When your search for an apartment, it’s easy to be swayed by the obvious things we all look for during an apartment hunt–cheap rent, big bedrooms, a great view and, if you live in a real concrete jungle, a roof deck. Finding an apartment with any one of these great features might tempt you to sign the lease as quickly as you can, before it gets snapped up by someone else. But before you sign anything, there are some things you should think about first. Here are five important apartment hunting tips that can help you make sure some trivial issues don’t turn into big problems.
1. Electrical Outlets: Former tenement buildings and single-family houses converted into apartments often share the same exasperating problem–a lack of electrical outlets. In some places, there may only be one outlet in the living room, and none in the smaller bedrooms! Problems are also common in apartments where one large bedroom has been converted into two rooms. If you live a Spartan lifestyle, you may be fine with one outlet in your bedroom. But be realistic–most of us use a lot of electrical appliances. Sarah, a 26-year-old medical resident, remembers her first college apartment, a rickety, Victorian house in Providence, Rhode Island that had been converted into four separate apartments. “I had one outlet in my room. I had to use my computer’s surge protector to plug in my lamp, stereo, alarm clock, laptop battery, television and cell phone charger. It wasn’t long before I blew a fuse.” Avoid this by keeping an eye out for the number of outlets in each room. A real shortage may indicate that other things are lacking too. How did Sarah resolve her outlet shortage? “My appliances had to take turns. When I had the TV on, I couldn’t dry my hair. And I moved all my chargers to the kitchen.”
2. The Size and Shape of the Doorways and Hallways: If you’re moving to your first apartment from a college dorm room, you may not have to worry about whether your furniture will actually fit into the apartment. But for those of us who have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, this is a real concern. Your first set of “real” furniture may never make it into the apartment. Molly, a 24-year-old grad student, was excited to move her first queen-size bed into her new apartment–a quaint, three-story walkup in Boston. The problem? “The box spring just didn’t fit up the stairs,” she says. “I considered taking a hammer to the wood frame, but that just seemed to defeat the whole purpose.” With the help of two strong friends and some industrial strength rope, the box spring finally made it into the apartment–through the window. To avoid problems like this in your next place, take the dimensions of your largest pieces of furniture and a tape measure to apartment visits. Ten minutes of measuring can save you a lot of strife on move-in day.
3. The Condition of the Lobby and Public Stairways: Don’t just pay attention to the condition of the apartment. The appearance of public areas is one of the best predictors of how responsible your landlord or management company is with repairs. If the apartment you are viewing has recently been converted from a rent-controlled unit to a market value unit, the landlord probably made repairs and painted. But how responsive will he be when you need repairs for a leaky ceiling four months from now? The lobby and stairwell–the apartment building’s no man’s land–should give you a good idea. Your best bet is to speak with other tenants in the building about their experiences. Of course, you may not be able to take their comments to heart if the landlord is showing you around.
4. Windows: There’s more to notice about the windows than whether they look out on a nice view. Look for whether the window actually seals out the outside air when the windows are shut. In newer apartments, this won’t be a problem. In older apartments the windows should have been replaced or repaired in recent years. It’s not just about staying warm in the winter. If you are responsible for utilities, a leaky window will make a big difference in your heating bill. John, a 45-year-old web designer, ran into another window-related problem when he moved into a converted loft in Brooklyn. “It wasn’t until I moved in that I realized all the windows had been painted shut. Even now, I can’t open most of them.”
5. The Neighbors: The people above, below and to the sides of your apartment will really make or break your experience there. If the man above you is a foot stamper, if an argumentative couple lives next door, or the kids downstairs throw loud parties, it won’t matter how great the place is. The rest of the building counts too. Annie, 32, lived in an apartment in Rochester, NY where a group of recent college grads hosted regular parties. “The problem wasn’t the noise,” she remembers. “The problem was that they propped the front door open so their friends could just walk in. I’d go to close it, but 20 minutes later it would be open again. Anyone could have walked in off the street.” The best way to avoid these situations is to speak to residents who live in the building– easier said than done–when the landlord is with you. If you really love the place, come back later in the week or get the number of a current tenant. They’ll be more than willing to be honest with you in a private conversation. Of course, on sites like ApartmentRatings.com, all sorts of information can turn up. Do your research now to save you rself from stress later.