How to not get scammed moving into a place you've never seen before

March 4 2013 | Guest post by Kess Lowing
God, I sure hope this place doesnt suck. (Photo by: isafmediaCC BY 2.0)
I'm an engineering student, and as such have moved quite a bit between co-ops, internships, and school. Because my moves happen three times a year and my moves are typically over 400 miles, I have never actually moved into an apartment that I've seen beforehand — and I've lived in seven different apartments/shared houses. I'll admit, I went through some pretty crappy living arrangements because of this, but I have gradually learned how to make this experience better.

Here are some things I've learned to do when moving in blind…

Get a short lease. There is just no way you can be 100% certain that an apartment isn't going to be a complete mess. I've found I can survive in sub-optimal conditions if I know it will end relatively soon. This allows you to search for better living quarters if you end up hating where you move.

Try to use more "reputable" websites. For example, I tend to look on university housing websites as I am a student. However, my one experience off of Craigslist went really well, so don't discount Craigslist — just be careful.

Take online reviews with a grain of salt, particularly if there are only a few reviews. Some people are just bad tenants and would be mad with the best landlord. Also, an absolute glowing review is a little suspicious as well if there's just one or two. Just remember that people do lie on the internet!

Ask people about the area. If you're moving for a job, ask your employer if they know of good places to check out. Also ask any friends/acquaintances if they know anything about the place you'll be moving.

Check out street view maps if they're available. For me, this allowed me to get a feel for the area I was moving into, as well as the surrounding places. You'll also have a better idea if you're right by a train track or near an abandoned building that looks suspicious.

Check crime stats. Don't rely on just the look/feel of the neighborhood based on the street view. I assumed once, and ended up in an area that looked quite nice, but was the nice neighborhood surrounded by more unsavory parts of town. Had I checked the crime stats, I would have realized that there was a much higher rate of robberies in that neighborhood and likely would not have had my house broken into three times.

See if there are any infestations in that area and ASK about them. Bedbugs are something you really, really, really don't want to deal with (take it from me)! If someone dodges the subject, you probably don't want to live there. Also ask a landlord how they would respond to an infestation of pests.

Ask what furniture will be there. In some instances, even if an apartment or house is listed as "unfurnished" things that people leave behind will remain (this is particularly true in college towns). Sometimes this can be a good or bad thing, it just depends on your individual preferences.

Ask for pictures of every room of the actual place you'll be living. This is a really, really good thing to do — it really helps with decoding the "legitness" of a listing. Just remember that things can look a lot better in photos than in reality.

Talk with your landlord and get a feel if they will be responsive/are legit. You should not just do this over email. Lies are much more difficult to fabricate in real time. If you're not particularly good at determining when someone is sounding insincere, ask a friend to sit in on the conversation. You're not only determining whether the listing is real or if facts that are being stated to you are the truth, you're also determining if the landlord will be responsive to things like plumbing issues or broken fridges.

If you'll be moving into a house or apartment with already present housemates or roommates, here are some questions I've found very good to ask. This certainly isn't an exhaustive list, but they are questions I learned to automatically ask.

  • Do you drink or use drugs?
  • What are your typical sleeping hours?
  • How tidy are you? How tidy do you need me to be?
  • Will I be given space in the common areas?
  • Do you mind if I have visitors?
  • How are utilities and shared expenses dealt with?
  • Do you have parties or people over? How often? How many?

Also stalk the heck out of your future roommates on the internet. Ask if they will friend you on Facebook. This is a great opportunity to see if you want to live with them and if they want to live with you.

Above all, trust your gut. Talk with friends about the various places you're considering moving into and see if they think they're a good idea. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

  1. Holy wow that's a lot of moving.
    And that's good to know, as I will be renting an apartment soon sight-unseen as I move back to the States right into the apartment. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. I work for a property management company and we typically don't rent to anyone that can't come look at the place first – because that is just a recipe for disaster! I would also suggest asking them for a video of the place if you are really serious about it – because it isn't good for either side to enter a situation where the tenant is unhappy with the property.

  3. This couldn't be more timely, as my partner and I are moving to another continent soon. Our plan is to start out with a short-term weekly lease and shop around once we get there, as we'll likely be in town for two years.

