What do you wish you'd known when choosing your first apartment?
June 14, 2013 1:26 PM   Subscribe

At the end of the summer I'll be selecting and moving into my first apartment after living in a house with roommates for several years, and I'm looking to discover what things I don't know that I don't know.

As an example, a friend told me that her apartment gets extremely hot in the summer because it faces south, but she didn't realize it because she moved there in the winter. I'd never have thought to ask about something like that. I'd like to discover more things like this that I should be asking about when deciding on an apartment. I'm not looking for obvious things like location, price, size, etc., or things that are not possible to avoid like a surprise bedbug infestation. I'd like to hear about the random little things that made a surprising difference to your happiness (good or bad) in your new apartment.

What non-obvious or unexpected things did you discover after moving into a new apartment, that might have made you pick a different apartment?
posted by randomnity to Home & Garden (79 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Get to know who your neighbors will be. Every major problem I've ever had living somewhere is because the folks next door have been difficult.
posted by xingcat at 1:31 PM on June 14, 2013 [14 favorites]

That school you live across from has lots of loud kids playing at recess.

When the landlords control the heat, it turns out that 68 degrees feels a LOT colder to me than 70 degrees.
posted by deanc at 1:33 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check for sufficient outlets and light fixtures, and check the water pressure.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Windows matter more than you think at first glance. As you've noticed, they can make things warmer or cooler; if they face east, you'll have the sunrise in your room immediately. And if, like me, you have a huge streetlight ten feet from your bedroom window, you learn to invest in very heavy blackout curtains ASAP.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Where are you going to put your bike
Are you close to a bar or fire station
Is there light rail or a bus line that goes very close
Is there a school near by (can be loud during the day) if you work from home
Is there a homeless shelter near by (some churches become shelters at night)
Is there a bar nearby?
Is it hard to figure out who is buzzing your buzzer to be let up?
Do you have crazy neighbors who demand complete silence?
Is the apartment rent controlled?
Is there lead paint in the apartment (more important if you plan on having kids)
Is there good cross breeze?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Restaurants nearby (smell/garbage/noise issues)
Smokers in the building (other tenants, particularly below you)
Cost of utilities, particularly heating
Schools nearby (bells, kids screaming, waves of morning traffic)
Proximity to grocery stores
How wide the hallways are to get furniture in
Parking or lack thereof - for bikes as well as cars

Obviously some of these might not be an issue, based on your situation, but man, if you fall on the wrong side of one of these, it can be a nightmare.
posted by gyusan at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make sure the bathroom has either a window or a real exhaust fan. In some places, a weird sort of air chute that goes between multiple bathrooms and maybe eventually connects to the outside is sufficient to fulfill regulations for ventilation, but it's not enough. Same goes for the kitchen, actually.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe this should have been more obvious in my case, but I realized that little things like the showerhead or faucet knobs or range drip pans were some extremely old models that I could not find equivalents for, once they inevitably broke down. For example, I wanted to replace the original showerhead with a handheld one, and I had to deal with multiple adapters and additional o-rings before I had a solution that worked with today's more standard showerheads.

(I still cannot find drip pans in the size/shape I need for my stove, and I've resorted to scrubbing the hell out of the original ones with every cleaner out there to get them to look remotely decent.)

I have an aquarium that needs to drain into a sink and holy crap was finding an adapter for that (again, standard hose sold for standard faucets) an absolute ADVENTURE.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Test every system you can test. Heat, AC, hot water, cold water, stove, oven, lights, drains, windows, vent fans, doorknobs and locks. It sucks to learn your heater doesn't work in December because you moved in in July and never had to turn it on, then have to wait for a slow, cheap landlord to get it fixed.

Also, do a detailed damage inspection and take photos. Trust me.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Our first apt was in the top floor of an old house, with sloped ceilings. It was romantic in an artist-in-a-garret sort of way, very private, and a good price for the location. However, incredibly hot in the summer, drafty and cold in the winter. We survived with space heaters and in-window ACs. I would avoid the top floor of an old house.
posted by sid at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Distance from 24 hour pharmacy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are tall, get in the shower and see if you'll fit under the shower head.

Make sure the hood for your range vents outside rather than back into your apartment.
posted by stellaluna at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Was the prior tenant a smoker?

Sometimes -- trust me on this -- a fresh coat of paint doesn't do squat.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:37 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Things I always looked for when choosing apartments:

- Noise from living near common/traffic-y areas like elevators and stairwells.
- If in a big building, how many/how fast the elevators are
- Cross-ventilation possibilities are often limited because apartments tend to have only one exterior-facing side. Corners that can let a cross-breeze in are great.
- HVAC; does the landlord control the temperature for each floor/building, or can you control per unit?
- Ease of sending/receiving mail and packages
- Access to outdoor space for messy projects/just being outside
posted by peachfuzz at 1:38 PM on June 14, 2013

