Thanks to seasonal work and my inclination to explore, I’ve resided at 12 addresses in the past 10 years. I’ve grown adept at evaluating options for apartments — it helps to narrow my options based on major factors such as location, cost, building amenities, appliances, and furnishings (if any).
But there are some often-overlooked dynamics that I’ve found helpful in my search, as well. Here are some of the most worthwhile and potentially impactful things to consider when you’re looking for an apartment.
A flexible lease helps if you aren’t sure how long you’ll stay in town. Find out the consequences of early lease termination or transferring the lease to a subletter. Termination fees may cost a month’s rent or more. If you think it’ll help, try to negotiate a shorter lease that you can extend as you go.
You’ll want peace of mind that your maintenance needs will be addressed quickly by a responsible landlord or superintendent. A few years back, I moved into an inexpensive place with notoriously lax maintenance. Sure enough, our heat stopped working in the winter and I had to follow up multiple times with the property manager. It was a cold 10 days before it got fixed, and by that time the pipes had frozen and we had no water running in the bathroom. But hey, at least my rent was cheap?
It’s important to know that inconveniences affecting your everyday life, such as leaking pipes or a broken shower, will be taken seriously and fixed right away. A few conversations with other building tenants should give you the real deal about landlord responsiveness on the premises.
You’ve probably already evaluated your potential apartment location based on factors like public transportation access, crime statistics, and convenience to your workplace. Make sure to also evaluate the location for its noise levels. After all, it impacts your sleep, which is crucial to your health and happiness.
Your potential apartment’s location next to the stairwell, for example, could mean you hear noisy footsteps and conversations when you’re trying to sleep. Notice whether the apartment faces a noisy main street or a quiet lane while you’re touring the building. If you’re in the United States, you can use this interactive map from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics to check the road and aviation noise levels around your prospective new address.
Natural light, windows, and view
The direction that your apartment faces influences the light that your room will receive. Sunlight is great for houseplants, and also if you love waking up to a cheery, sun-drenched bedroom in the morning. Check out this guide to understanding natural light levels as they relate to time of day and direction that windows face.
In addition to light, the direction your windows face will also dictate your view. Observe the view from the windows that you’ll be gazing out each day, and consider the impact of what you’re looking at. A living room window facing an alleyway will likely be less scenic, but quieter; a window facing a busy street could potentially mean the opposite.
Energy efficiency, average utilities bills, metering
Your apartment’s construction plays a role in energy efficiency and, therefore, your bills. I lived in an older building that had fairly inexpensive rent, but the heating and electricity costs were above average because of dated construction materials. On the other hand, an energy-efficient apartment building may balance its higher rental price with lower utilities cost. The leasing office may be able to speak to the general construction quality. But you may get a more honest assessment by speaking to the current tenants of your unit, or other residents of the building.
Apartments have different styles of utilities usage metering, as well. Some buildings split the total utilities usage in a multi-unit building equally among all tenants. Others may use sub-metering to measure and bill utilities according to each unit’s energy usage. Research the billing processes for your building and municipality to determine what building metering option would be most cost effective for you, should this be a priority in your search.
Obviously, there are many other potentially important factors that will be more directly tied to individual needs and personalities. So consider which smaller elements of your day-today life — your routine, habits, hobbies, etc. — could be most impacted by the details of your next living situation.
If you know you love to decorate, find out what restrictions your apartment places on modifications like painting or hanging shelving. Make sure that the parking costs for your vehicle are reasonable. That said, make sure your car will even fit in the garage or parking space, if these things are included. If security is important to you, consider the measures in place to prevent non-residents from entering your building. Or learn how the building’s mail system works so you don’t have to stress about losing your mail or packages to theft.
Keep in mind that the tips above are most useful if you’re trying to find the hidden “catch” in that ridiculously cheap apartment, or trying to evaluate whether the slightly pricier unit is worth the extra cost. But while they’re not “make or break” factors, each will influence your experience in your new home, maybe even significantly. And as you’re apartment shopping, they might just make your decision that much easier.