With tough economic times and house prices plunging across the country, rental (apartment) living has become the norm for a number of people. Whether it is by choice or circumstance, apartment living has its own challenges and before you make the move here are some things to consider and tips to ensure that the move is as smooth possible. Having rented for the last 10 years I have seen the good and bad side of apartment living and my experience will hopefully save you some angst in the future when looking and selecting the best apartment for your needs.
Finding the right apartment
Start with a list of what you where you want to rent (location, schools, transport), what your minimum requirements for the apartment are (eg 2 bedroom, furnished), how much you can afford to pay in monthly rent (add 20% for utilities) and how long you want to rent for.
Once you have these key factors, go popular rental sites like Craigslist or Apartments.com to start your search. In smaller cities, look in your local newspaper to see what is available, though the trend is for most rental ads to now only be advertised online. Make sure you save your searches and request daily or weekly emails for your specified search results.
Once you have narrowed down the choices pay a visit to the apartment complex to get a sense of community and upkeep. Also, see if similar apartments nearby are available and how much they are going for. A simple call to the renting agent or landlord will get this figure for you. This gives you a baseline as to whether you are getting a good deal for your place or not.
Give your self time to find the right apartment. It can take time to find the right place at the right price. In tight rental markets it can take up to 3 months to find a place, so make sure you factor this time into your planning.
Now that you have chosen a place, the key thing is to ensure you get what you are paying for. Most people spend all their energy on finding an apartment, but not enough on actually making sure the place they are going to live in for the next year or so, is up to scratch. It is much easier (and cheaper) to get things fixed before you move in, as opposed to afterwards.
It is imperative to walk through your potential new apartment before you sign the lease or move in. Insist to the landlord that you see the actual apartment that you will be renting and not a model. If there are any items that need to be repaired or replaced, make sure the landlord does this before you move in. If there are many things wrong with the apartment, you might just want to pass no matter how good it looks from the outside.
Major things to look for during your inspection:
– Sufficient safety features, including smoke detectors and fire extinguishers should be in place. Look inside the apartment as well as in the hallways and in other common areas.
– Check out faucets, toilets and the pipes under kitchen cabinets for potential leaks in plumbing. Look for water marks or the like, which show past water/leak damage.
– Check the water pressure in the unit. Also check the hot water temperature. Turn on the water in the shower when you walk into the unit and see how long it takes to get hot. Keep the shower on while you complete the rest of your walk through. The temperature should remain comfortable by the time you leave the unit. If the water is cold by the time that you leave, there’s good chance that you could run out of hot water in the mornings. It also signals there is something wrong with the hot water system (very expensive and problematic to replace, especially in winter).
– Check the water heater and furnace to make sure they are free of rust. Look for rocks, stones or other debris on the outside of the heater or furnace. This debris or chipping may indicate leaks. These leaks could possibly indicate carbon monoxide problems.
– Make sure that all appliances in the unit work properly and are not damaged. If there is not a washer or dryer in the unit, ask to see the common laundry area. Make sure the common area is well maintained and is well lit. Make sure that access to the common laundry area is limited to residents only.
– Look for any evidence of insects or rodents, both on the floor in visible areas as well as inside cabinets, drawers and closets.
– Run your hand along the outside of the window to check for drafts. You could end up paying up to 50% in heating or cooling costs if the windows do not provide sufficient seals.
– Look up at the ceiling and walls for any water damage, peeling paint or wallpaper. This may indicate either a water leak from or very careless upstairs neighbors. If there is discoloration, it may be a sign of mold.
– Locks should be sturdy and not wobbly. Make sure all copies of the keys you get (at least 2) can open all the relevant locks. Here are some frugal ways to keep your apartment safe after you move in.
– Doors should open and close easily and fit well within the door frame. The hinges should be sturdy. This is of superior importance when inspecting doors that lead to the outside. The apartment should have a deadbolt on all outside doors.
– Turn off and on all lighting inside the apartment to check for electrical shortages.
– Check cell phone reception. A lot of apartment dwellers are doing away with land line phones to save money and thanks to unlimited cell phone calling packages. Check you get reception for your network. Also ensure the apartment has a working Internet connection/access.
Don’t rush through your inspection of your potential new apartment. Be thorough and take your time. If possible try and inspect it at different times of the day to get a sense of noise, community and safety. After all, it will be your home for at least the next year, so make sure you choose a place that you know you’ll be happy with.