Also, if possible, try to visit in the evenings when people will actually be home and making noise, and figure out what your bedroom walls back onto. It can be a lot different than visiting during the day when people are at work and the building is mostly silent.
posted by stellaluna at 1:38 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does the rent include heat, a/c, water sewer, gas, garbage? Sometimes you can get the previous year's costs from the utility company. Is the building insulated? Is there parking? Storage? Visit at different times of day to check out the neighborhood and neighbors. Ask for a sample of the lease and any other documents you may be asked to sign. I just googled a landlord for someone, and got their Better Business Bureau listing, nice to see no complaints, but no guarantee.
posted by theora55 at 1:39 PM on June 14, 2013

Best answer: Oh hooray I always wanted to be one of the people who remembered a relevant thread. See here: http://ask.metafilter.com/226586/What-did-you-wish-youd-known-before-renting-a-particular-apartment
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:39 PM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

One more--if there's no dishwasher, it's much more pleasurable to have a window above the kitchen sink; you'll spend a fair amount of time doing dishes and it's nice to have something other than a wall to look at while doing so.
posted by stellaluna at 1:39 PM on June 14, 2013

Guest parking availability on the days of the week that you like to entertain guests.

The proximity and hours of the common laundry room. I had one apartment with a bedroom right above the laundry room, which was great from the convenience and the "I don't have to heat my place during winter" standpoint but sucked when neighbors decided to wash their tennis shoes at 2 am.
posted by jamaro at 1:40 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check for "decorating" issues that are harder to fix than they might appear - if the entire apt is wallpapered, that might be because the plastering of the walls isn't right and would need to be redone to change it, if the windows are old-fashioned looking that may be because they are odd-sized and can't be changed, damp might be hidden behind installed furniture, etc.

Also, local schools are way more important than you think - even if you don't have kids - if the place is anything bigger than a studio. Their quality, and any plans that might affect them, will have a huge effect on the value of the apartment and your ability to move on when the time comes.
posted by Wylla at 1:40 PM on June 14, 2013

Does the landlord live in the building?

Do cops live in the building?
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:42 PM on June 14, 2013

I took an apartment once that consisted of the upper half of a 90-year-old house in a small-ish town. It had plenty of character and space, but also various problems, the biggest of which (for me) was that the antique thermostat on the wall was not attached to anything.

I moved in in July; the lack of air conditioning was obvious, but it would NEVER have occurred to me at any point in the year that a prominently-placed thermostat on the wall was not there to control the heat!

(Found out about this in November. That was a lovely surprise, esp. considering the heat for the whole house turned out to be controlled by the woman downstairs, who took a dislike to me for calling the police on her enjoyment of loud music at 3 am, and retaliated by turning the heat up to 85 when she was planning to be out of town for a few days.)

Old houses--or even not-very-new houses--are famous for this type of issue. Another one that cropped up was that the two apartments shared an air system, which makes sense when you recall that they were once one house. I asked the landlord about this during my tour, and told him that the reason I asked was that I have pet allergies. "Oh no," he said, "I would NEVER rent that apartment to someone with pets". Two months later Loud Music moves in with two dogs and a cat. When I talked to the landlord the response was "She's my wife's cousin and she really really needed the apartment..." This is a clear case of GET IT IN WRITING.

I moved out when my lease was up.
posted by gillyflower at 1:43 PM on June 14, 2013

Bus schedules.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2013

WINDOW SCREENS. Make sure the windows have screens. You wouldn't think to check that, would you? Neither did I and I regret it every day. Yeah, you can get those portable screens, but they're really a pain, actually.
posted by scratch at 1:46 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Further to oceanjesse's "bus schedules" -- are busses or large trucks likely to be idling outside your window all the time? Pollution - both air and noise - sucks.
posted by scratch at 1:47 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get renter's insurance. It's extremely cheap and you'll have recourse if anything happens to your stuff.
posted by Flamingo at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Is there more than one way of getting out of the place in case of an emergency? If the door and all the windows are on one side of the unit it can be a problem.

If you get a unit that's not on the ground floor, buy an Emergency Escape Ladder.

Drive by the place at night. Does it seem safe? Is it noisy?

Check the cars in the parking lot. You want a lot of newer, upscale autos. Cars on blocks, or lots of hoopties indicate that the place is sketchy. (Snobby I know, but it's still true.)

Call the utility company and see if you can find out what the average electric bill is.

Dishwasher. Just get an apartment with one. You won't ever be sad about it.

Get renter's insurance.

Don't just look at the model, look at your actual unit before you sign a lease.

READ the damn lease. You never know what weird crap can be put in one.

Have the dimensions of your furniture on an index card. Bring a measuring tape with you. That way you can make sure your furniture will fit in your place.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask to see the ACTUAL UNIT. None of that model unit crap. We had a unit switched up on us on moving day and it was DRASTICALLY different than the space we'd agreed to. If you can't see the actual unit, at least ask to see an exact duplicate layout, and at least see the actual building (if you're in a multi-building complex). I had no idea the building I was leasing into was so far away from...everything useful.

Ask about trash. We did not realize the 7 building complex had one, single trash compactor drop off area. And it breaks. Constantly.

Ask about internet/cable. Single provider complexes are evil because you have to take whatever they want to give you.

Check your cellphone reception, especially if it's your only phone.

