You almost always have to show them the place first to get them to agree to an application fee so you can run a credit check. I don't know of many people who would agree to fork over the $25-$30 application fee before they see the place. Unfortunately, wasting your time with no-shows is something that may happen and is just part of the whole ordeal.
As far as the application being returned by email/fax, I do all of this online and a lot of times just ask them to give a credit card, pay me via PayPal, or mail me a check. Once I get the money, I get instant results on them, so it doesn't take me longer than 5 minutes to look it over and confirm everything is good.