For buyers and renters alike, the New York City apartment hunt isn't exactly what you'd call intuitive. Navigating the world of bait-and-switch listings, unexpected fees, and lightning-fast competition, even veterans of the real estate game can use a little guidance from time to time.

Enter the experts at The Agency, a tech-savvy brokerage that makes user experience a top priority, letting you search the same listing database that professional agents use, and paying their agents bonuses based on client satisfaction. (The Agency also streamlines the search process by letting you work with a single agent for all of your prospective apartments, rather than firing off an email to a new stranger every time you come across a listing you like.)

In this week's Ask an Agent column, The Agency's agents tackle a common conundrum for renters  moving from another city (or renters who already live in NYC, but don't have time to run around looking at apartments).

Q. Does it ever work to rent an apartment sight unseen? If you really can't see a place in person, are there tricks to make sure--from afar--that you're getting a good deal?

“Yes, you can sometimes rent an apartment without seeing it in person, but it will depend on the particular unit and its management. Some leasing agents and landlords are uncomfortable with these situations, and will require a 'sight unseen waiver' to be signed along with the lease, which guarantees that you cannot back out of a lease if you do not like the apartment. Given the amount of money and time you are committing, however, I always recommend making your absolute strongest effort to visit first. Still, even if circumstances don't allow for you to be physically there, there are definitely ways to land a great place to call home.” - Hugo Monteiro

“Of course you can!  This is where having an agent is super helpful.  I ask long distance renters to begin by browsing apartments on the The Agency website and favoriting apartments they like.  That way, I can get a sense of your tastes and use those apartments as a benchmark for the types of places we'll look for.  Then, we'll go see the apartments together-- me in person, and you via FaceTime or Skype. You'll get a private virtual tour, and I’ll send floorplans and photos if available so you get the most thorough idea possible of every listing. Another thing I like to do in these situations is to invite one of your friends along with me. If you know and trust someone in New York City that might have similar tastes to you, you can send them along to see apartments with an agent to get a second set of eyes on your favorite listings. Having friends involved with the in-person search also helps confirm some of the opinion-based features that you are missing out on, such as noise level or even how the space feels. I do this all the time, and find great homes for people despite the obstacles!” - Amy McDonald


“I always recommend viewing apartments in person before renting. However, if circumstances force you to rent an apartment without seeing it firsthand, it can be done. You will really need to trust your broker if you plan on renting in this manner. Keep in mind that some co-brokers and/or management companies are not okay with tenants renting an apartment without seeing it, so you won't have as many options. Once a short list is put together by a broker, it is best to FaceTime or Skype with him/her while he/she walks through the various apartments. Some factors are lost over FaceTime (like noise levels, lights, water pressure, storage space, etc.) so it is important to ask about as many questions as possible. Make sure you ask your broker to “rate” the opinion-based stuff like, 'How many shoeboxes do you think could fit in the storage space above the hallway closet?' and 'If the shower is on, would you describe the water pressure as a gentle stream, coursing river,  a summer rain storm, or a tropical waterfall?' Again, full trust in your broker is necessary to rent in this fashion.”  - Chris Lee


“As long as the other agent is OK with showing it that way (if it is a co-broke situation) then I usually go in with FaceTime and walk you around while telling you what I see! Its like a private virtual tour. I just did this with a client from California and she is happily in her apartment on the Upper East Side now! Beware though, there are always things that are better experienced in person, like light and water pressure.” - Fred Meyers



“Renting an apartment sight unseen is like buying a car without test driving it. What's better than witnessing the roar of an engine, the smell of new leather, or marveling over the as advertised fuel efficiency, firsthand? A rental should be looked at as a relationship, not a marriage, and there should be a level of due diligence undertaken before you decide to call a place home. That said, due to a myriad of circumstances people renting in NYC sometimes can't physically present to oversee the search. An international student coming to the States for the first time, a professional with a rigorous travel schedule, whatever the case may be, it is important to have a knowledgeable and trustworthy broker on the ground. I’ll always take the time to thoroughly familiarize a remote client with market conditions and educate them as to just how far their money will go.  Although this proposition is not ideal, it is possible to find a perfect home for people in this situation.”  - Christopher Daish​


The Agency is a technology-enabled real estate brokerage that is the refreshingly simple way for New Yorkers to buy, sell and rent apartments. 

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