Better Apartment Searching: Five “Amenities” That Really Count

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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.

13 Responses to “Better Apartment Searching: Five “Amenities” That Really Count”

  1. January 14, 2008 at 3:18 am, Guest said:

    All that advice is very good, but I’d like to address number five, the issue of loud neighbors. In the last apartment I lived in, the ONLY reason I moved was because of the people above me. I am not exaggerating when tell you it often sounded like they were dropping bowling balls from the ceiling. The noise became so bad it even made vibrations I could feel while sitting on my sofa. I had to watch TV when home and could not read as the noise was infuriating. It gets even worse because the noise was present more than it wasn’t, and it sometimes started as early as 6am and occasionally didn’t stop until as late as 2am!
    When I went to speak to the tenants, the toddler (a little girl no older than 4) answered the door. Aside from the 4 year old answering the door for a stranger, the other child of maybe 1-2 years old was crawling on the floor in the background. After literally 5 minutes of trying to convey my desire to speak to a parent, a woman finally emerged from a room. Make sure you’ve noted that these two very small children were completely unsupervised, and even after the child answered the door no one came out for a full five minutes. When she did she didn’t speak English.
    I notified the apartment community and the property owners in writing with no success. I dealt with the horrendous noise for 6 more months and got out of there. I never heard from them again, including the fact that they never returned my security deposit OR sent a list of “damages” (which there were none).

    The moral to the story is this: don’t sign ANYTHING until you find out who lives above you.

    Reply

  2. January 16, 2008 at 8:46 pm, Guest said:

    I’m so happy I found this blog. 🙂 yay
    ~ First-time Renter

    Reply

  3. January 20, 2008 at 1:00 am, Guest said:

    My husband and I are having almost the exact same problem as the previous guest – Noisy neighbors. Ours are downstairs from us, and moved in about a year ago ( we had been living here 2 years, by then). They started out playing very loud music all the time, well into the late night. The two times that I went down on my own, and the one time that my husband went down, a child answered the door, and not a single time, any of those three times, did a parent appear at the door, though once I could hear one whispering to the child from behind the door in another language to which the child would turn his head and whisper back, before staring at me blank eyed.

    We did go to management, and filed a complaint, and the noise went away for about a week, and then started again, with less music and more thumping and stomping of feet. I have also called our over night security once, because at 10:45, it sounded like they were fighting quite loudly, and had been since about 9:30.

    I hate to move simply because of bad neighbors, but I also don’t want to be the one complaining to the management, all the time.

    Our moral – I’m biting my tongue, and we’re looking for a new place/saving for a house.

    Reply

  4. April 15, 2008 at 12:42 pm, Guest said:

    You could’ve called the POLICE, then! Some people are unreal & inconsiderate.There are basic rules for all tenants,no noise till 8:00 am & cut off time is 10:00PM, here in CALIF. Re: your slum landlord, you shoulda brought suit against him,with your basic right to peace & quiet,& the fact that since he refused to resolve it, you coulda sued him.Small claims court handles up to $5K,000.00 for your deposit,7 lack of refund. You can still do it! They waived the court fees in my case, as I’m low income,but if you have to pay,apx $25.00 the landlord is responsible for paying that fee as well. Go after him, that’s the only way,our rights will be protected, in the future. Don’t let them get away with it. Make them accountable! You paid on time & left it in good shape, so that matters.

    Reply

  5. April 25, 2008 at 9:08 pm, Guest said:

    Great advice! Especially the ones about the windows. My current apartment, all my windows face south and I have one facing east. BUT, it doesn’t open, it’s just a glass pane. Because of that, there is no cross-ventilation and it’s nearly impossible to cool the place down in the summer and it’s hard to get fresh air so sometimes you walk in to a very stuffy apartment.

    Reply

  6. May 20, 2008 at 2:24 am, Guest said:

    I moved into an apartment around oct.-nov. with two other roommates. Both of the roommates bailed on me leaving me alone in a 3 bedroom apartment. My landlord instead of legal actions decided to let the other two get out of their lease for $800. I could not afford to do that simply because I needed to live there in order to get to schoool. About a 2 months later he tells me that he wants to get 2 new tenants to fill the 2 empty rooms. The first tenant to move in seemed like a nice guy. Shortly after a new tenant moved in who also seemed like a nice guy. Tenant number one turned out to be a rager and parties every weekend, leaving the apartment trashed. He did not clean up after parties, most of the time i would leave the trash around for a few days and then when it became unbearable i would clean it up, this would continue after every weekend. The second, roommate is very polite, considerate, except,he does serious drugs and has friends over who also do drugs. Not something I’m too bothered by but just the fact that those drugs are inside me apartment bothered me. Close to the end of the year I became disgusted with cleaning up after people so every weekend I would commute home and sleep at my parents house. Every week I return to my apartment it would look more and more digusting, cleaning looked impossible. Now, its the end of the year and I refuse to pay my last months rent, the land lord has my deposit. I never signed any lease binding me to these two new roommates. So does this mean that i cannot be held accountable for the mess that they have made? Also does this also mean that my previous lease signed with my old roommates is void? What would you guys do? Also, is it a bad idea not to pay my last month’s rent because I heard my land lord could take legal actions, and I also heard that they usually win.

