Questions about moving to a new place...
July 23, 2005 6:38 PM   Subscribe

So after 12 years in the same apartment I'm considering moving. However, I'm a little terrified and have a few general moving questions.

I've never really apartment hunted before. I looked at a place today that seemed nice but I don't know how to tell if there are "unseen" problems. Is there anything I should do? I turned on all the taps and checked the water pressure... and then felt like an idiot because I didn't know what else to do/ask.

What are some things you wish you would have checked or asked about before you moved into your current place? What are you kicking yourself for not verifying?

Should I ask things about electricity? Like, where are the outlets and are they modern and such? (Someone's in the apartment right now so I can't just see this stuff). What kind of answers should I be looking for?

I have too much stuff and will have to get rid of a bunch... but I don't want to get rid of my bed (a queen) or couch or my five foot long maple desk.... but I'm concerned they won't fit into the new apartment. By "into" I mean through the door and up the stairs (it's on a third floor). Is there a way to measure corners in a stairwell to know if large items will make it around?

Also, this one landlord seems to really want me to move in (mostly because I told him I've been in the same spot for 12 years). The rent is reasonable but he wants someone for Sept 1 and I would have to give my current landlord till Oct 1 to be official. Should I tell the guy I want him to hold the place or I'll pass or is that just a stupid thing to say? If I'm really keen should I just suck it up and pay rent in two places for one month? And, as to rent, do people bicker with landlords about the amount before moving in or does everyone just pay the sticker price?
posted by dobbs to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should make a list of everything you can think of to ask, and ask them all.

Some people bicker about rent, some don't. If you can provide a good reason for rent to be lowered (as a friend of mine did; moved into the third floor of a house, got $100 taken off every month because he told the landlord he'd make the garden gorgeous--it is--and help out with day to day repairs and such), most landlords will go for it, I think.

As for moving your furniture, I've never had a problem moving large items, even through some pretty twisty spaces. If you're getting rid of stuff though, please let me know :D
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:00 PM on July 23, 2005

I wish I had asked about the electricity...not how many outlets there are, but how much power they can actually spit out. My power goes out about once a week from things like running the toaster while the window fans are on. We can't have a microwave. Can't have an A/C.

Also, if you can manage a minute or two alone with the currant tenant, I would try to find out how responsive the landlord is as far as making repairs goes.
posted by duck at 7:18 PM on July 23, 2005

I've never had trouble moving stuff, either, and I've had some, er, oddly shaped items (seven-foot bookcases, big rolltop desk...).

Some suggestions:

1. Real estate mantra: the outside tells you a lot about the inside. What do the grounds look like? Has everything been kept clean? Do the windows still have their screens? What does the paint or siding look like? Etc.
2. You can certainly ask about the electrical service (e.g., is everything grounded). As duck notes, older electrical systems will make life unpleasant.
3. Look for signs of water damage.
4. Ask what upgrades, if any, the owner plans after the current tenant vacates. Standard wear-and-tear often means new carpeting and a fresh coat of paint.
5. Is this an owner-occupied building? Is there a manager on site?
6. Dickering about the rent will be much easier in a small building, where the owner might appreciate someone mowing the lawn, than in a big apartment complex.
7. You may be able to get the owner to hold the apartment for you for a week or two, but I'm guessing that a full month will provoke frowns--unless, of course, you pay the rent.
8. Speaking of rent, what's included? Water is standard. What about electrical? Heat? (If you're in a cold climate, the heat can be a real deal-maker or -breaker.)
posted by thomas j wise at 7:23 PM on July 23, 2005

I've never heard of anybody haggling on rent before signing a lease.

If you really want the place and demand is high, you might have to pay two rents one month- the advantage is that you have a full month to move from one place to the other. As someone who has done both the move-in-one-day and the overlapping-move, having some overlap makes the whole process much easier. Another option is asking the landlord if you could officially take the place on 9/15 rather than 9/1. That way, he's still getting some rent for the month and you're not paying a full month in two places.

Regarding getting your things up the stairs, two thoughts:
-Eyeball the current tenant's furniture. Their stuff had to fit up the staircase, right?
-Hire movers. My dudes carried a heavy-as-fuck sleeper sofa up a narrow flight of stairs to my new 3rd-floor place, and they did it gracefully. It ruled.

From what I know, you don't need to ask any questions about electricity. Having lots of outlets is a plus; having few can be a pain, but there are extension cords and powerstrips, so it shouldn't be a dealbreaker.