Ask about after hours/security/maintenance.

nthing to test the hot water.

If it's a brand new construction...don't move in until grass is down. Unless you have no pets and/or an affinity for mud and dust.

If you're in the midwest, ask about the storm shelter access.

If possible, have a friend stomp around on the floor above/below you when you tour. Quiet, well insulated apartments are worth their weight in gold.
posted by ninjakins at 1:52 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Never go for an apartment with a carpeted bathroom.

More importantly, take a look at how the landlord has fixed things -- this is easier to see in spaces like the laundry rooms, etc. Does it look well-maintained?

Good signs: Fresh paint, clean floors, a landlord who picks up small pieces of litter automatically while showing you the place. Newly installed appliances. Upgraded windows.

Bad signs: There I Fixed It-style repairs, like a 1" by 1" piece of wood screwed into the wall as a bannister. Ceilings of 72" or less. Anything that looks like it might be in April and Andy's house on Parks and Rec (shockwire!).

If you have allergies, look for kitchen and bathroom vent fans, independent air handling systems, and hardwood floors (or tile or laminate or vinyl sheet, but definitely not carpet).

And yes, definitely call the utility providers to get the previous tenants' bills. Not fool-proof, but useful.
posted by pie ninja at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2013

When you walk through the bath and kitchen, do you see any signs of mold or disrepair? That's a sign that the landlord can't be bothered with maintenance.
posted by zippy at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2013

a friend told me that her apartment gets extremely hot in the summer because it faces south, but she didn't realize it because she moved there in the winter. I'd never have thought to ask about something like that.

Even if you did think to ask about it, you wouldn't necessarily get an honest answer. Take what your prospective landlord says with a grain of salt. If there's no AC and the apartment has a big, unshaded and south-facing wall, or if it's on the top floor and there's little to no insulation above, then it's going to be warm regardless of what the landlord says. Rely more on what you can observe than on what the landlord tells you.

Also, recognize that every apartment you can afford will have shortcomings. Use this thread to think about which compromises you'd be willing to make, because there's no way you're going to avoid all of these possible problems.
posted by jon1270 at 2:04 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check where the nearest post office, cooffee shop, supermarket, DIY shop are. Silly things like that can make a difference. Also consider the feel of the neighbourhood. Until a couple of months ago I was living in a very middle class, conservative area. I now live in a redeveloped area in a brand new building and whilst there is somebody doing DIY now every Sunday that also means I can so laundry or vacuum on a Sunday. Both things I could not do the last three years. So whilst I miss the post office that was just 200 yards from my front door I can now do what I want when I want. A price I'm happy to pay.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:04 PM on June 14, 2013

- what utilities honestly cost
- what options you have for cable/internet
- what the parking situation is *really* like. Sure the lots may be really empty on a Saturday afternoon, but try checking back on a Tuesday night.
- that a sex offender convicted of rape lived on my floor, 2 apartments over (check your local sex offender registries)
- hold a lit candle by windows to check for a draft. if it flickers a lot, you're going to be wasting a LOT of heat & air conditioning
- TAKE PICTURES! when you move in, when you move out, and maybe even in between.
- smoking policy. I don't mean just the policy of your particular apartment (it may be an owned condo or townhome you're renting), but check building/community/association rules.
- Try not to live above or below anyone under the age of 22 or people living on their own for the first time
posted by raztaj at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

1st floor apartments in multifloor buildings often inherit a drain clog problems the units above them.

Check in sheets that note any defects not fixed when you move in are important. Take your time checking them or filling them out. Verbal agreements with landlords, resident managers, or agents shouldn't be counted on. What you have in writing can be counted on a little more.

Be on the lookout for pests and signs of pests, cock roaches and bed bugs being prime concerns.

If you aren't familiar with the neighborhood try to compare it to neighborhoods your familiar with by online crime maps. Really check out the businesses in proximity at different hours of the day.

Is parking important or going to be important for you?
posted by logonym at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2013

Also on the window front: you don't mention your location, but if you are in an area that has real winters, it really sucks to have drafty windows. You can put plastic over them in the winter, but it's a pain.
posted by dfan at 2:20 PM on June 14, 2013

If you have a porch or balcony and would like to grill on it, check whether that's actually allowed (both by the landlord and by local/state law).
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:27 PM on June 14, 2013

I'm pretty fussy about air-quality issues, so shared forced-air heating (common in houses-turned-multiplexes and basement suites where I've lived) is a deal-breaker that I always ask about immediately. Previous smokers and mould are worth asking about and snuffling around for respectively (bathrooms and basements in particular).

When you're going to check out a place, pay attention to how the landlord treats and talks about the current tenants. Be wary of landlords who seem over-involved or disrespectful of tenants' rights.
posted by bethnull at 2:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The apparent niceness and easy-going nature of the landlord does not mean a thing when you're moving out. You will always be a *former* customer when it comes time to get your deposit back, and they will screw you out of part of it if you give them half an excuse.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:36 PM on June 14, 2013

Someone above mentioned windows, but I'd take it further and say: natural light, in general. How much? From where? What times of day/year? I know the year thing can be hard to assess but if you look at the sun positioning now - or at the end of the summer - you should be able to predict where it will be year-round. This may seem picky but having a light-filled space vs. one that's always in the shade can make a huge difference on your mood.

