Invest Real Estate

What It’s Really Like to Find and Rent an Apartment During a Pandemic

Lara McCaffrey  |  May 21, 2020

The process of renting an apartment varies from landlord to landlord, but one thing remains the same: There are places available.

Real estate is widely considered an “essential business,” and professionals in the industry have continued apartment showings while the novel coronavirus pandemic rages on. However, renting an apartment is not business as usual, especially when it comes to the viewing and leasing process. 

Here’s what real estate pros and apartment hunters say you should expect if you’re looking for a place to rent.

Virtual tours are the new “open house”

Shovkat Mamedov, a RE/MAX 100 broker in New York City, has found that many potential tenants are unsatisfied with pre-recorded videos of apartments in lieu of in-person visits. To make the tour more personal, some agents are using FaceTime to show potential renters the space in real time to comply with social distancing recommendations.

Besides the bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and closets, James McGrath, a Yoreevo LLC broker also in New York City, recommends tenants ask the landlord or agent to show them views out the window during a video tour. “That’ll help you get your bearings straight as to where the apartment is in the building, and what’s outside,” he says. “Then you can walk by the building yourself and take a closer look to see if there’s anything nearby that concerns you, like a fire station or rowdy bar.”

Or solo self-tour the place

If you want to see a place in person, some realtors and leasing offices are willing to accommodate while also following physical distancing rules. Mamedov suggests after seeing the video tour if a client is still interested, they check out the place in person without an agent. In that instance, potential tenants will be given a lockbox code to enter the apartment on their own. 

Brenna O’Leary, an apartment hunter in Los Angeles, says she prefers getting a lockbox code from a property owner or manager and touring the apartment on her own. Although it’s less personal, she says there’s more freedom being able to self-tour and asking questions afterwards.

“We basically have the ability to rent a property from start to finish without ever meeting the client in person.”

In instances where the landlord lives in the building, there may be no avoiding in-person contact: She says it’s more common for an on-site landlord to want to meet those taking a tour.


In addition to lockbox and virtual tours, O’Leary has done some in-person tours. She’s been asked to wear a mask and gloves and keep a distance while visiting the space.

“It is an awkward exchange situation where you’re not going in shaking somebody’s hand or you’re standing across the room from each other,” O’Leary says.

Most of these showing processes have been easy to adapt to, O’Leary says, but she did run into a situation where the tenants occupying an apartment were uncomfortable with her visiting.

Rent breaks are a “maybe”

Mamedov from RE/MAX reports that although property sales are down, the rental market in New York City — a COVID-19 hotspot — is still alive and well. Translation: Landlords don’t want to reduce rents yet.

O’Leary found the same to be true at many places she looked in Los Angeles. However, when it came time to sign a lease, after the property manager checked her credit they offered a free month of rent if she paid three months of rent in advance.

Even if a rent break isn’t stated upfront, ask for a move-in deal or other financial accommodation, especially if you have good credit. (For more see our credit score explainer.)

Renting an apartment while unemployed

More than 80% of apartment households nationwide have made full or partial rent as of May 6, according to a rent-tracking report from the National Multifamily House Council. But the fallout from job losses is far from fully played out. Even with stellar credit, Mamedov has found some landlords hesitant to rent to unemployed tenants.

Alexandra Alvarado, from the American Apartment Owners Association, says landlords maybe more flexible with proof of income if tenants are honest about their situation. “Landlords are willing to help; we’ve seen that from our recent survey of 1,160 landlords that 80% are willing to defer rent for those who need it,” Alvarado says. 

Sealing the deal … virtually

Rob Carrillo, a Century 21 Haggerty property manager in El Paso, Texas, says once tenants are approved for a place, they can sign a lease, pay their security deposit and finalize the renting of their apartment, all  online. Renters can also hop on a Zoom call with a Century 21 team member if they’d like to be walked through the lease.

Once this is completed, tenants can fetch their keys from a lockbox on the property and begin moving in. “We basically have the ability to rent a property from start to finish without ever meeting the client in person,” says Carrillo.

Although the rest of Texas is pushing to re-open, Carrillo plans to continue social distancing apartment showings. El Paso is getting hit with a stream of positive COVID-19 cases daily, he says.

If finding a landlord or company like Century 21 Haggerty that pushes for social distancing policies is important to you, seek them out. Your health is important, just like finding the perfect home is. 

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