Apartment Hunting for Dummies.
November 30, 2010 6:40 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are looking at apartments in Savannah, GA this Friday, but we are at a loss as to what questions we should be asking and what we should be looking for when we physically see the apartments.

My girlfriend was just hired for a job in Savannah which starts in a few weeks and we need to find an apartment as soon as possible. We've narrowed down the choice to 3 or 4 different apartments, and on Friday we are driving down to see each of them. This is the first time either of us have had to find an apartment, and I'm not sure what kind of questions I should ask or what I should be looking for in each of the units.

Some things that spring to mind, in no particular order:
Parking - Lot or deck? Will there be reserved spots? Does the parking situation seem safe/well-lit?
Laundry - Is there a hook-up? Are machines included? If not, is there an on-site laundromat?
Lighting - Which direction do the windows face?
Noise - What are the rules on noise? How soundproof is the space?
Neighbors - What age are the neighbors? Will there be kids around? Is there a HOA/COA?
Trash - Is there pickup? Recycling?
Utilities - Included or not? How much is the average bill? Is there a choice of ISPs? Gas or electric?
Facilities - Pool? Gym?
Pets - Are pets allowed? What kinds?
Damage/Maintenance - Is the unit already in bad shape? Water-damage? Who do we contact for maintenance? What are the rules about wear and tear.

Any finally the big question is the rental agreement itself. Obviously we'll be looking at the monthly price and deposits stated in the contract, but what kind of fees or 'gotchas' should we be keeping an eye out for? Are prices negotiable or is it discussing the price something to be avoided? Is renter's insurance worth it? And finally, are there any other tips or considerations I've missed?
posted by arcolz to Shopping (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You've probably already thought of this, but ask if the unit you're seeing is the one that's for rent. Sometimes shady landlords will try to do a bait-and-switch.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:49 AM on November 30, 2010

A couple of place-specific things from a Florida neighbor:

If you're looking at historic units (or anything older than the 1970s, for that matter) be sure to turn on the water, flush the toilets, etc. to check the pressure and quality of the water. Sulphur smell can be common in this area, especially if the unit doesn't currently have tenants, but may dissipate as you use the plumbing. Low pressure will probably never improve, however.

In a warm climate like Savannah you'll also want to know about the AC unit. Newer units are more efficient, and will save you $$ on utilities. Central air is much quieter, but window units can actually be much less costly. Your local utility may provide records on average monthly costs for the unit (don't take the landlord's word on this). Window coverings are also key for keeping out excess sun -- and heat -- in the summer.

Good luck!
posted by krista_p at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2010

Watch out for mold. And I always check the water pressure in the shower.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2010

You've got the basics covered. Some others I sometimes ask (if I remember) are:
- What kinds of cable/internet options are available for the building?
- Can I take a copy of the lease with me to read ahead of time?
- What are my options if I need to break my lease (moving, new job, etc)
- Is the place exterminated? Any bug issues?
posted by raztaj at 7:10 AM on November 30, 2010

Renter's insurance: depends on your possessions, I guess. But in my experience, it is cheap & the one time I needed it, I was damn glad I had it.

Also, before you move in, photograph every inch of the place. Print them out and mail them to yourself. You may need them later of the landlord tries to claim you damaged the apt.

Lastly, no matter how nice the landlord/agent is to you, it is a business deal.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:11 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've covered most of the major questions. Here are my thoughts, as someone who has lived in 4 different apartments in four years:

The rent is probably not negotiable. If it is a really big complex, you may be able to ask if they have any specials or deals going on/coming up, and they might be able to help you, or maybe not. Don't count on it.

Renters insurance is worth it, in my opinion. It's $10/month, and in turn you are covered in case of fire, flood, earthquake, theft, etc. And not just you, but any damage you cause to neighboring apartments. It's a small price for peace of mind in my opinion, and in a lot of places it is actually required. I've heard Savannah has some crime issues, so it might be worth it just to protect you in case your apartment gets broken into.

Live on the top floor if you can. It's more work moving in, but you are less likely to get broken into, and the noise problem is a lot better, since you only have to worry about people next to you and not on top of you too. If you don't feel too silly, try having one of you stand outside and shout while the other is inside to see how good the noise insulation is. And if you have time, come back at night and just sit outside for a bit to see what the atmosphere is like.

When you move in, get a video camera and note the date, then do a walkthrough of the apartment noting any damages that are already present and the general current state of the apartment. If you notice anything wrong, contact the maintenance staff in the first couple of days, even if you have to present them with a laundry list. This way you won't get blamed for anything.

Finally, don't stress too much about it. In all honesty, one apartment is pretty much the same as another apartment, once you weed out the obviously bad ones by simply paying attention (is there trash everywhere? Can you hear people yelling? Do the buildings look in poor repair? Do the people in the office seem rude, distant, or ignorant?)
posted by ohsnapdragon at 7:13 AM on November 30, 2010

There are a lot of older buildings and houses in Savannah. Lead paint is something you might want to look into, especially if you have or plan to have kids. Also, the area close to Hunter AAF/Ft. Stewart can get noisy with military aircraft traffic at all hours of the day and night. If you're looking at places close to there, multiple pane windows are pretty much a must.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:14 AM on November 30, 2010

I would ask about their decorating policies: can you paint? hang artwork? install things? Our current apartment will only let us use white (or white-backed) curtains.

Renters' insurance is absolutely worth it. Mine costs about $8/month, but since I went with the same insurance company I had for my car, they gave me a $20/month multi-policy discount. That's right. Signing up for renters' actually SAVES me money every month.