If you'll need a workspace (office w/desk) think about where that will be and how much time you'll be spending in it. I'm lucky enough to actually have an office so I shouldn't complain, but it's right off the kitchen and is a little small and sometimes it gets .really. claustrophobic.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 2:38 PM on June 14, 2013

Definitely meet the neighbors. If you're in a place with high turnover, like near a college, it may only help for a short while unfortunately.

My first apartment was on the top floor of an old six-floor building, and it had one of those elevators with the cage you have to close manually before it would move. Awesome vintage cred, right? Except people would forget to close the cage when they left it, so it would get stuck wherever the last person left it. It also broke down a lot. Laundry was on the ground floor, so when it wasn't working there were a lot of stairs to navigate each day.

Also consider that the top floor doesn't get most of the foot traffic, but it does get all the water when the roof starts to leak. I got that nasty surprise early one morning.

Other things - soundproofing is a good thing to check, also where your bedroom windows are in relation to other things. Mine were in a corner shared by the neighbor's kitchen, where they would smoke late at night.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2013

Talk to potential neighbors to see if they would rent in the building again. I have a group of lovely, friendly neighbors, every one of whom would have warned me about the terrifying drunk guy who screamed obscenities from his porch. It all worked out in the end, largely because we all got together and complained about Terrifying Drunk Guy, but you may want to save yourself some trouble.

If parking is going to be important, drive around the neighborhood in the evening and on a weekend to see what street parking looks like when people are home.
posted by corey flood at 2:43 PM on June 14, 2013

Look below the sink! Are the pipes old and rusty? Is there any water damage to the wall? (what does water damage look like, you ask? Stains that are the color of weak tea, weird bubbly splotches in the paint, any discolored patches really). Check all bathroom fixtures, the wall below the bathroom sink for the same things. AND! Check the ceiling for signs of water damage too (that's the non-intuitive part, I think).

I didn't do this in my first apartment and I once woke up to an entire wall of my bedroom rippling. At first I thought I hadn't totally woken up yet. Then I realized there was a thin sheen of water running down the entire wall. That wasn't the only water problem I had in that apartment.
posted by colfax at 2:45 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

On the more intangible stuff:

Seconding bethnull's tip about being wary of landlords who seem over-involved in the lives of the tenants, or disrespectful tenant's rights. I have management that shamelessly, on a dime, will turn a conversation I'm having requesting that they fix something into DRAMATALK! about other neighbor's personal details. It's gotten so embarrassing (to me, that is) that they don't grok that I don't want to hear about it that I just try not to interact with them.

Also, jon1270's advice is spot-on: decide ahead of time what you're willing to compromise on, and what's a dealbreaker. I love my apartment but there's construction in the parking lot that's noisy during the daytime - this would be a deal-breaker for some people, but isn't for me.

It all depends on what kind of living experience you want. Sometimes you just have to gain experience before things solidify for you and you know next move what's really important for you.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2013

Walk around the neighborhood at night to make sure you feel secure walking around the neighborhood at night. Feeling unsafe if you pop out to get a bottle of tonic water at 10pm is a drag.

As others have said, make a list of what is Very Important to you. For me it was an outdoor space, a short commute, and an open kitchen to entertain in. Your priorities may be very different.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:48 PM on June 14, 2013

My first two apartments in my current city ended up being a few blocks from a major highway. Although there were enough apartment buildings and old large trees in between to hide the sound and make it invisible, I was still close enough to find a layer of black sooty dust all over my windowsills and the floorboards every day.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:53 PM on June 14, 2013

Document any damage that exists when you move in by taking pictures and posting them somewhere to establish the date. This will protect you from an unscrupulous landlord trying to blame you for the damage and keep your deposit (hasn't happened to me, but I've heard of it).
posted by Comet Bug at 2:54 PM on June 14, 2013

The top floor of a flat-top, tar-roof building is going to be very hot in the summer.
Check not only for windows, but for cross-ventilation - if all the windows are on one side of the apartment, it could be difficult/impossible to air out or cool off.
Walk around the neighborhood, if you're new to it. If you're really new, stop in at a local business (like a bank) and ask what it's like around there.
posted by dbmcd at 3:06 PM on June 14, 2013

Absolutely check out neighbors. Not just the ones in your building, but anyone adjacent to you. I checked out my building's neighbors, they were all okay (and most still are, apart from a young'un who grew into a Loud Music Teenager)... but neglected to ask about the building across from me, in part because there's a ground-to-patio-roof fence between us. Turns out, the woman who lived directly across from me was mentally ill with violent tendencies. As in so mentally ill, she was put under legal guardianship by doctors a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately this was after she threatened to kill my cats and left fresh poo on my otherwise beautiful patio. The otherwise beautiful patio that kitties and I were thus unable to fully enjoy for five years, due to her threats (she also beat her husband, children, and even neighbors in her building) until two weeks ago.

Ask. About. Neighbors.

