Hi-rise apartment buildings?
August 29, 2010 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of moving to a downtown hi-rise apartment building, from a low-rise complex in the suburbs. For those who have done this, what do you wish you had known before you did it?
posted by smackfu to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It would help to know what city you're referring to.

But generally speaking cities are more expensive than suburbs, and cities offer more opportunity than suburbs. Living spaces in cities are generally smaller and more expensive than those in suburbs.

Depending on the city to which you're moving, its housing stock may be older than average, and so the electrical systems may not be as modern as one would like, and there may be no way of having a washer/dryer or dishwasher. But again this depends on the city you're moving to, the age of its housing, and the type of high-rise you're moving to.
posted by dfriedman at 7:56 AM on August 29, 2010

I did this. Noise was the biggest difference for me. My city apartment building had very solid walls and doors so neighbour noise wasn't a problem, but garbage trucks came through every morning, not just once a week like they do in the suburbs.

I lived in a part of town that had good supermarkets and fresh food markets in the CBD, but not all city centres do - it's worth checking this out. Even with them available, I never quite got used to wandering the city streets in my lazy 'at-home' clothes to pick up bread and milk, the way I would do in the suburbs.

Depending on what city you live in, dirt and grime may be a problem, particularly if you like to leave windows open.

I don't drive, so parking wasn't a problem for me, but I wish I had figured out the options for visitors sooner.

None of this was a deal-breaker for me - I loved my apartment and the lifestyle and only left it to move to another city.

The AskMe question I posted when I was trying to decide whether to do this might be useful to you.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

une_heure_pleine is right on all counts, but especially about the noise. My apartment is directly above an intersection on a major bus/truck route. The general hum of traffic is fine, but the deep growl of the big diesel engines stopped at the light gets to me. Having been in other apartments in the same building, just moving around to a unit on a side street or alley makes a big difference.

Also, if you live in a city that has one of those Duck tours that seem to be everywhere these days, take the time to identify the route and avoid anywhere along it. During the summer, I hear "Downtown" and the same 30 seconds of tour guide chatter every. twenty. minutes.
posted by five toed sloth at 9:16 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Apartment buildings on street corners are twice as noisy as mid-street apartment buildings. Where two streets meet, you get the traffic from both streets and you get the added noise and smoke of cars stopping and starting at the corner. You also get gabbing loiterers, who tend to stand on the corner, not in the middle of a block.

Within the building, apartments near the building doors or elevators are noisier than apartments at corridor dead ends. Apartments lower down tend to be noisier than apartments higher up. If you're going to be high up (and dependent on an elevator), you might as well be really high up, as far above the noise and stinky cars as you can be, and higher than most of the other building occupants.

You need easy access to a good-sized elevator if you're going to be on the 15th floor and taking your bicycle in and out all the time.

If you have a choice, get an apartment facing the right way for your climate (shady in a hot climate, sunny in a cool climate). If you can afford it, it's worth paying extra for a balcony. You can be outside but inside, away but home. (But do you have small children or pets? A little creature that goes off a high balcony is gone forever.)
posted by pracowity at 10:28 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I lived on the 33rd storey for my first 13 months in Calgary. It was my first (and to date only) extended period in a high-rise, though I've never lived in the suburbs either.

What I wish I'd considered beforehand:

1. Try to be as close to the (or a) laundry room as possible. We were lucky as our building had laundry facilities on every floor, but I met other highrisers who had horror stories about having to transit from, say, the 30th to the 4th floor to do laundry, carrying stuff only to find all the machines full, clothes stolen, etc. So try to get a unit that's convenient to the laundry, assuming it's not in the suite itself.

2. ELEVATORS. On 33 we were constantly dependent on elevators, and I never thought to ask about in how good of repair they were in. Turns out they were nightmares- I never got stuck in one myself but almost all of my neighbours had been. One guy was stuck for three hours while trying to get outside to head to a medical clinic (right across the street!) after injuring his eye. Horrible story. Another tenant, a woman on my floor, got stuck in each of all three elevators over the course of just a couple of days. You live and die in a high-rise based on elevators. Now I did make it a habit of taking the stairs down (and 33 flights is not even a little trivial- it's a workout) but up was out of the question.