You might want to ask questions about noise levels if that's something that might bother you, ask what utilities you're responsible for (heat/water/electricity), ask if the landlord hires maintenance guys or if he does his own maintenance, etc. Things like this (except maybe the noise question) shouldn't be dealbreakers either, but they might give you a better idea of what to expect.

Most of all, go with your gut instinct and don't let anybody pressure you into signing a lease. It would really, really, be a shame if you moved into a place you weren't sure about, and then were so unhappy you had to move again in a year.
posted by elisabeth r at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2005

Getting a new apartment is like any other business deal. The landlord wants to invest the least amount of money possible and get the highest amount of rent he can get. You want the best possible place for the lowest amount of rent due for it. You have to meet in the middle. Your rental history is gold, get a recommendation in writing. Write it up yourself with all pertinent details (time at residence, ect.) and have you current landlord sign it.

How long do you plan to stay at your new apartment? If it's more than a year tell him you'd go for a two year lease, that would knock some rent off. Also try to get a deal with no deposit if you're planning on staying a few years. But if you do make sure you have the first month's rent in cash to show you're not a dead beat.

What questions should you ask? Well any question you ask that is a sore spot for the property he is gonna lie about... i.e. you ask: "What are the neighbors like?" landlord "Oh, they're great!" when the truth is they sell crack and party all night. So how do you protect yourself from the landlord's bullshit? Get a provision in your lease that the landlord will fix (or pay for someone else to fix) any problems that arise in a timely and convenient manner within, say, one week. Also document any and all problems that arise because the truth is you won't find out most of the caveats until you settle in and the seasons change on you. When you document the problems you protect yourself. Also, don't get buddy buddy with your landlord treat it like a business relationship because that is what it is. If you request a repair send it by registered letter and then call him to tell him. He'll know you mean business then and will treat you with respect.

Also, read any possible lease over and over and if you don't like what it says try to a get an amendment on it. landlords are always in a hurry and will try to get you to sign it quick. most the time they don't even know what half the crap in their lease means because they paid some lawyer to put it in there.

On a another note make sure all the outlets are grounded properly, if you don't know how to do this get a buddy who is an electrician.

As per the handy man work for rent discount deal thingy... I wouldn't do it. You should never pay temporal debts with metaphysical cash. This just puts you in a situation where you deal from the bottom up, it's best to be on level ground.

But all these things I tell you have to be delivered correctly... don't demand... ask; be confident but not pushy. Nobody wants an asshole tenant.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 7:39 PM on July 23, 2005

As per moving... buy nice large new cardboard boxes from UHAUL. Those things rock.

For the furniture, bubble wrap the legs and arms of chairs, tables, ect. Every time I failed to do that my furniture paid the price.

Measure doorways in the new pad before moving.

BTW, I have haggled on every place I have ever moved into before siging a lease and saved anywhere from $50 to $100 per month.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 7:44 PM on July 23, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far. Though I am definitely interested in broad answers (as you've done), here are some specifics about the place I looked at today:

-- top (third) floor of a house (has slanted roof) (near High Park, for those in Toronto, if that's relevant (Indian Rd north of Bloor near Keele)).
-- friend lives on ground floor, says best landlord she's ever had (she's been there 2 yrs).
-- spoke to tenant privately for a few minutes and she said at the start of winter it's very cold till she calls them and they "do something" (presumably adjust a thermostat) and hot in summer until she calls.
-- she had a modern a/c on when I was there--is that a for sure 'the place is grounded' signal?
-- eyeballed her furniture: queen bed, tiny couch, so that didn't tell me much regarding my own, though I guess I could have asked if she bought them after trying something else.
-- yes, I would hire pro movers.
-- the paint looked clean and good inside and out.
-- the appliances (fridge and electric stove) looked old (ie, not energy efficient). Besides the monthly bill, which the tenant is responsible for and she gave me a price on, would that be a problem for some reason?
-- some of the light fixtures had funny (ie, old tymey "teardrop"-like) bulbs in 'em. would that mean it'll only take those or is that probably just a style choice? (ie, are all bulb fixtures standard regardless of age?)
-- it has a claw-foot tub. looks neat and deep... but does this propose a concern of any kind? I'm a big tub person and also bathe my dog once a week.
-- my friend says neighbors are quiet and I've never noticed any loud stuff when I've been there.
-- there's no lease. It's month to month. Rent + Hydro.
-- I have no interest whatsoever in doing chores to cut on rent, but nice suggestion. :)

