Apartment-seeking advice sought

My cousin, whom I am currently leeching off of, decided it’s time to find a new apartment. She has given me the responsibility to do the primary reconnaissance.

We have a good idea of which neighborhoods would be ideal, collected the weekly newspapers and crossed out the ads which want too much money. I’ve got phone numbers and I’m about ready to make calls to set up appointments to look at the apartments.

What should I look for? If you’ve done this before, how does it work? What questions should I ask? Is the rent rate quoted in the paper negotiable? Is it negotiable if there wasn’t one quoted?

The only thing I know about floorplans is that the triangle between the kitchen sink, stove, and refrigerator should be small. Since we’re looking harder at apartments without a fridge or stove, this does me no good at all.

Any and all advice is welcomed.

What? You’re not planning to eat?

I looked for washer/dryer hookups - I hate laundry-mats. Ask about whether the utilities are included in the rent price or if they’re extra. If they’re extra, ask what they usually run for type of unit.

What are the up-front costs - do they require first & last month’s rent before move-in day? What flexibility do you have in rent due dates (compare against your pay dates)?

I use the quality of the cars in the parking lot to judge the quality of my neighbors. I know it’s lame. A lot full of junkers is probably an indicator of future problems.

I also ask if they accept section 8 residents - Gov’t subsidized rent - again I find that an indicator of future problems.

$.02 - B

Color me confused about the “fridge/stove” thing, how are you going to eat?

Check all the appliances and faucets/drains to ensure they all work properly. Most respectable landlords will fix things before you move in. Also check all the light fixtures.

Ask about up front deposit, and move in/out costs. Do you pay for a carpet steam cleaning when you move out? If so, you expect the carpet to be cleaned before you move in.

If you already have some furniture, make sure it will all fit well in the new place. There’s nothing quite like having no place to put the couch.

Feel free to negotiate, but don’t expect much. Generally, places tend to go for the prices listed, though that can vary on your location a great deal. In my area, rentals don’t sit vacant for long, so they don’t negotiate on price very much.

If you’re in a hot area, be prepared to make a decision quick, otherwise the apartment could be snatched out from under you. Basically, if you’re going out to just get the lay of the land, that’s cool, but if you’re looking in earnest, don’t be afraid to take the first place, if it meets your needs.

Arrive early and talk to as many residents as possible to try to get a feel for the place if you are not already familiar with the location. This is info you cannot get anywhere else. Most people have been very forthcoming to me in such a situation when approached in a non-aggressive manner.

Check out the parking lot(s) after dark. If every single space is taken, look elsewhere.

I second that you do not want to live in a place that accepts section 8 housing unless you qualify for section 8 housing yourself.

Call the police dept and try to find out how the neighborhood has changed in recent years. Getting worse is bad.

GENERALLY, a professionally managed complex will have more amenities, be more responsive to your complaints and will cost more. Absentee landlords would be the opposite end of the same spectrum. A top-notch absentee landlord, however, is golden.

In complexes with a different landlord for each six flat, rents can vary widely from building to building. Check a few out.

Large deposit requirements are a hassle but can also keep out the rifraff.

Lots of rules are a hassle, too, but can also help contain the rifraff.

Minimum one washer and dryer for every six units. Two washers and dryers for a twelve flat is much better than one washer and dryer for a six flat.

I also second that you should check the age and condition of the cars parked there. Also make sure they have adequate guest parking if you ever hope to have visitors.

Bring your checkbook and be prepared to pull the trigger if the place meets your requirements.

One thing I always look for in a place is if heat and water are paid for in the rent. Trust me, that can save you a fortune.

If possible, you may want to ask for a contact within the complex that will give you the “straight dope” about the place. Someone who lives there that can tell you how they like it.

Try to get a place on at least the second or third floor. The ones on the first floor are cheaper, but they’re cheaper for a reason.

Finally, find out if the apartment above you has small children. If they do, don’t plan on sleeping in very often.

Strong advice: find out about local housing laws, or at least state level ones. If you have any problems with other tenants, or with the landlords, know ahead of time what you can and cannot legally do to make your situation better. Keep in mind such things like, in most places, you can NEVER EVER legally withold rent in response to a housing dispute. Know that upkeep of heating/water/basic mainteance is a requirement on the behalf of the landlord, but also know the limits of that requirement. Know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, and respect them.

I know that sounds a bit negative, but I had landlord issues last year, and it was good to know about the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal, and how it worked, and what we could or couldn’t do. So check into it.

You may be able to get cheaper rent by signing a longer lease, but check to see what the penalty is for breaking the lease if you have to move out before it ends (around here, it’s typically one full months rent). I assume you already have a fridge and stove, but you may want to think about putting them in storage, or lending them to another family member. Around here at least, few apartments come without them, and those that do are old and chancy. I almost always go for a newer complex, so I know nothing about high-rise styles. Anyway, another thing to check out is people’s balconies–if there’s a bunch of junk on them, it’s like old cars, not a good sign.

Be prepared to shell out some bucks for application fees (which include a credit check), about $20 to $30 bucks around here, and non-refundable. I’ve had mixed reactions about management companies–the one I’m with now sucks–but on-site management is important. There should be someone in charge on-site always, calling management on noisy meighbors is much more friendly than calling the cops! Also, ask how long people generally stay in the apartments–if there’s a lot of turnover, something’s wrong (apt. that cater to college students are the exception to this rule, then you want to ask where the closer liquer store is).

Good luck.

One suggestion I’ve heard of is to take a camcorder around the apartment and film the empty apartment when you first move in and again when you’re ready to leave. This tip should ensure that your security deposit is returned to you intact if you can prove that damage existed when you moved in.

Thanks for the Section 8 tip, Belrix. I came across an ad that mentioned that and I didn’t know what it meant. I’d heard the phrase in Full Metal Jacket, which only confused me further.

Cheesesteak, I’m relieved that negotiation isn’t to be expected. I’m fairly confident that I’d make a lousy negotiator. I always blink first. </self-fulfilling prophecy>

I’ll take the camcorder advice, medstar, it sounds like a great idea.

When my cousin asked me to do the preliminary checks, she asked me, “You know how to look at apartments, right?” I’m still trying to sort out her body language – she either meant A) Please tell me you’re not so sheltered that you don’t know how to do this (umm… what?), or B) Look, it’s not hard and you’re not stupid. Just say ‘yes’ so I don’t have to worry about this anymore. I’m pretty sure it was ‘B’, but I figured I’d ask what other people looked for.

The whole thing makes me nervous. I have a difficult time talking to strangers in a strange place. If I don’t try to prepare somehow, I’ll come back with something useless: “uh yeah, it had 4 walls and a roof - it looked perfect!” I’ll probably take a couple of practice runs of apartments we’re not really considering.

As for the fridge/stove thing, neither of us is really culinary-inclined. We’ve got a mini-fridge and we’re discussing the relative pro’s and con’s of a microwave versus a toaster oven. My cousin’s theory is that everything else being equal, an apartment without a stove and fridge will be cheaper. My take on it is that it’s unlikely that everything else will be equal, but in the event that it is, we’re prepared.

Thanks again!

Padabe, relax. If you’re new at something, it’s normal to be nervous. Try to visit lots of apartments so you get used to this. You might want to make a list of things that are important to you and your cousin. Such as, easy access to buses, shopping, entertainment, etc. Also, try to visit the apartment at night so you can see how noisy it might get. Hope this helps.