If you're about to rent your first apartment, you've probably discovered the rental market can be extremely competitive, making it difficult to find a place that meets your needs and your budget. When looking for listings online, you might find something that seems perfect, but there is a danger in looking into listings that seem too good to be true. Here are a few ways you can recognize a real estate scam before someone takes off with your deposit or your rent money.
Owners Living Out Of State
Sometimes, when you contact an owner about an apartment for rent, they might respond by telling you they will not be able to meet your or show you the apartment because they don't live in the area. This is a red flag. But, when many legitimate landlords do reside in different states and cities, how can you know the real ones from the fakes?
- Real landlords have property managers. If someone rents out a property, but does not live close enough to care for it, they will need to hire someone local to cut the grass and handle emergency situations. Out-of-state owners should have no trouble directing you to the local manager of the property to answer your questions.
- Real owners have provisions in place to help prospective renters view the apartment. You should never sign on an apartment blindly. If you are moving to the area and cannot view the apartment in person, they should be able to send you clear pictures of the interior. Never sign a contract when all you can see is the outside and if the owner says they can't show the apartment to you. If you are not yet living in the area, ask friends to go and view the apartment for you, just to make sure it is real.
- Legitimate owners will provide contracts for you to sign before asking for money. Sometimes, when the rental market is very competitive, an owner might say they will send you a contract AFTER you send a deposit to "hold your spot." However, beyond an application fee, you are not obligated to pay any deposits on a property until you can view and sign the contract — which can be emailed or faxed.
Payment and Finances
Another warning sign for rental scams is in the method of payment. Some "owners" request prospective renters wire money for deposits. Wiring money is like sending cash — it is difficult to track and money transfers are usually done outside of banks. Bank transfers (between accounts) or electronic checks are safer ways to pay, as these can be tracked. An honest landlord usually will never request you wire money.
Also, never give out our personal information or banking information to a stranger — even a prospective landlord. If they ask for your Social Security number on the lease, simply write you will provide it if it is ever needed.
Language and Information
You can also spot a phony listing by looking at the language and information provided. Sometimes, words might be capitalized at the wrong places or the sentences might seem like they are not constructed properly.
Also, information on the property might be limited in false listings. Your landlord should be able to tell you about utility costs, the types of appliances, and when the apartment was built. Ask detailed questions about the property when you send your inquiry, and if the answers are vague or seem "off," its better to look elsewhere for your housing needs.
Rental scams are real and they can represent a significant problem for unsuspecting renters. Don't fall prey to dishonest real estate listings. If you are having trouble navigating the competitive rental word on your own, contact a rental real estate agent in your area, or look into tenant services to find safe places to rent.