    I wish that I found this site before I rented a apartment…….

    Reply

  7. June 15, 2008 at 12:17 pm, Guest said:

    I hope it helps in the future to call the cops… We had a downstairs neighbor that was unbearable enough to leave, she fired a gun INSIDE HER APARTMENT and would walk around in her nightshirt within the building. I tried to reason with her, let her know that my husband and I should not have to do laundry with a half dressed stranger, but she ignored me and then just started “being busy” on the phone when she walked around naked. UGH. When she shot the gun I tried to call the police and they didn’t even show up. Oh, and by the way, FYI, my husband is from another country, and we are considerate tenents, and neighbors. It isn’t always the upstairs neighbors that cause issues. :

    Reply

  8. June 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm, Guest said:

    I lived in an older complex and there were two major problems. The first one was something I noticed when I inspected the apartment prior to moving in. On a wall in the livingroom next to the front door at the baseboard, looked as if it had had previous water damage. Even though this apartment was freshly painted, I could tell by the look of the sheetrock that it had sustained water damage. To make a long story short, there were severe leaks in the livingroom and when a company was hired to replace the sheetrock, it was discovered that there was mold behind it. For the entire 16 months I lived in that complex, I had sinus infections, one right after the other, never more than 2 weeks between them.

    The second problem was, I guess, the walls. The woman with whom my apartment shared a common wall was a chain smoker, and was home all the time since she did not have a job. When people would enter my apartment, the first question was, “who smokes in here?” My clean towels stunk, the clothes in my closet stunk, and the smell was so strong at night that I would wake up coughing. It had to be because the apartment was older, poor insulation, etc.

    Anyway, check out your apartment for leaks prior to signing a lease, and check out your neighbors as well. This particular neighbor had moved in after me, so it really didn’t make a difference. Just make sure that you check out the apartment you are renting, not one that has the same floor plan.

    Reply

  9. July 09, 2008 at 3:01 pm, Anonymous said:

    I noticed one thing while renting and that is make sure your locks work. I have a close friend that was unlucky enough to rent an older apartment which locks would come unlocked if you jiggled the door knob enough. After staying in that Apartment for a few months, his possessions were stolen. Ex-Tenants are suspected but are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law, lol. Well just thought I should mention it… Be safe, and Secure.

    Thanks,

    JoeJG

    Reply

  10. August 05, 2008 at 5:30 pm, Guest said:

    One additional thing to consider is not what you need now but what you will WANT during the term of your lease. For example, if you are a pet lover but currently don’t have one make sure you rent from a pet friendly community otherwise you will be unable to bring fido into your home.

    Some sites like apartmentfinder.com and apartmenthomeliving.com do a good job of asking you what you really want.

    Reply

  11. October 15, 2008 at 12:59 pm, Guest said:

    I am moving out of my parents house next year. I was searching the Internet, and I found an apartment that I really like. Obviously, I’m going to see the place and do some research on it, but I noticed that in the Web listing, the only utility included is trash pick up. Rent is $575 for a one bedroom apartment. Is this a rip-off? Usually, I see that most place will include heat or water in the rent? Should I look for a place that does that? Any other tips for a first-time renter? I’m afraid of unexpected fees and expenses.

    Reply

  12. January 18, 2009 at 10:17 am, Guest said:

    Is it acceptable to knock on the doors of neighbors when viewing an apt? I’ve had problems with noise in the past, and want to ensure my new apt is not a similar situation.

    Reply

  13. September 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm, Craig said:

    Completely appropriate, having had noisy neighbors myself I understand.
    Never expect that the Leasing Agent/Property Mgr. if ever going to be totally forthcoming.
    There is a reason why the aforementioned can be relied on to be perfectly honest, as I said at least 90% of the time these people have 2 jobs, 1 to lease apartments and 2 to manage them, they make a flat wage and earn a commission, granted their commission is token compared to Realestate agents but still better than an hourly wage alone.
    I digress, they will omit any facts that would discourage a would be tenant from renting the apartment.

    Reply

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