Know what you want. Before you want it.
You think you like that apartment, but how do you know you’ll still love the place in a month or two? Before you sign that lease, there are a few things you should do first.
1. Drive to work and back from your apartment community. How many school zones will you go through? Is the morning traffic worse than the afternoon’s? How long will you be sitting at a standstill on the freeway? Are all of those traffic lights going to annoy you? Is there an easily-accessible coffee-of-your-choice location on the way to work? Can you turn into your apartment complex and get out of it easily, or will you be risking life and limb every morning/afternoon? If you’ll be taking public transportation, how’s the walk to the bus stop/train station? How many stops will your bus/train make before you get to work? How’s the walk from the stop to work? If you will walk or bike, are there ample sidewalks and bike paths?
2. Look at that apartment again. And maybe even again. Does it have enough closet space? Check out the appliances if they are included. Turn them on and see how noisy they are. Open the fridge. Does the door block your walkway? Does it hit the cabinets across from it? Same goes for the dishwasher. (Turn it on then go turn on the shower. How’s that water pressure?) Spend some time in the kitchen; move around as you would if you were cooking. Is the sink convenient to the stove? Can you fit your coffee pot and your toaster on the counter and still have enough space to prepare dinner? Is there a kitchen window? Can you fit more than one cook in the kitchen? Is there a pantry? If not, are there enough cabinets for dishes, food, etc? Are your appliances electric or gas? Where’s the smoke detector?
3. Speaking of electric and gas, are utilities included? If there’s no washer and dryer, is there one in the complex, or will you be schlepping your laundry to the coin place down the street?
4. Hang out in the apartment complex for a while. Come back at different times of the day. It may be very quiet when you visit at 10am, but what about at 5pm? 10pm? Check the noise inside/outside your apartment, but also the parking situation when everyone is home from work. Are there assigned spots? If so, how many per unit? If someone comes to visit, how far away will they have to park?
5. How far is it to the grocery store, bank, mall, or your favorite restaurant? Be sure your apartment fits your lifestyle – if you enjoy going to the gym, is there one nearby? If you prefer to jog, can you do so in the area safely? Is there a nearby park with a track? If you have children, where is their school, and how will they get there? If they take the bus, where is the stop?
6. Is there a balcony? Is it grill-friendly? Is there enough room for a few friends and outdoor furniture? What’s the view? Check the lock on the door and make sure it is secure. Is it a sliding door, and if so, does it have a screen for those spring breezes?
7. How is the lighting in your complex? Is the parking area well-lit? Will you feel safe coming home late at night?
8. Measure your furniture. Take those measurements -- and a tape measure -- with you. Will your furniture fit in the living space?
9. Notice your surroundings. What types of cars are parked in the lot? If your apartment community has a playground, how many kids are there? If there is a pool, check it out after school. Is it filled with rowdy teenagers? How old is the building? Do you have to worry about lead paint? Bugs? Smokers living below/next door? How’s the ventilation system? Is there central heat and air? Is the sprinkler/alarm system suitable? Do your windows open? Do your floorboards squeak? Are there enough electrical outlets? Is DSL available? Does your complex have Wi-Fi? A community garden? A dog park?
10. Be sure to ask if you can have a roommate or if you can sub-let your apartment. Ask if there is a penalty for breaking your lease. If so, how much? When is the rent due and what is their renewal policy? Does the complex recycle? Where is the garbage bin?
It’s easy to fall in love with a place – those high ceilings, that great view – but be sure to look closely at your potential new apartment and the neighborhood. It’s better to spend the time now than to move in and wonder, “Why didn’t I check that?”