Checking out the neighborhood goes pretty well with that.

Look for signs of structural damage. A small surface crack here and there doesn't necessarily mean anything; a deepish crack that seems to follow a structural line is generally more worrisome. If you see something like that, ask about it. In writing. I'm not sure how laws in the US are, but over here, if there is visual evidence of structural damage, you are liable for it as soon as you become the owner. The only exception is if you ask about it in writing, which then establishes that it was indeed under the previous owner's responsibility. If you ask, the previous owners are required (legally, anyhow) to answer honestly, and depending on the extent of the damage, they may also be required to repair it and pay for those repairs. This doesn't mean they actually will, but again, the main thing is that there is documentation that proves it existed before you became an owner, and you recognized it as a potential problem. (IANAL, TINLA)

Seconding that a bathroom should have its own window, ideally. If not, a GOOD fan. One that actually moves air outside (or draws outside air in), not a weak ilttle thing.

Ask how old the water heater is. They can be spendy. Nowadays they last anywhere from 5-10 years, rarely much longer. (Used to be better.)

Having a trustworthy plumber and electrician check out the plumbing and electrical situation is absolutely worth it. Mine, who's both a registered/certified plumber and electrician, has rescued me more than once, and because we have a good relationship, he's even been so kind as to spend time checking things out without charging me. Not all are like that, of course, but it is really worth it to seek out a genuine professional who is happy to check out your place. Good ones genuinely love their job.
posted by fraula at 3:09 PM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

a friend told me that her apartment gets extremely hot in the summer because it faces south, but she didn't realize it because she moved there in the winter. I'd never have thought to ask about something like that

This is the great example of something that you can never really trust a landlord on. Ask if you can bang on a door and talk to one of the neighbors. This is such a low risk thing for a landlord/onsite manager to BS that it will just happen. "Oh no, it's totally fine. We just redid the insulation a few years ago bla bla bla..."

Similarly, another thing i've basically given up on after living at a number of different places is actually being able to predict how the building handles noise.

* One place had a very liberal policy and wouldn't even consider noise complaints before 10pm, but the walls were completely soundproof. Like to the point that people would have band practice in their apartments or huge parties and you could only(very quietly) hear in the hallway, not in the apartments at all. My current place has super strict noise policies but doesn't seem to enforce them in any way unless the people are being loud in the hallways as well. It's a nice building, in an area that's quickly getting very expensive but both my upstairs and downstairs neighbors regularly get completely wasted until 4am partying on a thursday. And the people in the basement have massive parties with incredibly loud music that last until the sun comes up 1-2 times a month. I've also lived in places that didn't seem like they would be quiet, but were actually remarkably so with an exception or two.

It's a crapshoot.

* Another thing i now look at extremely carefully is the condition of basically everything in the apartment when i move in. My current place had a few odd things like dirt and a pan lid(!) being painted on to the top of the kitchen cabinets. The painter just blasted over everything without cleaning or seemingly, even looking. There were also a couple broken outlets, Missing bathtub stopper thing, and some other minor stuff like an odd crack in the ceiling.

* If anything is at all fucked up when you move in, unless they're in the 1% of awesome landlords, you're going to be living with it the whole time. Sometimes this is worth it if the place is really cool or an amazing deal for the money, but if you're indifferent on it or it's just average walk.

* Parking, i'm never fucking with this again. I realize now that my building was cheap because you couldn't even pay extra for parking, and there's almost no parking for rent in this area that isn't part of another buildings property. My partner pays like $140 a month for creepy parking behind an abandoned car dealership that people smoke crack in. It was the only option. Don't put yourself in that position. If you absolutely need parking, i'd probably choose a shittier apartment that included it(or at least offered it as an add-on at cost option but on the property) over a nicer one that didn't. The only exception is if you're in a super residential area where parking isn't an issue.

* OH, what services are available in the building? Both me and a friend have been boned moving in to a new place and finding out that you can't get normal Cable service/DSL there. The building has a contract with ShitButt Networks™ based out of like, wisconsin or some state across the country from you as the exclusive service provider for cable/phone/internet. At awful rates of course. And they want a copy of your lease to prove that you're not the previous tenant who "didn't pay their bill on time" before they'll give you service. I thought this was a one off problem until it happened to a friend.

* Does your phone get signal in the entire house? This sounds weird i know, but my phone doesn't really work well in the bedroom of my current place. Somehow, no phone does. A friend used to have a sweet sublet in a super fancy building... But no cell phone made by mankind worked anywhere in it. I've visited at least 3 friends houses with this issue and it sucks.

Bad signs: There I Fixed It-style repairs, like a 1" by 1" piece of wood screwed into the wall as a bannister. Ceilings of 72" or less. Anything that looks like it might be in April and Andy's house on Parks and Rec (shockwire!).