I did really like living downtown (two blocks to Safeway, less than one block to the LRT, two rep cinemas a block away, and this city was blissfully quiet downtown, at least it was in 2000), but there are some things I wished I'd anticipated better.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:36 AM on August 29, 2010

Too many variables, but some things I've found that can be especially annoying in high-rises:

Elevators you regularly have to wait 5 minutes for, insufficient laundry facilities and inconsiderate users of them, lacking visitor parking, bad intercom systems when they do work, windows that don't open, windows on only one side - no way to get a cross-breeze, outdated appliances, central boiler systems for hot water which run-out in the morning, generally bad designed plumbing making taking a shower when a neighbor is doing the same a test of patience, people leaving crap in the garbage/recycling rooms, neighbors who are regularly noisy on their balconies, slamming doors such as for the stairwells, loud talking in the hallways, lack of character - cookie-cutter design, dated kitchens and bathrooms - not renovated, stoves without a hood fan or doesn't actually vent outside, heating and air conditioning controlled by management, lack of closets/storage room, no bbq, ...

Of course, I could go on, and these don't apply to all buildings, they can be issues at low-rises as well, but some things to remember when looking.

I usually create a checklist of what I want and don't want, phone number / building address / availability / rent / which utilities are included / etc. and print one out for each building I go to look at so things aren't forgotten and can be referred back to when back home comparing options.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:40 AM on August 29, 2010

As people have said before - make sure there are enough elevators in the building. There is nothing worse than walking up 20 or 30 flights with your bags/groceries during the summer time. Especially when its hot and humid.

Also, one thing that really got me angry was move in policies. I can imagine smaller buildings, even in the same city (I'm in NY by the way), let you move in whenever. But the larger buildings make moving and delivering furniture WAY more difficult than it should be.

At least in NY, most high rise buildings that do have balconies tend to have extremely tiny balconies that aren't very useful except for out of town guests to step outside and look at the view you have.

Make sure the building is close to a park or large open area away from traffic. You can get stir crazy in huge buildings.

Get used to having a super that isn't prompt in fixing things, if they get around to it all.

In terms of the noise - the taller the building is, the louder it is when you open the windows. And check the noise level inside the apartment, especially if you live right next to an elevator. The constant dinging at all hours could drive you crazy if it is loud enough.
posted by cavs33 at 11:18 AM on August 29, 2010

In addition to different types of noise and higher noise levels, you'll (almost certainly) adjust your shopping habits. When I lived in a suburban sprawl-type apartment complex, I would drive to the grocery store rarely more than twice a month because I was driving and could (and would) fill the car and not need to go to the store (any kind of store, really) often. Now that I (hurray!) live in the city again, I walk to all my shopping, which means I do it more often because I can carry less than the trunk of my car can. It's a minor adjustment, but it's one that some people don't anticipate.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:07 PM on August 29, 2010

My city apartment building had very solid walls and doors so neighbour noise wasn't a problem, but garbage trucks came through every morning, not just once a week like they do in the suburbs.

I'd go a bit further with this - you wouldn't think about it, but what floor you live on makes a big difference. It's not just low rise vs. high rise, but what floor of that high rise you are on that matters most. On the twelfth floor I never heard a garbage truck. But I did get weird acoustics effects from the courtyard below. Usually things you can't control - sometimes I'd randomly hear kids bickering, or babies crying, or doors swinging shut. From hundreds of feet below me. Weird stuff.

the taller the building is, the louder it is when you open the windows.

Having lived on the twelfth floor for several years followed by a recent move to a third floor apartment in a townhouse, I disagree with this. Maybe it's scientifically true, but I hear far more noise that actually annoys me on the third floor than I ever did on the twelfth. Buses, garbage trucks, loud music, obnoxious drunken conversations drifting up from backyard parties. As compared to "Weird. I can hear those kids playing freeze tag all the way up on the twelfth floor!"

Nthing others who've talked about elevators you have to wait for. Especially factor this in during the morning commute and on weekend afternoons. I wouldn't fear getting stuck in them too much unless you are looking to move into a real slum - even my downmarket old building only ever had this happen a couple times, and certainly not for hours at a stretch. More relevant was the fact that, at certain times of the year, invariably one of the elevators would be out of order, making the wait times that much longer.

If you are moving to a major city and can afford a high rise building, screw the laundry facilities (they will invariably suck) and use a drop off service.

Which leads me to something else you don't think about until it trips you up. Make sure your neighborhood has all the typical facilities you expect. Chances are coming from the suburbs this will be better and not worse than you're used to. But there's also more of an expectation that you will leave the home for basic services that would be done privately in suburbia. A laundry service, a gym, a place to lock up your bike, useful outdoor space, stuff like that. Also be aware that supermarkets routinely suck in urban areas.
posted by Sara C. at 12:17 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of good answers, thanks. I hadn't given that much thought to the noise and the lower floor apartments are much cheaper. I figured I would just be giving up the view.

