Virtual apartment and condo tours have been quietly resting in the background since their inception. And while the 360-degree overview they offer does give a good general overview of most units, most prospective tenants prefer to check them out in person before signing a lease. Unfortunately for us all, the coronavirus pandemic has all but eliminated that option as stay-at-home measures to prevent the spread of the disease remain in effect.
Many virtual tours focus on rooms and amenities from a “social distancing” perspective. That may have been fine when it was just a part of the usual apartment/condo shopping experience, but now that it’s our only option, it’s more important than ever before to get additional assurances that you’re actually getting what you see.
Beware of Misleading Photos and Videos
The most common con of renting a place without actually visiting it in person is the bait-and-switch scheme. You are shown interior and exterior views of a nice unit, but when you sign the lease and get the keys, you learn that nothing is the same as the photos depicted. Other scams are similar, with damage, mold, unfinished trims, and closets going unrevealed in not only the still shots in renters’ guides, but also in online portfolios and virtual tours.
More than anything else, you’ll need to be prepared to spend a lot more time researching a place than you would have a few months ago. Just be patient and keep on persevering, and you’ll find that you’re able to secure a nice, new home even in these trying times.
Compile a List of Questions
Whether you manage to secure a personal virtual tour via an app like Zoom or FaceTime or have to settle for a general video tour on the apartment’s website, it’s always important to ask questions. Just imagine you’re at the property with the agent, and jot down every question you might have for them so you remember to hit all the important issues. Nothing is unacceptable to ask when you’re investing in a home.
Start with the overall quality of the tour. It should clearly show multiple views of every room, including closets, hallways, and built-in shelving units. Views out of every window are also important so you don’t discover too late that the lot next door is full of debris or facing a wall marred by graffiti.
Overhead lights are frequently overlooked in virtual videos. After all, it’s important to know if lamps are going to be your only source of light after you move in. You’ll also need to make sure you can see all angles of the bathroom fixtures so you’re assured that things like the sink and toilet roll holder are accessible when the bathroom door is closed. Ask for close-ups of the bathroom ceiling to make sure it’s free of mold.
Request a full view of all kitchen cabinets, both upper and lower. If there’s a pantry, ask for a shot of the interior. Last but certainly not least, confirm what kitchen appliances are included in your rental. Many times, pictures will show high-end stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers that are not included with the unit.
Double-Check All Information and Get It in Writing
With each new virtual tour you take, you’ll want to confirm by email that the apartment in the video matches the address of your inquiry, and that the email address matches the one listed on their website. Even if they’ve already described the details of the property in a conversation, ask them to email you the same information so everything matches.
Make Sure Your Lease is Protective
When you lease a home in person, you have the advantage of testing out all the small stuff. Since you must forfeit that option with virtual apartment tours, it’s up to you to cover all those details in your lease. Think of everything you’d test, make a list, and make sure any agreement you might sign stipulates that if these things are missing or faulty, they will be supplied or replaced by the leasing company at absolutely no cost to you.
Common items you’d inspect in person include working outlets, light switches and fixtures, locks and deadbolts on doors and windows (including screen doors), water pressure in the kitchen, bathroom, and any outside faucets, availability of hot and cold water in the kitchen and bathroom, heaters and air conditioning systems, on-site water heaters, and security systems.
While it’s impossible to protect yourself from every snag in a new apartment, following these tips will at least make sure you’re getting the most complete view possible in these trying times.