Quick quiz: What does the typical apartment renter look like? Is it:
(A) Single adults who want to experience life in the city,
(B) College students striking out on their own for the first time, or
(C) Retired couples who decide to trade in the upkeep and headaches of home-ownership for the convenience and freedom of apartment living?
Of course, it’s all of the above. But another trend is bringing more and more families into the mix – those who have decided to forego the “American Dream” of a house with a picket fence and a big backyard in favor of apartment living. Whether due to budget or lifestyle, these families are moving into apartments in large numbers. According to a Real Estate Economy Watch report, households are choosing to rent instead of own in large numbers – so much so that some traditional single-family home builders are trying their hand at apartment development.
As a result, many apartment communities are becoming more child-friendly, with play areas and “tot lots” that rival local parks, fitness centers with play rooms, and even on-site daycare and after-school programs. When once upon a time it was difficult to find apartments in top-rated school districts, they are increasingly common. So, what should you look for as you search for an apartment for your family?
First, location is still everything. Do you want an apartment in the city, where you can walk to the local market – or even to work? Or do you prefer a suburban location with an easy commute? If you choose a city location, try to find a place near a park where you can take the kids to play. An apartment community in the suburbs may offer ample green space, so a nearby park isn’t a priority – but the location of schools and day care centers may be. Be sure to check traffic patterns, the location of bus stops, and sidewalks. The neighborhood is also important – is it family-friendly, with wide sidewalks and signs indicating children at play? Even if you love the apartment community, don’t rent in a neighborhood that looks uninviting or unsafe for children.
Next, make sure the apartment community is truly kid-friendly. For example, if the community has a swimming pool, check to make sure it has a locking gate – even if your child knows how to swim. The parking area can also be dangerous – look for a community that is set back from the parking area. Ensure that the playground is well-maintained and located safely away from the street and parking area.
Look for apartment communities with family-friendly floor plans – large, open living spaces or even split floor plans. Make sure the balcony meets current balcony railing safety codes. The basics require that a 4-inch-diameter sphere cannot pass through the opening in the guardrails up to a height of 34 inches, and from 34-42 inches above the floor, spaces should not be large enough for an 8-inch sphere to pass. The top of the guardrail should not be less than 42 inches in height (measured from the floor). When looking at an apartment, grip the railing and give it a tug – it shouldn’t wobble. Also – be sure you don’t place furniture or other items that a child could climb next to the railing, and never let children play unattended on balconies, high porches, or staircases. Be sure to check windows as well – low windows can be dangerous for children. Make sure the locks on the windows are either out-of-reach or child-proof. Try each and every lock – if you find one that doesn’t work properly, have it fixed before you move in.
Don’t worry that your kids will be somehow missing out by apartment living – they’re not! With a shorter commute from work and less square footage to clean and maintain, you’ll have more time to spend with family. You don’t have to spend weekends mowing the lawn and if something breaks, one phone call to maintenance and your part is done. You can spend time enjoying some terrific amenities, such as the swimming pool, game room, play area, and maybe even a movie theater room.
Of course, there are some downsides to apartment living with children – kids can be noisy, and situations with neighbors may arise. To combat this, try to find an apartment community with solid construction – and maybe even some soundproofing. Talk to your children about being respectful of the neighbors and to use “inside voices” – even in the hallways. Also, space will be tight and you may have to get creative with storage (especially if you have children sharing a bedroom). Keep clutter to a minimum and make sure each child has a quiet space of his or her own – even if it is just a small reading nook.