I now look for this kind of stuff like a hawk. Being a little bit wary, but not knowing what i was really getting myself in to, i moved in to a place full of these. It turned out to have mice, somehow leak from the ceiling, walls, and floors, and the landlord constantly tried illegal stuff(fridge broke? Oh, well it's probably your fault so you have to pay half of the cost for a new one. watch out for stuff like that, it sounds like it might be "reasonable" but it's actually fully illegal). One of the gutters fell off and they tried to blame it on us. Anything that broke was fixed with shit like a piece of plywood screwed over a leak on the roof. RUN

* Bring a couple blowdryers and plug them in two different outlets, in different rooms and have someone switch the other one on and off. Does the circuit breaker blow? If so, not only are the rooms sharing circuits(which can be fine) but you'll spend the entire time you live there resetting the circuit breaker, or worse, replacing fuses. My current place has the infuriating setup of all the circuit breakers being in a locked closet in the basement. The on-site manager is only available weird hours. If you blow your power you're just cave-manning it until they feel like flipping it back on for you.

* Be wary of those giant gas heaters that only vent in to one room. They're powerful, and seem to be fairly energy efficient(as in, quickly heat the room and don't run the burner much) but they basically only heat the room they're in or facing. My current place has one in the entry hallway facing the living room, it pretty much only heats the living room. My bedroom is like an icebox when it's cold out, and i need to run a little space heater basically all winter if i want to be able to feel my feet even under a bunch of blankets. Also test any little electric forced air heaters built in to the wall, as some can be infuriatingly rattly and loud. Like, wake you up from a dead sleep every time they kick on loud. At a previous place me and my partner took to running the thing at max power until it was 80f in the room, then shutting it down and piling under a bunch of blankets and sweating for the first hour or so in bed before the temp equalized. Otherwise the choices were freeze, or awful loud rattling.

* On a more general note of getting your first place, get decent furniture. Used stuff from craigslist is always better than ikea crap(the only good stuff from ikea are solid wood things which are expensive anyways, a few leather couches, and this type of metal and glass stuff). I'd almost go so far as to say don't buy a new anything and get it all on craigslist. I furnished my entire first place in order of percentage by dumpster diving at the apartment complex, thrift stores, and craigslist. I also got 1-2 gift items from family that were new ikea type stuff. All the ikea stuff broke, i still have a lot of the other stuff. I wouldn't buy anything new except for a mattress(and just the mattress, get a used bed frame/headboard/whatever you want to go with it), and would hope i was inheriting one from my parents house or current place.
posted by emptythought at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Parking: is there *enough* parking (if you come home later than your neighbors, will you have to park a mile away); are there assigned spaces; how many spaces or parking passes per apartment; what about guest parking?

Sound insulation: how noisy are your prospective upstairs neighbors; how well does the building deaden sound, both from above and from the sides?

If there's a pool: when is it open; what is pool security like (is there a well-regulated pool-pass system or would you effectively be paying to provide a community-wide pool)?
posted by easily confused at 3:29 PM on June 14, 2013

The power situation! Not really an issue in modern buildings, but many older buildings have older wiring, and limited available power. Had I known that we would have to keep a spreadsheet about what devices we can have plugged in to each ancient, glass-fused 15-amp circuit at the same time, or that there was only one usable outlet in the kitchen, I'd never have agreed to our current apartment.

I also mis-estimated my ability to survive comfortably without a dishwasher, but this may be less of an issue if you're not the sole dishwasher in your household, or you don't hate doing dishes as much as I do.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:32 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your new apartment has carpet, you will need a vacuum. If it isn't new carpet, you can bet the previous tenant never vacuumed/ didn't even have a vacuum.

See if you can get a good summary of renter/tenant rights from a local source. Maybe the housing authority, local university, etc. Forewarned is better, and you are less likely to get in trouble.

Seconding renters insurance. Cheap, and worth the peace of mind.
posted by annsunny at 3:38 PM on June 14, 2013

If you have a choice between your dream apartment and one that is suboptimal but is on the top floor, ALWAYS TAKE THE TOP FLOOR APARTMENT. Always.


Fucking always.

I am not kidding about the always. Even if it costs more money, even if it's a walk-up, even if the fucking roof leaks occasionally.
posted by elizardbits at 3:39 PM on June 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also people often remember to check their future building in a bedbug registry but most people do not remember to check their future landlord in the city's registry of landlords with many previous complaints lodged against them.
posted by elizardbits at 3:42 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

My apartment-hunting checklist was as follows:

top floor;
rear of building;
wood floors;
gas kitchen;
decent closets/storage;
window in the bathroom

I have had the leaky skylight from being on the top floor. I would choose that again over having the clog-dancing twins living above me. Trust me on this.

The best building I lived in was the one the landlord had lived in as a child. He no longer lived on site but cared for that building as if it were a precious gem.
posted by ambrosia at 3:46 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

most people do not remember to check their future landlord in the city's registry of landlords with many previous complaints lodged against them.

Unfortunately, this is one of those cool systems that would be a good thing if anyone used it. I've lived in a place that was ok but had lots of complaints just because it was a big building, and i've lived in several places with criminal shithead landlords that had an ok or squeeky clean record.

You really just have to talk to the neighbors on this one.
posted by emptythought at 4:06 PM on June 14, 2013

Check water pressure and temperature (is the hot water really hot?)