    • I know a lot of people are loathe to do that kind of thing (weekly lease) as it seems so expensive, but it's a whole lot cheaper and easier than trying to get out of a long lease.

  4. My husband and I moved from the UK to Canada, to an apartment sight unseen. Wow. Big mistake, the photos do no represent the apartment, its actually a 1bd and not a 2bd as advertised. The floor is coming away from the walls in some places, we had a bug and mouse infestation, the tiles are all broken and he just gave us a rug so we wouldn't cut our feet. Our neighbors in the same triplex have beautiful and largers apartments than us and are paying less. We truly believe it's a case of, oh you're an immigrant? Well I'm going to fleece you. Its been the crappiest place we've ever lived and has really strained our marriage. And yeah we have tried and cannot get out of the lease. Lease is up in 2 months, lets hope we survive til then!!

    • Personally, I would honestly try to seek legal help on that. It sounds awful, and it was misleading, and it sounds a bit unsafe, as well! Try not to let something as stupid as an awful environment strain your marriage too much until you can get away from it. Good luck!

  5. This is fantastic advice! I moved across the country for my job and got my apartment sight-unseen. The complex its self was nice, but the neighborhood was crap. Looking at the "street view" would have told me that before I showed up. Also, your future co-workers are truly a gold mine of information. They can steer you towards better neighborhoods and let you know if the advertised rent is a good deal or not.

    • Yes, I learned the hard way to make sure to check the crime stats. I thought I wouldn't mind as I grew up quite close to Detroit, but moving into the middle of a downtrodden area can be more than you bargain for.

  6. Another good idea is to get some type of agent to work on your behalf to find you something good. I am a Realtor and one of my specialties is working in leasing with people that are relocating to my city. We do everything for you, take pictures/video of the unit and neighborhood, work in your best interest and in the end my clients are so relieved that they didn't end up in a dump. In many states this is done at no cost to the tenant. Just as if you were buying find an agent you enjoy communicating with over phone/email/skype (yes I've done this) and be sure their agency is licensed and has placed many a happy renter. People don't seem to realize that this is a service real estate agencies offer. Trust me- have someone on your side, landlords and management companies just want you to lease their property, you need someone to advocate for you ESPECIALLY if you are never there in person.

    • Wow, I never realized this was an option! It would have saved me a whole lot of trouble moving to my first job out of college, where I didn't know ANYONE in the city, and didn't really have any contact with my co-workers until after I moved. Thanks for sharing!

    • To that end, you can look for rental properties, including apartments, at http://www.realtor.com , or the website of the realtor association of the area where you are intending to move to, and be reasonably assured that that the place is at least livable.

    • Oh man, I would have loved this! I think from now on, I'll use a Realtor as from now on I should be living in places for longer than 4 months, so overall, the cost would be low and manageable.

    • Another Meg here! My husband and I moved from Vancouver to Toronto over a year ago. His parents who are Realtors connected us with one of their Realtor friends. He was amazing! No cost to us (his fee was covered by the listing agent) and we found a great place to live once we arrived. I highly recommend it.

  7. I think there is one important point missing here…. NEVER NEVER pay advances.
    I just got scammed last week and lost 1400$ to the Nigeria Connection…..
    Also, google the email addresses and do the reverse picture search with BOTH google and TinEye.
    I am moving to the states for an internship next week and was looking on rooms or apartments on the internet. Most the stuff on roomster for example is crap and scam… it's incredible.

    • This!! I work in customer service and handle A LOT of money transfers and have seen this breed of scam a lot lately. Never pay to someone who says they are overseas/in another state/etc no matter how nice and helpful they seem to rent from! In addition to the picture and email search, if you are using a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union, tell the person on the other side of the desk what you're doing so they can let you know if the activity sounds like a scam…

      A bit off topic I know, but I'm surprisingly passionate about people keeping their own money!

  8. If you're moving into an apartment you can check out that Apartment Ratings site, which I've found is brutally honest. I considered an apartment, only to read reviews and find out it's the most dangerous apartment in town. A lot of the time people will back up their claim with newspaper articles, so it's worth it to read since looks can be deceiving. The people who live there know your potential-home better than anyone.

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