Inspecting an apartment is no time to be polite. In fact, you should act like that snoopy neighbor everyone hates to have as a visitor. Keep in mind that you might soon find yourself living there, perhaps for a long time, so you need to make sure every little thing is up to par.
Above all else, these are the things you absolutely have to try out before agreeing to anything:
Stomp on the floors in every room. Really, you can tell a lot about the flooring this way. If it rattles or the downstairs neighbors start yelling at you to keep it down, think twice before agreeing to live in a place where you’ll likely have to tiptoe around and risk everybody knowing your business due to poor insulation, thin walls, and substandard infrastructure. If you have kids and the floors aren’t up to snuff, just walk away and end the tour right there.
No matter what the weather’s like outside, you should take the time to open every window in the apartments you tour, from the tiny one in the bathroom to the giant screen door on the porch or patio. Make sure that both screens and windows have good locks on them, and that they slide back and forth without any hiccups. Look for holes and tears in screens that may let in bugs. If applicable, ask the property manager if they also include child safety locks.
Closets, Cabinets, Shelves, and Drawers
While the closets, cabinets, shelves, and drawers may all present a good façade, you’ll still want to examine them closely for depth and spacing. You need a good linen closet to easily store thick terrycloth towels and blankets, after all, so this step is not one you want to skip. Drawers (especially in the kitchen and bedrooms) need enough depth to hold oversized utensils and bulky socks. Overhead space in closets is also essential to stowing seldom-used items such as sleeping bags, luggage, and holiday decorations. And if you’re an avid cook or baker, don’t forget about the space you’re going to need to house a food processor and/or stand mixer.
Doors and Locks
These are easy to overlook, but down the road you’ll find that a closet or bedroom door that doesn’t properly close can ruin your whole day. Avoid that all now by making sure all the doors, including screen doors and those on the cabinets and pantries, close easily and stay shut. Then check to see if all locks on the outside doors work well and that the main doors have deadbolts. If they are missing, kindly talk to your landlord about having them installed.
Faucets and Pipes
Turn on all the faucets in the apartment, including the kitchen and bathroom sinks, tubs, and showers. Check the water for clarity, good, solid pressure, and silent, leak-free pipes both above the counter and below the cabinets. Fill the tub with water to see if it leaks, and then make sure that it drains quickly.
While you’re checking out the plumbing, you should also take the time to lean down so you can closely inspect the floors around the tubs, toilet bowls, showers, and sinks for water damage. Look at the ceilings and walls with the same scrutiny, searching for cracks, stains, mold, and mildew, all of which are signs of leaks and often deeper damage. Whatever you decide to do after that, just remember that living with water damage can be a health hazard to your whole family — and fixing it can be a long and tedious process.
Nothing can be learned from merely looking at an electrical outlet. An easy way to check the ones in an apartment you’re touring is with a phone charger you happen to have on hand. You should also consider the placement of the outlets to make sure they’re convenient for your TV, coffee maker, and other appliances.
If the place comes with a stove and refrigerator, you absolutely have to check them. Turn up all the burners on the stove and crank up the oven to a high temperature (you can always verify the temperature with a $5 oven thermometer you keep in your pocket). If the refrigerator is turned off, turn it on and come back a few hours later or the next day to test its temperatures, too.
Laundry is many people’s worst nightmare, but when it comes to choosing a new home, it’s something that has to be addressed. You probably know if there’s a washer and dryer in the place because it makes for a huge selling point. If not, ask about the laundry room and inspect it for cleanliness, number of working machines, convenience to your particular unit, and price per load.
Overhead lights in living rooms are often overlooked since most people prefer the gentler illumination of floor and table lamps. However, you still need to know that big fixture in that area works, so turn it on for a few minutes to make sure it doesn’t flicker or fade. The same applies to closet, porch, garage, and cubby hole lights. Test them all so you know you can rely on having light wherever and whenever you need it.
You’ll probably make your first visit to a new apartment in the light of day, but to really get a good feel for its personality, you have to visit it in the early evening, on the weekend, and around midnight. What appears to be a nice, quiet, safe home when the sun is shining could turn into a loud, dangerous place when it goes down or everyone’s home for the weekend. For that reason alone, you’ll find that a few extra drive-bys are well worth your time.