How to Spot a Great Apartment

Author: Alecia Pirulis


It’s quite a jungle out there. Before you venture out into the wild armed with your GPS, tablet and phone to find an apartment, take a moment to think about what you will face…pushy salespeople…contracts filled with incomprehensible legal jargon…frightening locations…maybe even (the horror) lack of closet space.

Okay, so searching for a new home isn’t exactly like traipsing through the wilderness, but it may begin to feel that way. How will you know when you’ve discovered the perfect place? There’s some that give you the vague and slightly ethereal, “you’ll just know” as an answer, but that isn’t very practical and frankly, that has never worked for me. So here, a cheat sheet on how to spot a great apartment:

____ It is in the perfect location. Whether the apartment is five minutes from your job, in the heart of downtown, or facing the lake (or ocean or mountains), or it’s in a quiet, rural location where you are free to relax and think, the definition of “perfect” is different for everyone. And it’s true: location really is everything.

____It is well-landscaped. An apartment community that is obviously well tended and cared-for bodes well for how quickly issues will be addressed. How a management team cares for a property is likely to translate into how they treat their residents and keep them happy – meaning you won’t be left with a broken garbage disposal for weeks on end, and the pool and other amenities are probably kept in good shape.

____People are out and about enjoying the community. Look for a place where amenities are put to use – are there people walking along the sidewalks and working out in the fitness center? If it is summertime and the pool is open, is it being utilized or does it look lonely and deserted? Are there residents in the clubhouse? You want a sense of community at your new home, so take a look around and notice the interactions of the residents – with each other, and the apartment staff.

____Can you park it? You want a community that has plenty of parking – for you as well as your guests. If the parking area is small and cramped, you may struggle with finding a place to park after work or helping your guests find a space. Also, is covered parking available? What about attached or detached garages?

____Is the complex pet-friendly? If you have a pet or might want a pet in the future, knowing if your potential community allows pets is very important. Be sure to ask up front about the pet policy – is there a pet deposit, pet rent or pet restrictions? If you don’t have a pet, don’t want pets and don’t want to be in an apartment that allows pets, this information is also pertinent to you – you might opt to skip the pet-friendly places if you find being around animals distressing.

____Will the apartment fit your lifestyle? If you love to cook, does the kitchen appeal to you? If you prefer mass transit, is there a train or bus station nearby? Do you work from home? If so, is there a space that can be used as an office? Does the apartment have free Wi-Fi? How’s the cell reception?

____If you’re looking for a top level unit, is there an elevator available for those times you don’t want to lug any heavy equipment up the stairs?

____Go back to the apartment community at night – is it well-lit? What about on-site security? Would you feel safe coming home late?

____See the light. Where are the windows? Is there a patio or balcony? You want plenty of natural light and a view.

____Storage! You want closets, perhaps a pantry, and plenty of cabinets in the kitchen.

____Does the apartment have washer and dryer hook-ups? Think about loading up your laundry and heading to the community laundry room a couple times per week. If you don’t mind – great! But if you do – perhaps this apartment isn’t right for you.

____Stop and listen! Just stand in the apartment and use your ears. Is the television across the hall blaring? Is the person overhead heavy-footed? Do you hear a lot of traffic noise? This will be your home, after all – make sure you can live with what surrounds you (and the noises they make).

____Test it out! Don’t be shy about looking in the oven, turning on the water in the shower (water pressure!), cranking up the air conditioner, and if the apartment is furnished, sitting on the couch. Look for anything that could be an issue (no water pressure, a small fridge, an outdated oven).

____Drive around the neighborhood! So, you love the apartment and it meets all of your requirements. That’s super! Now, go drive or walk around and see what’s available to you – the corner market, the gas station, the coffee shop – and check out traffic patterns.

____Make a list and take it with you. At the top of the list, put the name of the apartment complex. Make two columns: Pro and Con. Write down everything that falls under either “pro” or “con.” Do this for every apartment you look at. When you are ready to make a decision, use your lists to help you narrow it down. When you’ve narrowed the list down to two or three apartments, look at them again – only this time, take a friend or family member that you trust along and get their opinion (they will likely notice things you missed).

Pack up your gear. Put on your hiking boots (or tennis shoes) and don’t forget your compass (or GPS). It’s a jungle out there – but now you are ready to begin hunting for your great new apartment.