If your lease ends during the coronavirus pandemic—when shelter-in-place rules are in full effect in most states—finding a new rental can become much more complicated. You'll have to rely heavily on virtual tools like listing photos and 3D tours, but you'll also have to do more due diligence to ensure you cover all bases.
Photos and videos can provide an initial introduction to an apartment, says Caryl Berenato, a licensed associate real estate broker for Compass in New York.
A prerecorded virtual walk-through, she adds, “can answer a lot of questions you may have and provide fodder for those that hadn't occurred to you.”
Asking all the right questions is the next vital step in landing an awesome abode.
So what are the questions you should run by the landlord or property manager? Start taking notes. Here are the top queries that should be addressed before you sign a lease on a new rental.
1. Can you show me the apartment live?
Since you cannot tour the apartment in person, the next best thing is a live video tour that gets you up close and personal with your potential pad. You can request from the landlord or property manager a live virtual tour via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts.
“This will allow the potential renter to see the apartment finishes, any upgrades, the exact floor plan, color scheme, carpet, among other details,” says Amy Groff, senior vice president of industry operations, National Apartment Association.
You can also ask to see the property's grounds and outdoor spaces during the video tour.
2. Can you send me the floor plan?
If an apartment is already occupied and a live viewing is not possible, request a floor plan. This can give you a good idea of space and whether the apartment will suit your needs. You can also ask for the floor plans of other units in the building for comparison.
“People always want to know where the furniture fits, where the bed goes in the master bedroom, etc.,” says Berenato. “However, a good floor plan will answer many of those concerns.”
It’s also important to ask if there is an elevator in the building, especially if the apartment is on an upper floor.
“What is charming to someone (a fifth-floor walk-up, great exercise!) could be a deal breaker for another,” says Berenato.
3. What is the closet space like?
Most of us have a lot of stuff, so ample closet space is essential. We know your fancy kicks need a home too, so it’s best to inquire. Ask for the measurements of each closet and get photos, if possible, for a better idea of the closet layout.
Other questions Berenato recommends asking include: How many closets does the unit have, and are they customized? Could a closet be converted into a home office? Do you offer an option to rent additional storage space on the premises?
4. Where is the apartment located?
You’ve done a live virtual walk-through and seen photos, and everything looks good. But, as far as you know, the rental could be located farther away from shops or entertainment centers than you originally assumed when looking at a map. Get the deets!
“When moving to a new location, renters always want to know where the home is located in relation to services—schools, grocery stores, shops, places of worship, parks, transportation hubs, health services, and hospitals,” says Berenato. “You should ask where the home is in relation to the services that matter most to you.”
If you're charmed by the idea of being able to walk to a farmers' market on the weekends, or repelled by the thought of having to deal with school drop-off traffic in the morning, you'll want to ask about the surrounding neighborhood before it's too late.
5. How is the apartment situated?
OK, so you've found out that the apartment appears to be in a good location. But what does it look out on? The last thing you need is to stay awake all night because of a sign with flashing lights across the street.
Berenato say renters should ask what the views are from each room, whether it's a busy street, intersection, park, parking lot, or other buildings.
You should also ask about how many walls are shared with neighbors. Are any of your bedroom walls shared with a neighbor? That could be an important variable if you're a light sleeper or don't have a typical 9-to-5 schedule.
6. Would you live here?
You don’t want to move into just any old apartment. A good way to try to gauge the true value of a unit is to ask your future landlord or property manager whether they would be willing to take up residence themselves in the property.
Of course, there's no way to know whether they are truly being candid, but it doesn't hurt to ask. You'll want to do this by phone or FaceTime to get an unscripted response.
Find out what other renters think about living in the apartment building, too. You can find detailed (and brutally honest) answers to your questions through apartment reviews on websites like Yelp. Online reviews should of course be taken with a grain of salt, and should not be the only basis for your decision.
“Just as you would when making any major purchase—such as a vehicle, major electronic, or other expense—online reviews, photos, and social media platforms provide a wide array of perspective that should be considered before committing,” says Groff.
7. What is the price and lease terms?
This may be an obvious point to make, but you'll want to be absolutely clear on the price, lease terms, renter qualifications, and availability of the unit.
Also make sure to ask about deposits, parking spot fees, and any other extra fees. Find out whether or not the unit is rent-controlled and how much the landlords are legally allowed to increase your rent at the end of your contract.
“Asking questions to your leasing consultant is important, to ensure you fully understand the expectations of being a future resident in that specific community,” says Groff.
8. What about the moving process?
During the coronavirus pandemic, rules may vary between states about how the moving process will work—or if it is even allowed. Get on top of that, so that your move can progress smoothly.
“How will you pick up keys and sign the lease agreement?” says Groff. “Because of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, are there any restrictions on moving day, and can you hire a moving company if needed?”