these factors may increase the amount of your rent. For instance, these additional considerations include:
- Whether the apartment building allows pets. If you wish to move into a rental unit with one or more pets, you will need to inquire about the building’s pet policy. Some landlords may charge an additional rental fee or deposit for tenants with pets, and you may need to follow an additional set of regulations depending on the animal’s size and breed.
- Whether your rent covers the cost of utilities. While some landlords may cover a portion of your utilities, you may be responsible for paying all utility costs. Before signing a lease, find out whether you or the landlord will cover the cost of your utilities, including your water, electricity, trash collection, and internet expenses.
- Whether the amount of your rent will increase each year. To avoid any surprises in the future, take the time to find out whether annual rent increases are common in your area. Looking at rental costs from the previous three years can help you to determine the average amount of the annual increase.
Safety Tips to Consider
Once you have your personal checklist, you can begin to dive deeper into the process of searching for a new apartment. While you will use your list to ensure that an apartment meets your wants and needs, you will also need to keep a lookout for any red flags, unreliable discounts, or housing scams. Any listing that appears to be too good to be true is usually a scam, but you can reduce your risk of falling victim to an online scam if you know what to look out for.
Moreover, some online scams may attempt to trick you into transferring a deposit over to them before you sign a lease or tour the building. In most cases, these scams may claim that you need to pay a deposit to secure your showing before they will mail you a set of keys. However, they will probably attempt to steal your money, as there are very few instances when you need to make a deposit before viewing an apartment. If you do need to submit an electronic deposit before signing a lease or viewing an apartment, take the time to ensure that the website is secure, verified, and offers you a full money-back guarantee.
Steps to Take Before Signing a Lease
Before signing a lease or reaching an agreement, it is important to keep several additional safety tips in mind, especially if you found the apartment listing online. These safety tips include:
- Verifying the name of the apartment’s contact person. If an online listing does not include a contact person, or if this information continues to change, it could be a sign of a scam. Therefore, it is important to obtain the name of the owner, agency, or real estate agent before reaching an agreement, signing a contract, or making a deposit on the apartment.
- Learning about the history of the apartment building. Before moving into a new apartment, it is important to obtain as much information as possible about the history of the building, including the year the complex was built. In some parts of the U.S., this public real estate information is available online at no charge.
- Obtaining a signed and written contract. Before moving into your new apartment, make sure you obtain a written agreement with the landlord’s signature, as doing so will provide you with legal protection in the future. In the event of a legal dispute, you may not be able to access your home without this written agreement.
If you cannot view your new apartment before moving in, it is important to inspect the unit thoroughly as soon as you are able. Then, notify the listing agent as soon as possible if you have any questions or concerns.
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