If you're planning on having pets, find out about deposits (refundable? non-refundable?), pet rent, weight limits, breed restrictions, and liability issues.

Check out the mail issue. If you have small mailboxes, ask if the rental office signs for packages. Find out what their hours are.

Definitely try to get a read on the office staff (if you're at a complex, instead of renting from an individual). If you hate them, your life will be miserable. If they're helpful and friendly, then they'll be more willing to do things like flag down the UPS driver because your package has been missing for over a week.
posted by specialagentwebb at 7:24 AM on November 30, 2010

I live in Savannah, feel free to memail me if you have any neighborhood-specific questions. It sounds like you want to live in an apartment complex with a pool. Wilmington Island might be a good fit, depending on the location of your girlfriend's job.
posted by mareli at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2010

Parking - Lot or deck? Will there be reserved spots? Does the parking situation seem safe/well-lit?

Hee hee, city boy! I've lived in Savannah for the past 10 years. There are no decks. It's all parking lots at complexes or street parking if in a house or victorian.

What complexes are you looking at and where are they located?

If you're looking in victorians, check to see if the windows actually open. If the house as multiple units, ask how if cable, internet, and utilities are include or separate. If they are separate, try to find out what the average amount for the bills are. If the owner doesn't know, inquire with Savannah Electric. Why? 'cause we rented a place in a Victorian with multiple units and everything was fine until some guy moved into another apartment and our electricity bill DOUBLED. Why? The wiring was off, so his apartment was on our circuit. Fun times.

Whatever places you look at, go back and look at them without the owner. If you see other people nearby, ask them about the neighborhod.

Check the A/C. Turn it out and let it run. Check to see that it has heat. Turn it on and let it run. Turn on all the lights. Bring along something you can easily plug in and check the outlets.

Look for ceiling fans, they're awesome when it's warm out but not too warm.

If have Savannah specific questions, hit me up in the thread or via email/mefimail.
posted by nomadicink at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: I worked as a leasing agent for a while, so I actually love looking for new apartments. The points you and the other posters have come up with are all great, and here are some other things to keep in mind.

The single most important thing to remember is that you have the most leverage before you sign the lease. If you want any sort of repairs, changes and so on, get it in writing first.

Also, a lot of these questions can be dealt with over the phone -- that can help you not get overwhelmed when you actually get there. Take notes about the apartments -- I had a spreadsheet to help me keep things straight.

Parking: What parking spot will you get, if they're assigned? Do you think you'll be comfortable parking there? Also, what is the situation for guest parking?

Neighbors: In theory, Fair Housing laws prevent a leasing agent from discussing demographic information. If you like a place and you're curious about the people there, come back on your own time at a different time of day and take a look around. (That's a good idea in any case, actually.)

Pets: Do you have pets, are you just thinking about getting some or are you concerned about other people's pets? If you have pets, there's usually an extra (non-refundable, in my experience) pet fee, plus additional rent (for us, it's been around $30/month for our two cats).

Damage/maintenance: Do they have a 24-hour emergency line? How long does the average request take to be completed?

Fees/gotchas: One thing to keep in mind is whether or not the first month's rent will be prorated, if applicable. That is, if you can't move in until the 13th, do you have to pay for the 1st through the 12th as well? This is the sort of thing that is much easier to negotiate before you sign the lease.

Breaking the lease: you'll want to know how to do this, if it comes to be necessary. Some places will let you find an (approved) subletter, some places will let you pay a flat fee, some places will want you to basically keep paying rent until they've found a new tenant.

Looking at the apartment: Some places will show you a model apartment, which will be nicely cleaned and have lights, furniture, etc. You also want to look at a vacant apartment -- ask, if they don't offer to show you one. Ideally it'll be the one you're interested in, but that one may not be open yet: another vacant apartment can at least give you an idea of what it will look like. It depends on the situation, but I'd be hesitant to deal with anyone who can't show you a "real" apartment.

Various things to look for: Are the appliances all right, or do you have bits of plastic flaking off the inside of your fridge? Do you get a deck or any sort of outdoor space? Do you have a garbage disposal? (Maybe that's not important to you, but it sure is to me!) Is there enough closet space for you? What shape is the carpet in? Do you have a lot of kitchen counter space (especially if you don't have a dishwasher)?

Extra storage space: Some places won't have any, others might have attic space, an area shared by the building or so on.

Livability of the area: Walk Score is a useful starting point for knowing what's in the area. If crime is a concern for you, I wouldn't ask the leasing agent about it, but find out information yourself. Online services like Apartment Ratings can be useful, but take them all with a huge grain of salt; if you read something in a comment that does concern you, don't hesitate to take it up with the leasing agent.

Long-term: How much does the rent usually increase each year? Are they open to signing two-year leases to lock in the rate? (I wouldn't recommend a two-year lease immediately, but maybe it's something to think about at the end of your first year.) Do they do any sort of incentives for renewing your lease such as cleaning carpets? If you're able to pay the full amount for the year up front, do you get a discount?

This is all a lot to keep in mind, but hopefully it's of use to you. Just don't forget to try to get as much settled as you can before you sign the lease!
posted by shirobara at 8:29 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all great info. Thanks everyone!
If anyone else has more to add, I'll be checking back periodically.
posted by arcolz at 11:23 AM on November 30, 2010

« Older Howto: rebuild my life & home after a disaster...   |   Netbook vs. Standard Laptop Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.