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4 Things You Need to Keep in Mind While Touring Apartments Virtually

Model unit apartment with luxe velvet couch.

Desiree Burns Interiors

What was once considered the “new normal” isn’t so new anymore, as new guidelines and regulations continue to impact not only our day-to-day lives, but also major processes—like searching for a new apartment. With more and more tours being held virtually, you’ll want to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your apartment hunting experience, even if you’re visiting spaces from the comfort of your sofa.

What are the most important factors to keep in mind when exploring new apartments from home? We spoke with real estate agents and designers on what is most important to consider.

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Sights, Sounds, and Smells

Extremely sensitive to smoke? Require tons of natural light? “Ask your agent to point out anything negative that they see, hear, or smell,” Hilary Bubes, a real estate agent with Compass in Washington, D.C., says. “Although agents aren’t home inspectors, there are lots of things they can point out, such as extra loud footsteps from above or maybe a peculiar scent.”

And ask them to take a peek outside, too. “Most listings won't have shots of each window’s view,” Bubes adds. “Ask your agent to show you a view from each window so you know what you’ll be waking up to.”

On the topic of windows, you’ll want to gather a thorough understanding of the direction they face and how far they open, designer Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski notes. “To me, the ability to let fresh air into our rental apartment is so important," she says. "Ask your realtor to test the windows and see how easily and how far they open. Find out what direction your windows face and determine how that will affect sunlight in your space.”

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The Apartment's Layout

Living room layout.

Jenn Pablo Studio

Looking at a unit’s layout will provide you with tons of valuable information that will drastically inform your search.

“Floor plans are your best friend during a virtual tour,” Julie Upton, a Compass agent in the San Francisco Bay Area, says. “You can look at the scale of the home and the rooms and see if the bedrooms are tiny or the main living area may be narrow rather than a large, great room. Everyone has different wants and needs in a home, so get acquainted with floor plans and understand how to read them.”

And don’t base a decision solely off of pictures, which may lead to a false understanding of the space. “Things don’t always look as big in person as they do in photos,” Bubes notes. “Ask your agent to provide you with dimensions if a floor plan isn’t available—and don't forget to ask about the ceiling height.” 

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The Apartment's Surroundings

Given that we’re spending more time at home than ever, we’re extra attuned to our immediate neighborhoods and surroundings. You’ll want to ensure that your needs are met—whether you value being able to quickly run errands or appreciate living in a more secluded area.

“Ask your agent to give you a virtual tour of the street and neighborhood,” Bubes says. “Check the area out on Google Maps as well, as Street View can be incredibly helpful.”

You can also use your social media prowess to learn more about a possible future abode. “Put the location into Instagram and look at pictures that have been tagged with that location, building, neighborhood, or community to see what real life photos look like,” Holly Meyer Lucas, a Compass agent in South Florida, suggets. “Read the reviews from surrounding grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes to get a feel for the quality.”

If you’re fortunate enough to live nearby a prospective apartment, a little driveby won’t hurt. Upton notes that even though you can’t step foot in the property, you can try driving around the neighborhood, as it will say a lot about a home.

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The Aesthetics

Design enthusiasts will want to ensure that a space is fully equipped to satisfy their creative spirits. Designer Missy Stewart advises asking questions like can the walls be painted, can removable wallpaper be hung, and if the apartment can be shown with furniture in it.

Stewart notes, “You can get a much better idea of space when you tour a furnished apartment. Any space is so much more enjoyable when you can customize it to feel unique to you.”

That said, designer Maureen Stevens advises to “never be taken aback by cosmetic stuff, like bad paint jobs or awful furniture placement, as these are things that can be changed easily."