One of the reasons I'm keen on this place (besides liking the look) is that I have a dog and lots of places don't allow them but these people said it was cool when my friend confirmed my dog is the quiestest on the planet. However, not having the ace of a friend at another apartment will certainly be a prob in the future as all the ads I see say "no pets".
posted by dobbs at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2005

I wish I had checked into how my complex treats the Section 8 tenants vs. the regular tenants. The Section 8 program provides greatly reduced rent to low income families, and my complex reserves a couple of units in each building for Section 8 families. About a year after I moved in, a new Section 8 family moved in directly across from me and immediately started raising holy hell. They throw frequent huge drunken rowdy parties, they blast their music at all hours, they drive drunkenly and recklessly, they leave rotting filth all over the common areas and hallways, they vandalize property, and some of the men have made quite inappropriate sexual advances (one time drunkenly pounding on my door at 1:30 AM trying to get me to come out - not a fun experience for a woman living alone).

The apartment manager is well aware of the trouble this family is causing, as she's received complaints from just about everybody in my building and half of the residents have moved out in the last few months. She claims that because the family is Section 8, she can't do anything about it unless thet stop paying their minimal rent or one of them gets convicted of a felony. The misdemeanors and lease violations they've been caught committing would ordinarily have been enough to prevent them from renewing their lease, but for some reason the management company is being very lax with the Section 8 tenants - presumably to avoid some sort of liability. This creates a terrible situation for the other residents, since we must hold to the provisions of our leases while this family is allowed to run wild and create an unpleasant and unsafe environment for everybody.

I'll be moving as soon as my lease is up, and earlier if I can muster the extra money to break it. Before I sign another lease elsewhere I will check whether they participate in the Section 8 program and if so, I will seriously investigate how they would handle a situation like this and whether I have any recourse should the management company ignore problems.
posted by rhiannon at 8:33 PM on July 23, 2005

Oh well when you mention high park, I'm thinking right away of those houses with the steeply sloapling lawns and the stairs that you have to climb to get to the front door. If this is one of those houses, be sure to ask about snow shovelling. Your landlord is responsible for getting it done within 12 hours of snowfall, but try to find out if they actually will. You don't want to take a spill on a big long staircase.

Oh, and don't let the dog limit your choice of apartments. In Ontario "No Pets" clauses are illegal. This means that while anyone can put them in the lease, even if you sign such a lease it is completely unenforceable (unless your dog is dangerous or disrupts the neighbours). They're allowed to say "no pets" all they want, and they do, in the hopes that tenants won't know their rights and will think they can't have pets.

Pick whatever apartment you want, don't mention the dog til the lease is signed.
posted by duck at 8:39 PM on July 23, 2005

If you don't like the looks of the refrigerator and/or stove, you can sometimes get the landlord to replace them if you do the negotiating before signing the lease (or, since there's no lease, whatever it is you'll be signing). If there's anything you want fixed/replaced/repainted, make sure you talk about it and get it in writing before you sign anything. If you're an ideal tenant, landlords are often willing to deal--the $400 it will cost them to replace two appliances is worth it to get a good, quiet tenant who pays the rent on time. And they're well aware that they're going to have to replace them eventually anyway.

You might also want to ask your friend/current tenant about any infestation problems--I think technically they're supposed to disclose that but it's a good idea to check. Just in case.
posted by fuzzbean at 9:17 PM on July 23, 2005

The basics are covered in this eHow article.

Here's a 28-item checklist of questions to ask, with links to other useful pages.
posted by WestCoaster at 9:41 PM on July 23, 2005

I haggled over rent in my new apartment and am saving $25 a month, no extra work required. It's not a ton, but it's money in the bank just for asking. The worst they can say is "no".
posted by jaysus chris at 9:50 PM on July 23, 2005

Examine the staircase, and examine the number of floors. Keep in mind that your difficulty moving out will be equal to, or greater than, your difficulty moving in. I've been "trapped" on a fourth-floor apartment because the staircase will make it quite difficult to move furniture down. (Alternatively, though, it's quiet up here, which I like a great deal.)
posted by WCityMike at 10:19 PM on July 23, 2005

Oh! How lovely. I know that street. I'm over on Roncie, just a bit up from the Film Buff. There's a really nice pet store about a block up from me, should you need it.

Let's see...

Cast iron tub should be no problem. We have one here, and I've had them before. They're the absolute best wallowing tubs ever. Also, if you're easily amused, farting one produces some truly impressive sounds. Or so I've, uh, heard.

