It’s a jungle out there. Before you venture into the wild armed with your maps, GPS, tablet, and cell phone, take a moment to think about what you will face … aggressive salespeople … contracts filled with incomprehensible legal jargon … frightening locations … maybe even (the horror) lack of closet space.
Okay, so searching for an apartment 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 for you? Some give 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 work, it is in the heart of downtown, or it is facing the lake (or ocean or mountains), or it is in a quiet, rural location where you can relax and think, the definition of “perfect” is different for everyone. And it is 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 your issues will be addressed. The care the management takes with their property is likely to translate into how much they care about keeping residents 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. Look for a place where amenities are put to use – are there people walking along the sidewalks and working out in the exercise room? If it is summer and the pool is open, is it being utilized or does it look lonely and deserted? Are there guests in the clubhouse? You want a sense of community, so take a look around and notice the interactions of the residents – with each other, and with the apartment staff.
* Can you park it? You want a community that has plenty of parking – for you as well as for 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 garages?
* Is the complex pet-friendly? If you have a pet or might want a pet in the future, knowing this 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 community that allows pets, this information is also pertinent to you – you might choose 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 phone reception?
* If you are looking at an upstairs unit, is there an elevator available for those times when you are carrying something heavy and you don’t want to tackle three flights of stairs?
* Go back to the apartment community at night – is it well-lit? Is there 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.
* 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.