FYI, the city is Stamford, CT, which is kind of unusual since it is in the easy commuting circle of midtown Manhattan so it acts like a larger city in terms of what is available apartment-wise.
posted by smackfu at 12:41 PM on August 29, 2010

I've lived on the ninth floor, and the twelth floor (and the latter case was also the top floor).

I thought for sure there'd be less noise on the top floor (nobody above stomping around overhead, right?) but I was wrong. Occasionally even the maintenance guys stomped around overhead, but that wasn't the worst -- that was a continuing barrage of metallic pings coming from antennae mounted up there, shifting in the winds -- and speaking of wind I also thought I'd keep a little table and chair out on the balcony, but the winds made that impractical.

Another annoyance was exterior ground-floor stairway doors locked from the outside -- as a condo owner I assumed I'd receive keys to those doors, but that was not the case.
posted by Rash at 1:16 PM on August 29, 2010

I've never been to Stanford, but I've done what you're doing and I loved it. I still do!

High-rise life does have some drawbacks though. You're going to have to get used to waiting for elevators. The taller the building, the longer the wait. And you're going to spend a lot of time in the elevator with neighbors. If you're not used to dealing with people, you're in for a bit of an awakening.

That being said, the only negative thing I didn't anticipate when I moved into a high-rise was the shopping shuffle - especially groceries, ESPECIALLY if we're talking about a lot of groceries.

Shuffle them from the car to the building's front door.
...Prop it open.
Shuffle them from the front door to the elevator.
...Up to my floor!
Shuffle them from the elevator to the hallway.
...Elevator closes behind me (did I get them all?)
Shuffle them from the hallway entrance to my front door.
...Prop it open.
Shuffle them from the front door to the kitchen.
...Put 'em away.

The inconveniences of elevator life are pretty irrelevant when I consider all that I love about downtown high-rise life.

You may be surprised by how alive you'll feel in an active downtown. There are so many people and they're more a part of the place they live than suburbanites are. In the suburbs, it's all about the driveway. Out the door, to the car, and away you go. In downtown, it's about the sidewalk. You constantly pass people and you feel more like a person than a number. That's been my experience, anyway.

If you haven't found an apartment yet:

Do you want a lower floor or a higher floor? I've learned that I prefer a lower floor unless there's a specific amazing view to be had. On a lower floor, you feel more connected to whatever's going on in the street below. Four seems to be the optimal floor for me. I'm low enough to enjoy watching people walk by on the sidewalk below, or watch the cars in the street as they go on their merry way. I've lived as high as a 19th floor. At that point, you're more above the city than in it. Higher floors are more expensive and might not be worth it.

Avoid being directly and immediately above a noisy loading dock (just about every high-rise has one). If you're on a lower floor, it's better to be on the downhill street-side of the building than the up-hill side (if possible) due to noisy car engines.

Enjoy high-rise life! It's pretty awesome.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:50 PM on August 29, 2010

I just did this kind of move, and I'm rather glad it's temporary. My view is another apartment tower across the street... which is not bad in itself, but man i miss having a green view! Get some nice plants to keep by the window if this is the case for you too.
posted by lizbunny at 4:24 PM on August 29, 2010

I live in a high rise now, and I frigging love it. It's right beside the train station I take to work, the grocery store, the restaurants, etc. We're on the 14th floor - which by New York or whatever standards is not high, but it plenty high for us - it's a good +50metres up.

1. Buy some ear plugs
2. Buy a duster
3. If you have a balcony, consider heavy furniture for it, it can get windy up high.
4. Read the body corporate of building laws - most of them are pretty standard but sometimes they try to sneak wacky stuff in there.
5. Make multiple keys and put them in multiple places. When I locked myself out of a house, there was usually a way to finagle my way back, or if worse came to worst I could pick the lock. None of these things are an option in apartment buildings - there aren't any windows, and you may not even be able to get to your floor, let alone pick the lock!
posted by smoke at 4:28 PM on August 29, 2010

Response by poster: Semi-followup: I decided not to move to a downtown building, because they were so much more expensive than my current place, and the places I looked at had no "wow" views.
posted by smackfu at 11:39 AM on September 17, 2010

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