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10 Tips on Finding an Apartment

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Last year, I moved out my parents house to my first apartment on my own.  When I was in law school, I lived with a roommate, but that was nothing compared to having a place to myself. I was now leasing square footage of freedom and responsibility.  At first, everything was great until I noticed things about my place that was not obvious when I did a walk-through (i.e. faulty mailbox…I didn’t get my mail for about 3 weeks, because my key couldn’t open the box and maintenance didn’t see it as a priority). So, here’s some tips on how to find the apartment of your dreams or move into a better one.

1.  Make a list of your needs & wants.

In order to do something successfully, you have to have a vision for it first.  Before you start searching for apartments, make a list of the amenities (i.e. washer & dryer) you know you absolutely need to be comfortable in your new space and the amenities you would like to have (i.e. pool), but can live without if the apartment complex doesn’t have it. This list will help you sort out the potentials from the absolute no-nos quickly, which is necessary, because the best apartments are usually the first ones to get rented.  As soon as, you figure out your priorities the better your search experience.

2. Research the location.

It is soooo important to research the location you want to move to. Don’t just search Google Maps to see how it looks on a great day. Drive by the area after work when most people are coming home and at night to see whether it looks safe and how quiet or busy it is.  Are your neighbors walking their dogs? Are the street lights working? How many cars are passing by that area?  Ask yourself important safety questions. One mistake I made was not researching the area well enough to discern the type of people living around me.  I quickly found out soon enough, when I had an issue with my neighbor smoking weed in his apartment, which led to the smoke coming through my vents. Ummm, yeah. Needless to say, after complaining to management and not getting any feedback, I moved out, as soon as, my lease was up.

Also, check the proximity of the location compare to the places you usually travel to. How close is it to work? church? school? hangout spots? the nearest train station?There was one apartment that I moved into that I loved! It was a three floor brownstone walk-up with character… hardwood flooring, stainless steel appliances, bay windows, but also 9 blocks away from the nearest train station.  I loved my apartment, but I never really wanted to leave, because it took an Israelite journey to get to places.

3. Look up reviews.

Look up reviews online, to see what comments tenants have of the place you are interested in.  Rodents don’t tend to come out during the day, which is the time most walk-throughs are conducted.  However, an angry tenant could write a review on how she hears rodents in the walls while trying to sleep at night. Or that guest parking is usually a hassle, and people’s cars tend to get towed often. Reviews give you insight and perspective of a place you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

4. Research the management company.

I soooo wish that I had received this advice before I moved into my last apartment.  Right before I moved-in, the management company transitioned into another.  Right before I moved-out it transitioned again into another.  The management company changed twice within a year. It certainly affected my experience, because the available amenities offered went downhill while there was an increase in fees. Fees that I didn’t bargain for when I initially signed my lease.  If there is a high turnover rate at the leasing office, and the person you usually gave your rent check to and built a relationship with has been replaced, that’s not a good sign.  Sometimes, there isn’t an incentive for management to take the tenants concerns seriously if a relationship hasn’t been built.

5. Find out the move-in fees.

First month’s rent isn’t the only fee you have to pay up-front.  Most apartment buildings require an application fee, security deposit, amenities fees, move-in day fee (to pad the elevators for furniture), etc. It’s important to get an understanding of how much everything will cost up-front, so you know how much money you need to bring with you to sign the lease.  Sometimes, moving during certain months that have low turnover rates, like winter (who wants to be lugging furniture in the snow?), can reduce your fees via specials, because the applicant pool is low. Check to see whether any specials can be applied to your monthly rent.  Also, find out how your rent should be paid. Most buildings don’t take cash and some charge an extra fee for using credit cards.  Check if utilities are included or separate, the extra $150 a month for utilities could make a different in your budget.  Lastly, a bonus to the fee game are referrals.  Some buildings will pay their tenants for referring an applicant.  If your friend lives in the building already, you guys can split the bonus. It’s a win/win situation for both.

6.  Both roommates (or more) are responsible for the entire rent payment. 

It seems logical that if two or more people are on the lease than each roommate is only responsible for their share of the rent. However, most landlords do not think that way.  Multiple people on the lease means multiple people are responsible for the entire rent amount.  So, if your overspending friend wants to get an apartment together, think three times about it.  You don’t want to be financially responsible for a person who is financially irresponsible.

7.  Read the lease.

I know, it seems obvious, but most people are so excited that they breeze through the lease without noticing hidden clauses.  It almost happened to me.  I was ready to sign my lease, because I had been eyeing this place for a long time, but a thorough reading uncovered amenity fees that were never brought up before. Graciously, I was able to negotiate my way out of paying, because I wasn’t informed and I wasn’t prepared to pay.

8.  Start buying necessities before you move.

This was one of my biggest mistakes.  I paid more attention to buying different candles and decorative items than the necessities like a can opener (you will be surprised how much you need this in the beginning), trash bags, shower curtains, etc.  A trip Target can fix this, but spending time in a long line on a Saturday may not be the best use of your time when you are trying to get into your groove and unpack. Especially, for a person who despises dislikes packing and unpacking. Once I’m in the mood, I like to do, as much as, I can before the unpacking inspiration leaves me.

9.  Ask if there is a pet fee.

If you have pets, you may have to pay for them to live with you. Some buildings don’t like pets at all. More so dogs and cats than goldfishes. So, if you do find one that allows you to keep your pet, understand how much that will cost you, if at all.

10. Ask whether you can paint.

Everyone may not be the next Nate Berkus, but having an apartment gives you the chance to express yourself and personality in a space that’s all yours.  One of the easiest ways to do that is by changing the wall color. Believe me, it can make a sterile looking dorm like-apartment look like an inviting chateau.  Ask if you can have the privileges to paint an accent wall or two. Most apartments will allow you to and would even paint it for you for a fee.  Just make sure you are aware that you might have to paint it back to the original color or it will be taken out of your security deposit.

What other tips do you have?

 

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