Avoid Rental Scams Using GIS

“Five years after the start of the recession, South Carolina’s housing market is showing strong signs of recovery. According to the South Carolina Realtors Association,
sales are up 21% over this time last year.”WISTV, Columbia SC

The above would indicate that the supply for rental property is also going down, since owners who previously had to rent can now sell. That trend would tend to make rental property value increase and thus the search for deals more of a priority for renters. Prospective renters searching the internet inevitably end up on sites like Craigslist where both valid and bogus listings can be found. If you are looking for a place to rent and want to avoid scams , one of the tools at your disposal is GIS technology.  More counties are putting their GIS data online for you to use so check with your county to see if they provide tools to look at property information. This information typically includes owner information, aerials,  and tax records. Read below for tips to use when looking for rental property.

Verify Owner Information

When you see a listing ask for the owners name if they haven’t provided it, then using GIS resources like Florence Counties Online Pictometry, query the parcel and pull up the owner information. That information should also include a mailing address where the tax bill is sent. If you are being asked to send money, one red flag would be if the check isn’t going to the same address or person as listed on the tax records.

For Florence County go to https://pictometry.florenceco.org, select address from the drop down box on the top left of the screen and enter the address in the box to the right of that. Once the location is displayed on the screen, click the arrow beside the “Q” in the toolbar and check the entry for parcels. Click the “Q” and then the parcel where the house is located on the map to display the parcel information.

Verify Rental Information

Sometimes owners in an attempt to “sell” you on their property will exaggerate the square footage of the property, perhaps including a non-living space like a porch or garage in the square footage they advertise. Using GIS tools you can frequently take measurements of the property, or in the case of Florence GIS you can proceed from the owner information in the previous example by clicking on the Property Card link. This link will pull up all the tax record information Florence has on the property, including links to previous sales. On the property card you can find owner information, livable area (square footage), number of Bedrooms and Bathrooms, floors, and other information. So if your prospective landlord tells you they have a 1700 square foot house, you can look that up and see that they are indeed including the two car garage and it’s really just 1400 square feet. That’s a big difference and one they are certainly using to justify a rental price that is likely too high for that property.

Check out the area

GIS also provides you with a unique opportunity not available in the past. Using aerial and street level photography you can do a virtual tour of the property without leaving home. Often times you can overlay property lines on the aerials to get a feel for how large the yard will be. You can also see if the property is in the correct school district you need, whether the property backs up to a busy road and it’s accompanying noise, or if it’s near an unfavorable section of town all without leaving home. Street level photography as provided by Google street view can also help you in deciding on the right listing since you can get a street level image of the house or apartment to see what the conditions are on the ground. While you are on Google maps you can also check travel times to various places you’d likely be driving or walking using the tools available with that product.

Lastly, make certain you never exchange any money over the internet just to view the inside of the house or apartment. It may seem like common sense, but if at any time you are asked to send money (even if it’s refundable) before seeing the house don’t just walk away from the deal, run. It’s also a good idea to find if Realtor listings for the home are available as well and to contact a licensed Realtor before moving forward on any deals, no matter how tempting they may sound.

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