Apartment Searches: Lose the Rose-Colored Glasses First

Dan The Roommate Man

If youre getting ready to rent, dont do what this editor did once ... a long, long time ago.

Dont walk into the unit -- particularly if its not the same unit youre getting "Its pretty similar," youll be assured, but dont listen -- nod, and let that affordable rent lure you into blurting out, "Ill take it!" That exclamation is often fueled by that familiar lust for freedom that new twentysomething college graduates experience. The fear of another year under Moms and Dads roof is a powerful motivator, and suddenly, a box under the nearest bridge seems to offer an attractive ambiance when you tilt your head to just the right angle.

Ive learned a few things since then. For instance, if the leasing agent mentions that theyre considering replacing the carpet in your home-to-be, that means they dont have any plans to do so -- certainly not before you move in, and after youre there, well, its simply too much trouble to make the effort then. Its too late at that point; theyd have to move your furniture.

This isnt to say that property management companies universally are deceiving their tenants. Not true. Todays multifamily housing market is more competitive than ever, and complexes left and right are extending themselves in an attempt to provide the best services within their means. But thats due partly to the latest generation of consumers. Were educated, were inquisitive, and many of us are online. In short, were dangerous. If Complex A cant give us what we want, well cross the street to Complex B, or wait for the dust to settle on Complex C, which is still under construction. Of course, leases already are being signed on Complex C, even though the units arent finished. Thats the reality of todays apartment market.

Before you sign anything, walk in armed with a list of questions. Fire away, and dont be afraid to press for answers -- particularly if youre not getting straight answers. And if your prospective complex passes with flying colors, and you decide to become a resident there, hang onto your list. It will serve as a handy resource if your landlord or management company fails to live up to the claims initially made -- whether those be related to maintenance issues or various services.

You may want to consider doing a little investigative journalism, as well. Beyond straight Q&A with a leasing agent or landlord, take a look around the property in question, taking notes of what you observe. And talk to tenants; theyre perhaps the best resource of all, and nine times out of 10, theyre only too happy to talk. In addition, you may want to review your states sanitary code, which should then serve as a basis for comparison when youre checking out the conditions in an apartment.

Heres a list of questions, divided by category, that serves as a good starting point when you begin your apartment search:

Rent and fees:

  1. What is the monthly rent
  2. Is a security deposit required If so, how much is it, and under what conditions is it held
  3. Does the landlord require payment of last months rent in advance
  4. Do you pay extra and if so, how much for utilities, storage space, air conditioning, parking space, late payment of rent, etc.
  5. Does the lease indicate that the rent can be increased if real estate taxes are raised, the prices for sewer and water assessments are increased, or for any other reason

Facilities and services:

  1. Assess the maintenance services: Is there a resident superintendent Are maintenance hours restricted How is emergency service handled
  2. How is trash disposal handled Are facilities accessible Is recycling available
  3. Laundry facilities How many available Security
  4. Building lobby: Is it clean and well-lit Security
  5. Entrance and exit: elevator Are stairs well-lit Fire exits
  6. Hallways: Clean and well-lit

Rental unit conditions:

  1. Are there signs of insects present
  2. Bathrooms: clean Plumbing in good working order Tiles sound
  3. Kitchen: Is sink in good working order: Stove Refrigerator
  4. Air conditioning: good working order
  5. Wiring: Are there enough electrical outlets Is the wiring sound
  6. Does the heating system seem to be in good working order
  7. Is there a fireplace Check to see that it is clean and operates well.
  8. Windows Are any broken Do they all open Storm windows Screens Locks
  9. Floors: Are they clean
  10. Ceilings: Are they clean Cracked Water-stained
  11. Walls: Are they clean Is the plaster cracked Paint peeling
  12. Telephone: outlets present Convenient
  13. Is ventilation adequate Is there an exhaust fan in kitchen
  14. Lighting: Is it adequate Are fixtures in good working order
  15. Security: Does the door have a dead-bolt lock A security chain
  16. Storage space: Is it adequate Kitchen and bathroom cabinets
  17. What is the noise level in the area around the rental unit Traffic Neighbors

Source: The University of Massachusetts Commuter Services and Housing Resource Center

Throughout all of my apartment searches, the best lesson I learned came from a leasing agent who told me upon my first visit to his complex that "If you told me you were ready to sign a contract today, Id advise you not to. Look around. Come back at night, and see who your neighbors are going to be. A complex at night is very different from a complex during the day." Ive come to realize thats sound advice. Dont sign right away. Dont be scared into thinking that apartment wont be available tomorrow. Mull it over, do your homework, and get the answers you need before signing on the dotted line.

About The Author

Since 1989 Dan The Roommate Man has helped 1000s of people find roommates. Need help Contact him at 800-487-8050 or www.roommateexpress.com


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