Drafty old windows make it harder to heat and cool the space, and insulate less effectively against noise outside.

Upstairs neighbors with toddlers, babies or puppies can be tough if you are a light sleeper.

Is there a grocery store you can walk to? and/or a pharmacy? Is there a bodega/corner store that is open late?

How is street parking for your friends who come visit, or for you?

Can you hail a cab outside or do you have to call one? Most neighborhoods are not frequented by empty cabs.

Will one wireless router cover the whole apartment? If the layout is long (shotgun style) you probably need a router extender.

Is it rent controlled? Does it go month to month when the lease ends? are you allowed to sublet? Can you renew automatically for another year at the same rent? Are you obligated to renew for another year if you don't tell him otherwise by a certain date? What if you need to break the lease?

All the windows need to have secure locks, even if you are on a second or third floor.

Do all the gas burners/electric burners on the stove work well?

If in unit washer and dryer, are the knobs working correctly?

Take pictures of ALL damage BEFORE moving in. nail holes, paint chipping off molding, small stains or weird spots in the flooring, rust, cracks, scuff marks, etc. Some landlords will try to charge you for all of this when you leave 3 years later.

Get renter's insurance.


FWIW, I have a shotgun apartment that requires an extra router, on a busy noisy street, with drafty old windows and only one gas heater in the front room, with a toddler upstairs, with not enough outlets, with a dryer knob that is totally wonky. But I love it and my rent is great and the space is beautiful. You are not going to find someplace perfect - you will have to figure out what you are willing to compromise on. But it's easier if you knew ahead of time and decided to accept imperfection than feeling frustrated the first month in.
posted by amaire at 4:06 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Small things, but they matter:
  • Be on top of furniture measurements not only as they pertain to where you will be putting furniture but also where it will be entering your apartment. Nothing sucks like having to say goodbye to your old boxspring because there is literally no way to get it through the staircases that lead up to your apartment.
  • Make sure at least one of the drawers in your potential future kitchen is wide enough to keep a utensils tray in. It'll be a real thorn in your side otherwise unless you get one of those rolling shelf deals in your kitchen, which may be impractical for other reasons.
  • If the windows are old enough, and shitty enough, and you're close enough to the street, they will rattle sympathetically with the engines in passing motor vehicles, or when the wind blows hard enough, or when someone shuts their car door, or when someone's blasting bass frequencies from their car stereo. This is really annoying. Get a friend to idle outside and shut their car door while you're in the apartment to get an idea of whether this might be the case in an apartment you're viewing.

posted by invitapriore at 4:25 PM on June 14, 2013

Oh and electric burners kind of suck. If the apartment is really nice otherwise, it's not a huge deal, but when I'm viewing an apartment they definitely get marked down on the negatives list.
posted by invitapriore at 4:28 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

If anyone admits that there are ever any kind of bugs in this apartment, expect to deal with a SERIOUS bug issue. My landlord and the previous tenant both told me that they "occasionally" saw "water bugs" in the bathroom.

Things I did not know at the time: "occasionally" means every fucking day for the entire month of March and April.

"Water bugs", which sound inconsequential, are a euphemism for GIANT FLYING COCKROACHES.

No one is going to mention a pest issue at ALL unless it a serious one. So "no pests" = maybe some, sometimes, "a few pests" = find a new apartment.
posted by telegraph at 4:45 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah definitely bring a measuring tape to make sure your couch, bed, etc will fit.

Find out who lives above you. I am not sure what the deal is with several people mentioning live on the top floor. I have two dogs and I prefer the first floor because it's closer to the door, and nobody to complain below when my dogs run around.

Get renters insurance now.

Find out if there are any weird building rules, like when you can and can't use the laundry. I'd also ask to see the laundry room if it's shared. Consider how many machines there are compared to the number of apartments.
posted by radioamy at 5:14 PM on June 14, 2013

Direction of windows. Despite living in a dorm with south-west windows for two years, somehow I didn't think about it until I moved into my first apartment with a west window. Summer afternoons were hell.

Proximity of windows near public areas. My second apartment had one window right next to the entranceway to the complex, so I had to keep the blinds down on that one all the time (and again I didn't check window direction, ugh!).

Bug screens. If none, expect buzzing surprise guests, especially if the windows open to a garden.

Make sure the floor is level.

Access to groceries and stuff. Hint: don't live on a hill unless you're super-fit or have motorized transportation.
posted by curagea at 5:20 PM on June 14, 2013

A couple people have already said you drive by at night. I'd take that a step further and stake the place out from dusk until 2 am or so on a weekend.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:46 PM on June 14, 2013

A landlady who knows the names of all her residents and maintenance workers and who is greeted warmly whenever she walks by one is likely a good, or at least competent, landlady.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:23 PM on June 14, 2013

Oh man, natural light. I live in an apartment in SF (a city that is always cold) and my windows just face the apartment next door. It is so cold and depressing in the winter.

