Online apartment hunting has completely changed the game when it comes to looking for your perfect rental. No matter where you’re searching, it’s easy to whittle down results by your ideal location, bedroom count, amenities, fixtures, pet-friendliness, and more. But online apartment hunting comes with its own challenges. How do you know which apartment rental sites to trust? How can you be sure you get all the features you want? And more importantly, how can you avoid rental scams and fraudulent listings?
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
It’s important to reality check yourself about your budget and needs before you start shopping for your new apartment. This may seem like common sense, but just like shopping for clothes and cars, it’s easy to be dazzled and distracted at the variety of options laid before you. How much rent can you afford? Do you really need three bedrooms? Could you live with a ground floor apartment? These are just a few of the questions that require hard answers and set limits. After all, your budget is the foundation of your apartment search, because no matter how luxurious your amenities or upscale your furnishings, if you’re losing money or didn’t have your needs met, did you really find the perfect rental?
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MAKE A LIST OF YOUR MOST-WANTED FEATURES
This is the easiest place to start. Everyone wants the perfect apartment, but not everyone is willing to compromise on the ideal space they may already have their heart set on. Make a list, making sure to highlight the features and amenities you want most in your new apartment. Mark the ones you’d be willing to compromise on and the features that you just can’t live without.
Do you desperately want a pool, but could live without a fitness center? Maybe you’re sick of the local laundromat and want your next home to have an in-unit washer and dryer. These are all questions you’ll need to answer, and no query is too specific. This is your home we’re talking about!
PICK YOUR PERFECT LOCATION
Concerned about the commute to work from your new place? Want to be close to the city center, or the most convenient highway? By searching for an apartment online you can be sure that wherever you decide to live is in the ideal location to fit your lifestyle. Most apartment search sites offer a slew of convenient mapping tools that will let you calculate your commute time, explore nearby attractions, or even draw your own custom area to tailor the listings. This is especially useful in big cities and congested areas, where a half-mile can make your morning commute unbearable.
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LOOK FOR VERIFICATION
You’ve chosen a reputable listing site, and you’ve found what looks like a trustworthy listing, but there’s one more thing you should keep an eye out for during your online apartment search: verified listings. Most apartment rental sites signify known property management companies and owners, providing some much-needed peace of mind in today’s saturated rental market.
How do apartment companies verify their listings? This varies across listing sites, with some companies simply applying verified badges to listings from prominent property management companies or independent owners. At Apartments.com, our CoStar Verified badge is applied to listings that have been independently verified by one of our team members, meaning you can trust the validity and accuracy of the specifics of that listing.
LEARN HOW TO SPOT A SCAM
Rental scams are becoming an increasingly popular way for people to steal money and personal information in this age of online apartment shopping. The main goal of a rental scam is to secure a sum of money by way of a security deposit or first month’s rent and then disappear, leaving you high and dry and without a rental. Aside from looking for a verified listing marker, here are a few ways to spot a potentially fraudulent listing or rental scam.
You can’t meet the property manager or owner in person
This should be your first cause for concern. Any reputable landlord would want to meet a potential tenant to ensure they’re legitimate — the same should be expected of a property owner. While there is industry talk of remote locks that allow potential tenants to view a property on their own time, the vast majority of properties should still be shown by the landlord.
You’re asked to mail or wire money
Scammers want your money as quickly as they can get it, which is why most will try and convince you that you need to wire or mail them money before you sign anything. A legitimate landlord will never ask you to transfer money to an account, especially one that’s located abroad, and they should never ask you to wire money anywhere. Wire transfers can’t be recouped like credit card transactions.
Convincing scam artists will make up elaborate excuses, like they’re out of the country, or the unit is so in-demand that you need to put money up front to secure. Don’t be fooled; other than an application fee, no landlord should ask for money before a lease is signed.
A price that’s too good to be true
You know the saying, and the rental market is no different, even in the case of legitimate listings. Most people know the situation too well: you find what looks like the perfect apartment home, book a tour, and realize why the price was so competitive when you discover a run-down kitchen or a less-than-ideal location. Rental scams take this to another level. By posting a fraudulent listing at a price that’s way below market value, they generate incredible buzz and increase their chances of getting someone to fall for the dupe.
The best way to avoid this type of scenario is to know your desired area’s market value and rent trends, and to make an in-person appointment to view the property.
An eager landlord
Be wary if the landlord in question seems too urgent to rent their property. If they’re trying to get you to send money, sign a lease before a viewing, or just displaying some strange behavior during your interactions with them, it’s best to walk away.