Tenants want to rent sight unseen

18 Replies

Hello.  I have some potential tenants that are interested in renting an apartment sight unseen above and beyond some pictures online.  They are from away.  Should this be considered a red flag even if they seem to fit all other screening criteria.   Just asking because I would probably never do this myself.  Thoughts?  Thanks in advance.  

Hi @Jeremy Dugal

I don't do sight unseen applications, but that's a personal preference. I like to interview people and get a feel for them before letting them in one of my units.

I'm firmly against it because why would someone want to live somewhere they've never seen? It means they are desperate for a place to live. And desperate people don't make good tenants. 

Just my two cents. 

Find out a little bit more about why they can't see a place before signing a lease. I rented an apartment sight unseen once, and I remember the same apprehension from the property manager. I was moving from out of state and wasn't able to make multiple trips just to go apartment hunting.  Check their references, get an honest feel for why they aren't looking at the place before hand and maybe give them a break if it checks out.

I would also recommend getting them to sign some sort of a sight unseen agreement. 

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RED FLAG!!!  We did this once and it was a huge mistake.  All we heard was complaints about the condition of the apartment, which was in perfect condition since is was just entirely rehabbed and they were the first to move in.  They actually stated they would not pay rent unless it was repainted and the brand new floor was replaced because the floor was too dark. Needless to say we denied the maintenance request, they did not pay and we evicted.  The actually told the judge that the apartment was not inhabitable due to dark floors.

Never. Never, NEVER!!

@Jeremy Dugal I also do not rent a unit sight unseen.   Alot of people use the internet to search for houses and apartments, but I just dont like the idea of someone showing up and not liking the place and wanting out of their lease.  There are lots more than just pictures to a place.

But I know that people rent apartments from complexes sight unseen, I even know people that have done that.  

I just dont except tenants that dont view the apartment or have someone for them view the apartment.

I just signed some tenants that are renting site unseen, but here's what we did: 1. a family member came to "scout" the place and did a facetime tour. 2. I spoke on the phone with them and made sure that they were going to be okay with renting a place without having seen it, and emphasized that they were taking a risk. 3. I put a provision in the lease that they were accepting the property AS IS, and put in a penalty of paying two months rent if they decided to move before the lease was up. 4. I checked the references (I know you should always do that), and the personal references were impeccable. 

I met the woman in person after the lease was signed and they gave the deposit and first months' rent. We'll see how it goes, but so far so good. 

Dig a little deeper into the back story. New job with stability? Moving back home with local friends/family support group? Put yourself in their shoes and look for reasons they might regret moving to your property or even your town. Good luck.

could also be a scam. 

most typical - I will rent your house, but I am out of area right now, I will send you a MO for way more than you need, could you please send the difference to my interior designer (via Western Union) who will then decorate the place per my taste.

watch out for the scammers

I have done this without problem several times. You have to do a super job of screening the applicants, verify everything, and provide essentially a "virtual" tour. It depends on where you are. If you are in a college town (like I am) or a military town, you are going to eventually end up doing this, especially if the market is tight. Smart people with money will lock in a place in a hot market, and if you are in a hot market and they don't like it, you either hold them to the lease or you let them out and get another tenant (it's a hot market). 

It also depends on where you are. I would be a lot more hesitant at renting sight unseen in a "tenant" friendly state than in my "landlord" friendly state of Tennessee. 

Also: we only take electronic payment on anything rented this way, one-way ACH. There's no scam that way, no money orders, no checks, etc. Everything else is signed electronically or signed & scanned.

If your rental unit is near a military base you may get active duty folks who will be coming from across the country.  We've done this before once or twice but, after being burned, now require that a friend/relative/co-worker, etc. view the property for the applicant first.

In our "burned" case this involved a young military couple come in from Kansas; I dealt mainly with the husband although both seemed excited that they would have a house close to the base when they came into my area.  They saw lots of pictures online and we exchanged many emails.

Within 10 minutes of getting here the wife suddenly became very picky;  she decided she didn't like "those people" in the neighborhood (the house is in a small subdivision with large lots; no body walks around outside so I'm not sure what "those people" she even saw), the appliances were too old, the counters were not granite, she didn't like the light fixtures.    It wasn't that the house was dirty but not "new" enough for her.

At that point I was livid as I had made the mistake of holding the house for these folks, getting the gas turned on my name for them and waiting an hour at the place for them to make it into my town.  I managed to be civil in wishing them well in finding a place more suited to their needs (when what I really wanted to tell them was "get the heck out of my house NOW!") and it was at that point my partner and I decided that in order to rent one of our places an applicant must either view it themselves or have someone else view it for them.


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An out of area tenant can temporarily "settle in" by getting accommodations via Airbnb for example, and that would allow them to look for housing in person. So be really careful with anybody who won't be looking in person. Do you have any other interested candidates for this rental? If you do, then don't wait on these people. It's not your job to solve their problem of being unable to look in person.

I've always used a walk-thru inspection report and it requires signatures.  You can't do that without being onsite.  Consequently - - application denied.

@Jeremy Dugal I know that there are some that see this as a red flag, but I have done this myself several times. (As a military member)

There could be a whole host of reasons that they are looking to rent, sight unseen. I personally did this during a long distance move, when I did not have the opportunity to take house hunting leave.  (Military is supposed to provide this to all members before a permanent change of station, but the reality is that it doesn't always happen)  I had to move my whole family from coast to coast with all of our things (and pets), without knowing that we had a place to live at the end of the move.  Which meant that I would have had to put my wife and kids up at a hotel while I checked into a new job.  Leaving my family the task of finding us another place to reside while I got to work.  This can be incredibly stressful to a mother of three in a brand new environment without family or other support system.  Anyway, I'm just saying that sometimes there are circumstances that would lead a military member to agree to rent a place sight-unseen.

Personally, I'd dig into it more and learn about why they would want to rent this way.  You may end-up turning down a perfectly qualified tenant out of fear.



I agree with those who said it may not be a red flag or scam. I run a property management company in a military town and have rented to soldiers sight unseen several times. But some have had a friend come check it out for them. I only got burned once (in the beginning) when a lady backed out of a beautiful house simply saying it was too big for her family. The house was listed as being 4100 sqft I was pissed but winded up renting to someone else within a week anyways and they have been great tenants. So what I do now with sight unseen deals is Explain to them that their security deposit of one months rent will be a non refundable deposit until they get here and see the house and move in. At that point it converts to a refundable deposit. Problem solved.

It is a risk, as with many aspects of this business. You must decide what level of risk you are willing to take. I personally do not rent to anyone moving from outside my area unless they are retired. 

I would never consider taking the added risk of renting to someone site unseen but I have never been desperate to find a renter. 

There are lots of reasons why people would want to find a place sight unseen, and many who wouldn't be able to use Airbnb. Case in point: A friend of mine has four children and was moving cross country. There was no way he could move everyone (and all their stuff), and have a family of six temporarily in an Airbnb. They didn't have the budget to pay their mortgage while looking for a place, either. They found a place to rent sight unseen, then rented out their home, and moved cross country. They figured if it didn't work out, they'd move when the lease was up. They absolutely LOVE their new place, and keep it neat and clean. It worked out for everyone (fortunately).

Originally posted by @Steve Babiak :

An out of area tenant can temporarily "settle in" by getting accommodations via Airbnb