As far as the thermostat issue goes... I'd mention it to the landlord, and either get access so you can change it yourself, or make sure you get in touch a couple weeks before the weather does its big change thing.

Pro movers, in my experience, can get a king-sized bed through a porthole. It's practically magic, what those guys can do.

Appliances, as long as they're in good working order, shouldn't be any sort of issue. Find out how old they are, though, and if/when the landlord is planning on replacement.

The bulbs are almost certainly just a style choice. Match wattage (or at least, don't exceed) and base size, and you'll be right as rain.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:41 PM on July 23, 2005

Make sure you get good, solid reception on your cell phone.
posted by samh23 at 12:32 AM on July 24, 2005

Er... farting in one. Farting out a cast-iron bathtub would be quite the feat.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:44 AM on July 24, 2005

Make sure there are a lot of windows that open to let fresh air in. When I found my apartment I ws thinking I wanted a lot of windows for light. Now I have a living room with a big, beautiful window across the front that only opens in little sections on each end. Lots of light, not enough fresh air.
posted by leapingsheep at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks again, all! Excellent answers.
posted by dobbs at 1:37 PM on July 24, 2005

I'm in the process of finding a new apartment myself. Since this will be my 15th, I've had lots of experience.

I don't ever have much to discuss with the landlord -- they'll say whatever it takes to get their units filled, and the rent-money flowing again. Yes, I know there's good ones out there -- but to me, the less I'm compelled to interact with 'em, the better. The one time I had one perceptively eager to move me in, I wish I'd resisted, 'cause he turned out to be the worst.

What's most important I find is to pay a visit or two back to the possible place during eveneing hours, to determine how quiet the neighbors are, really. Lurk around your potential front door, and around the outside, listening. I've rejected places when I've discovered a (possibly deaf or asleep) next-door neighbor with a high-volume TV on, way past my bed-time.

Lots of good advice in this thread, but rhiannon's Section 8 is a USA thing -- do they have something similar in Canada?
(Can't restrict pets up there? Yish, a nightmare -- a reason I'm looking to move now is to get away from a supposedly 'no pets' complex which has gradually become infested with dog people. Not that I hate dogs -- it's their barking, when left unattended.)
posted by Rash at 1:55 PM on July 24, 2005

Whatever you do, don't hire a "guy with truck" off Craigslist. Spend real money to get real movers.
posted by matildaben at 2:59 PM on July 24, 2005

I can only give you a list of things I wish I'd found out before moving into various apartments.

1. Cell phone reception. You don't want to get stuck in a dead zone. Check it throughout the apartment.
2. When do you usually go to bed at night? Visit the neighborhood at that time and make sure it's not really, really noisy.
3. Are you within walking distance of stores that you want to go to? You do not miss being able to walk to stores/bars/restaurants until you move 20 blocks away from them.
4. Can you hear your neighbors through the walls?
5. Are your visitors going to be able to park nearby?
6. What happens to packages when they are delivered to this building? Are they just dumped outside the building, are they left in the foyer?
7. Do you have satellite? Is your landlord gonna be cool with you installing a dish?
8. What are your options for broadband in that area? Do you have a choice between DSL or Cable, and do you have several choices for providers?
posted by Hildago at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2005

Ah, what Hildago said re: Cell Phone Reception.

The problem with electricity isn't so much to do with how many outlets there are - it's about amperage (although it sounds like you have enough at this place).

If you don't like the kitchen appliances, you might ask the landlord/manager if the appliances are due for replacement - this is something I regretted not asking about as they *were* (which I found out from the person who rented my place after me) and since I didn't put up a fuss, they didn't bother to do it.

WRT neighbours - you won't have any control on neighbours who move in after you do, so there's not much you can do about that. Is the neighbourhood mostly people who own their units or rentals?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:51 PM on July 24, 2005

I seem to be the only person who has had a problem moving furniture in (with professional movers), or with the placement of outlets. Lucky me! That's what I get for liking old buildings.

Long furniture is generally a bigger problem than wide as far as moving is concerned. Watch out for unusually twisty hallways (with a left turn just after a right or vice versa) or smaller than usual doorways (either in width or height), otherwise you're probably fine. High ceilings minimize problems because you can flip things around so easily. For the outlets, think about where your appliances will go and ask where the outlets are. In my last place there were no outlets in my bedroom, which meant I had speaker wire and power strip cords running across thresholds. This was a bad idea and resulted in several twisted ankles and repairs to appliance plugs. A minimum of two outlets per room, on different walls, is my new standard.
posted by cali at 12:11 AM on July 25, 2005

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