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It’s easy to fall in love with a place based on looks, location or price (depending on what you prioritize). I have to admit, out of the many places I’ve viewed in my rental repertoire, I’ve made plenty of snap judgments in my day. That being said, it’s important to separate love from lust.
Sadly, that is not so easy after a long day of apartment hunting, when the metaphorical beer goggles tend to go on.
Worn out and probably fairly frustrated, you may begin overlooking some basic criteria and jump at the first nice place you see. The best advice I can share with any apartment hunter in this situation is to stay alert. Splash some proverbial water on your face, and make sure to look under the hood.
Here is a quick hit list of items I always look for when sizing up a new place that will help you separate the deposit-worthy from the pretenders:
1. Common areas
Spend some time perusing the lobby, hallways, stairwell, elevator and outdoor areas (if applicable). Make sure everything is clean, maintained and well-lit. A rickety elevator or hallway filled with garbage is not a good sign of what’s to come.
Pinpoint the location and number of outlets in the space. Take a look through each room and make sure the outlets are not just present, but laid out in a way that’s functional and makes sense for you and your belongings. I’ve made the mistake of overlooking this feature, and had to make best friends with extension chords and duct tape for the rest of my lease term…not fun.
Check out the interiors of the microwave, fridge/freezer and, if you’re lucky enough to count this on the list of amenities, the dishwasher. The newer, the better – but it’s more important that you have a set of appliances that you can depend on to function. Don’t be an ageist either: I’ve had apartments with appliances that haven’t been touched in 20 years that worked far better than the brand-new, stainless steel variety.
4. Closet/Storage space
If you’re a clothes horse or happen to live with one, storage is going to be crucial. Make sure you have enough closet/storage space to house your own belongings – and if you’re a thoughtful roommate, those of your rental wing(wo)man as well. On my last move, I was moving in with someone else, and adequate closet space became an absolute must-have. However, when I was on my own, I was more than willing to forego proper storage for other amenities, and decided to become a bit creative by utilizing armoires and clothing racks instead.
5. Water pressure
This is, perhaps, the most overlooked item of all, and a checkpoint I cannot emphasize enough. Flush the toilet(s) and run the water in the kitchen, the bathroom(s), and most importantly – the shower. Confirm that this won’t be an issue for you in the future…trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
I overlooked this issue on my 2nd apartment, and had to deal with a temperamental toilet and weak showers for an entire year. It was a terrible situation, and one that I want to help other apartment renters avoid in the future. Who knows? Maybe I'll pick some rental karma points along the way.
6. Cable/Internet setup
Ask about the cable/internet provider. If you’re a nerd like me, this will top the list of important criteria (next to outlets for my laptop charger, of course). Maybe you’ll get lucky and snag FiOS. Regardless, make sure you can secure a reputable provider in the area.
7. Natural light
All the more reason to go apartment hunting on the weekend or your lunch hour! Take note of the amount of natural light that comes into the space (including the bedroom(s) and common areas) during the day. I don’t care how much you like Twilight and True Blood, no one wants to live in the dark.
My current apartment faces a bustling street, but the entire unit gets flooded with natural light. To me, this was an appropriate trade-off, and I’ve become fairly immune to the street noise below me (but hey, I’ve slept through major thunderstorms before).
This is probably one of the most difficult items to determine as noise levels can vary greatly depending on time of day, circumstances, etc. That being said, use your judgment. It’s always a good idea to swing by the space later at night to survey the situation again and in a different light (no pun intended).
If you’re not a heavy sleeper and your bedroom window faces a busy intersection, this could create a huge issue – unless you’re willing to splurge on soundproofing your windows (an excellent solution if you can afford the expense).
If your prospective apartment satisfies all of the above requirements, consider putting on some real beer goggles to celebrate.
Caren Maio is the CEO & Co-Founder of Nestio.com, a website that makes it easy for renters to collect and organize rental listings from any site. She currently lives downtown in a boutique elevator building that has ten coffee shops in a three-block radius (a feature she claims sealed the deal--but the washer-dryer didn't hurt either).
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