Renter's 101: Tips on finding the perfect apartment.

A guest blog by Ryan Geiger

So, you need to rent. And like most of us, need to find a place with an expedited timeline. Let’s be honest; nobody wants to visit hundreds of apartments. So to avoid picking a lemon, here are all the must-haves to really enjoy your next apartment.

Having rented several apartments in the past ten years of my life, I’ve had wonderful experiences with very responsive and understanding landlords. I’ve also had absolutely miserable nightmare-inducing experiences. I’ve had overbearing landlords, which show up unannounced – walking into my apartment while I’m in a bath towel. And currently, I have a landlord who seems to have forgetting the location to her own building. I’ve made a comprehensive checklist that I think everyone should follow in order to make sure nothing slips between the cracks, only to realize they’ve made a very bad mistake after the papers have been signed.

1. Realtors:

                                 I hate apartment realtors!

                                I hate apartment realtors!

They are a complete waste of time and money. They offer no assistance in any situation. They act like your big brother and mediator between you and your landlord and that you’ll always have someone on your side in case a situation arises. In actuality, they forget you exist the minute they cash your massive realtor fee check. They do nothing. They are worthless. Do whatever you can to stay clear of any apartment that has a realtor. They are simply out to make money. And it also tells you the landlord is extremely uninvolved and has zero interest in dealing with finding the right tenants. It’s pure laziness of their part. If they have no interest in finding good tenants, they certainly have no interest in their building, and will have little desire to make sure your apartment is in working order. Michelle Dean does some investigation on why the very concept of rental broking isn’t illegal here: http://www.theawl.com/2011/08/rental-brokers-are-useless

 

2. Neighborhood safety:

 "Lovely 4 bedroom apartment with garage and jacuzzi" No thanks.

"Lovely 4 bedroom apartment with garage and jacuzzi" No thanks.

When searching for an apartment online, they’re a lot of deals that are too good to be true. If they are big, recently renovated with all new appliances, or have great amenities, make sure to Google map the apartment. Chances are, it’s in a bad area. My wife and I saw several apartments one weekend without doing research on the neighborhood only to be practically too afraid to get out of the car, worried we’d find it on fire when we returned. You can find maps that show the dangerous areas of the city you’re looking to live in at http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/

 

3. Amenities:

Some people are willing to live without some things in order to have a great location or cheap rent. I understand that. I’ve been there. I too have sacrificed to have a great deal. Only to always, always regret it. Here are some major items you need to really enjoy your life.

 

1.     Location: Commuting sucks. No matter if it’s thirty minutes or two hours, nobody wants to do it. It can ruin your life, and suck away your precious free time. So try to find an apartment near a major mode of transportation. Whether that be a subway, bus stop, or highway, make your life easy by finding a place to live that allows you to access your work easy and quickly. My wife and I didn’t think a fifteen-minute walk to the train station would be such a bad idea! Great exercise, a chance to see the city! Then winter hit. Now we want to kill ourselves.  

 Schlepping your laundry 6 blocks will drain you, and your head.

Schlepping your laundry 6 blocks will drain you, and your head.

2.     Laundry: most apartments don’t have it. If you can’t find one that has laundry in the apartment or the building, find one where laundry is a minute walk away. Otherwise, stay away. Carrying your laundry weekly and wasting hours of your free time isn’t worth it. My wife and I have to drive 10 minutes to get to a nice laundry mat. It’s a miserable experience. Our last apartment was a house and they had machines in the basement. We said it was a deal breaker to not have laundry, and they gave us a key to do our laundry! 

3.     Heat: If you don’t control your own heat, you’re going to either constantly be cold or too hot. It’s going to be the tundra or hell. It’s a terrible feeling to have no power over your own comfort. If the apartment’s heat is controlled by another floor or the owner, that is a huge problem. We forced our current landlord to relocate the thermostat to the center of the building where we could all access it. It was in the basement, which made zero sense.

4.     Dishwasher: For most people, this is only a bonus, and it’s not expected. I haven’t lived with one since I moved away from my parents. And at first it washing dishes isn’t so bad. Being single and cleaning your own personal dishes is OK. But as soon as you have a family and start cooking, doing the dishes 3 times a day or for letting it pile till each night is soul crushing. I’m too tired after work to wash dishes. I need a machine to do it for me. Try to find an apartment with a dishwasher.

5.     S p a c e:  If you’re someone with very little personal items, by all means, find a small space. Studios are great for people with an obsession with cleanliness and no clutter. But for couples and families, having space is important. My wife and I don’t really even have an excess of items. We don’t go shopping, ever. But just needing two desks, and space for our clothes force us to need two bedrooms. The apartment will never feel clean if it’s overstuffed and spilling over with items.  Find something that fits your life. And no, I won’t recommend storage. That is a pointless expense.

                   Need a bigger apartment? Yes, yes you do.

                  Need a bigger apartment? Yes, yes you do.

 

4. Test EVERYTHING:

When you’re being shown an apartment, it may feel a bit weird, awkward, or rude to really go to town on the apartment, flushing the toilets, running the water, opening the windows, but trust me, TEST EVERYTHING. Let those feelings go. Because you’re going to regret it the day you move in. My wife and I did not inspect our current apartment enough. On move in day, we found our kitchen faucet was broken, leaking water all over the counter. We found all the blinds to be broken. We realized several electric outlets weren’t working. We learned our skylight leaked. Next apartment I’m considering renting, I’m going to bring a CSI kit and scan the place like it was a multiple homicide crime scene.

THE CHECKLIST:

  1. Run all the faucets in the house for several seconds. Make sure none of them leak. Make sure the water actually gets hot!
  2. Turn on all lights and try all light switches. Find a switch that isn’t working? Find out why.
  3. Run the shower to see the water pressure and showerhead quality. Watch how quickly the water drains.
  4. Open all windows. Make sure every window opens fully, isn't cracked, or has a broken latch.
  5. Open the fridge and do some inspecting. Light work? Is it cold? Making weird noises? Does the freezer work well?
  6. Check the oven – does the light work? Does it heat up? All the burners and buttons work? Does the onboard clock work? Is the oven CLEAN? You do not want an oven fire because of the last tenants burnt brownies caking the bottom.
  7. Open and close all the cabinets – are they secure and in working order?
  8. Check under the sink – any water damage or signs of leakage?
  9. Locks – usually the person showing the place opens the door – do the locks work? Are they new and in good shape?
  10. Test any banisters to make sure they're secure and safe.
  11. Does the toilet flush?

Random questions to ask:

Who handles snow removal?

When were the smoke detectors last replaced?

What type of heat is used?

When does the trash/recycle come?

Where is the mailbox?

If you walk into your possible next apartment with this list and everything passes with flying colors, you've struck gold. Sign the papers that day. Good luck!

Have other questions or things to check? Let me know in the comments!