Home Housing Renting Renting an apartment sight unseen: the dos and don’ts
Last update on November 11, 2019

Many expats find that they must choose their new apartment without viewing it in person. Though renting an apartment sight unseen has been made easier thanks to the internet, it still requires careful consideration.

Expatica offers a few tips on how to rent an apartment sight unseen and how not to make those innocent mistakes.

Do plenty of research

With over 90 percent of people now conducting online searches to find new accommodations, real estate agents and housing platforms now need to put even more information online to market properties. If you are planning on moving without seeing apartments, you will be especially reliant on online information. Check apartment reviews if possible, and make a list of essential requirements. If you can’t find the information on the website, email or call to find out.

The rental market is around 35 percent of the overall market in France and 22 percent in Spain, so there is no shortage of apartments available.

Do not go it alone: use a trusted agency

The safest way to rent apartment without seeing it — unless you know and trust the property owner — is to make sure that the transaction goes through a licensed agency or secure online housing platform. If you are renting property in France, estate agents are known as agences immobilieres and should be members of a professional body such as FNAIM, SNPI or UNPI. If you’re renting in Spain, estate agents (inmobiliarias) should belong to the API or GIPE.

You can check for feedback on an agent online. If they have a social media page, this is a good place to look for comments or reviews. If you’re renting through someone without official licence or approval, keep an eye out for common rental scams: paying a large upfront fee immediately, being approved without a proper background or credit check, or feeling forced into renting the apartment — especially if the landlord or agent claims you do not need a lease.

If you don’t have a personal real estate agent, it’s important to make sure that the apartment or home you plan on renting is offered through a trusted housing provider. Online platforms offering expat housing arrangements are growing in popularity, but more is not always better. Do your own research on the platform to ensure that it partners only with the right agencies and the right properties — check that they list their partners on the site. Read reviews from other expats, ask for recommendations, or, best yet, simply give the provider a call.

Do not sign a permanent lease

No matter how much preparation you put into renting an apartment sight unseen, you can’t be guaranteed that you’ll be happy until you set foot in your home. To avoid being stuck with something unsuitable long-term, it may be wise to opt for something that offers mid-term arrangements, such as a one to six-month lease. Most standard tenancy agreements in France and Spain have a one-year minimum, but you should be able to find places that will offer terms of three to six months (or even shorter) without too much trouble.

If possible – and it is not too much of a risk — try to delay signing the tenancy agreement until you move in.

Do research the neighbourhood

In addition to not seeing your apartment first-hand, finding accommodation abroad unseen means that you won’t have a chance to look around the neighbourhood and decide whether it is right for you. Quality of accommodation only forms part of the criteria when moving, and wider issues such as transport links, local amenities and safety come into play, too.

Research information online: France, for example, publishes statistics and studies at the local authority level on the government’s website (available in French). You can also try asking other expats for inside information, or take a virtual tour of the neighbourhood on Google Maps.

Do not make unsecure or unreasonable payments

It’s likely that you will have to make payments for deposits or fees before moving into your new apartment. You might be permitted to delay paying the deposit until you have arrived and signed the agreement, but upfront agency fees are common in both Spain and France.

Be sure to ask for receipts for all transactions and, as with any online payment, use secure traceable means of payment such as an international bank transfer or credit card.