Also find out what kind of heating/cooling system there is.
posted by radioamy at 6:32 PM on June 14, 2013

If you'll be on the first or second floor (and don't like cigarette smoke), make sure there are no ashtrays outside below your window. I lived a big building with a window that opened just above where all the smokers would congregate (because of the too-heavy to move industrial ashtray), and it was impossible to get fresh air.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:39 PM on June 14, 2013

If you're looking at a place in a complex with a pool, don't live near the pool if you like quiet at all. Summer is screaming kids all day forever. It's worse if there's a hot-tub, because there will be people in the hot-tub at midnight on a Tuesday, and they won't realize / care how loud their voices are to everyone in the units around them.
posted by wimpdork at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2013

Living near an entrance to the complex can be a bit of a pain. Besides the extra noise, people are constantly speeding in and out of mine. I have about 3 spots I have to continuously check to get out of my parking space (around the giant SUV parked next to me too) and it can get a bit frustrating when you don't see the person running the stop sign behind you when you are looking left and right.

I will also never live in another apartment that doesn't have a washer and dryer in the unit.
posted by Nolechick11 at 7:34 PM on June 14, 2013

"When was the last time you sprayed for bugs?"

The bad answer is "just recently". The best answer is "never".
posted by bonehead at 7:48 PM on June 14, 2013

If it's an old building, find out about if there are any restrictions on how much power the breakers can handle. We live in a 100-year-old building that doesn't have any central heat (there are baseboard heaters but they are a joke), so we have space heaters. Unfortunately, if you run the one in the bedroom at the same time as the one in the living room, you'll blow the circuit. Or if you run a blowdryer and heater at the same time, which is really fun in the morning.
posted by radioamy at 10:20 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check the water pressure in the shower.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 10:54 PM on June 14, 2013

Off-street parking. Always. Last time I had on-street, I ended up with tons of parking violations thanks to street cleanings, snow parking bans, etc. (Yeah, you're not supposed to park there in the snow--but if that's the only place you can park, what're you going to do?)

Check not only that there are window screens, but that the windows open. I once had a house where there was a single window in the whole place that wasn't nailed or painted shut. It was totally illegal, but I also needed somewhere to live, and so that particular battle went unfought.

If anyone mentions water--ever--flee. "Sometimes when it rains really hard you'll get a little water in the basement..." or "Sometimes this pipe drips a little..." Not ok. I found this out the hard way when I lost boxes upon boxes of stored things, including Sentimental Childhood Objects, to a basement that first filled with an inch of water and then grew mould over everything. Any signs of mould or moisture are dealbreakers. Water stains should be asked about, and unless the landlord comes back with something like "Oh, that was xxx, and we did yyy to fix it," you should leave. Ugh. Never again.
posted by MeghanC at 11:11 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

1) It costs a lot of money to have people from Mr Handyman come in and set up all the cheap furniture you bought yourself from IKEA. I spent roughly the same amount getting all of the furniture and accent pieces assembled and mailed as I would've had I just had it pre-assembled from a furniture store.
2) Don't spend more than $6000 of your parent's money on sprucing up the place if you don't plan on living in your apartment for more than a few years. I spent thousands on hardwood floors because I dislike carpet and I'm thinking that I probably could've saved that money instead of spending it recklessly, you know? I'm moving to California for grad school next summer and I regret spending so much on my place since I'll be leaving soon; moving all the furniture and paintings will be hella expensive.
3) Please, please, please don't develop a crush on your neighbour across the hall only to intercept one of his mail messages and discover that the reason he didn't approach you after you complimented his piano playing skills is because he has a live-in girlfriend who attends a law school two hours away and visits on the weekends. I wasted a legit 2 months living in la-la land, waiting for him to approach me, only to realise that he was avoiding me and the supposed temptation I present because of his commitment to his chica. Maybe you don't have the problem I do for falling for unavailable guys and then daydreaming about them endlessly, but you should definitely make sure your neighbour is single before you start doodling hearts around their name if you want to spare yourself tears. I mean, especially if you're going to host a party and be obnoxiously loud in the event that he'd come to his senses and decide to fall in love with your good taste in music and decor. Bad idea all around.
4) Be really nice to your landlord because they are your allies and conceirge people! The lady at the front desk of my building not only booked the tavern room for me when I was preparing for finals but also gave me a list of restaurants to try in the area and discounts to cool restaurants.
posted by lotusmish at 11:20 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

• parking parking parking! make sure you know the scoop
• units near stairwells are noisy with people clomping up and down
• does the building allow pets? cats on premise do not always mean they do as some people have pets even though they are not allowed
• is there a pet deposit?
• first floor units aren't as safe, live on upper floors, they are nicer too
•note how clean & well-maintained the common areas are as it's a good indicator of the landlord fixing things in an acceptable fashion
• living below someone with hardwood floors isn't terribly quiet
• having hardwood floors is da bomb!
• a/c may be a necessity in some locations so don't go without
• ceiling fans are a gift from God & tenants can usually install them with permission
• older buildings have charm (and walk-in closets!) but not many amenities like dish washers or even garbage disposals sometimes, older building can = not so hot plumbing so no celery down the drain
• newer buildings have more amenities but not nearly the charm unless you are loaded
• take pictures when you move in & leave so you have records of the exact condition of the unit in case of landlord trying to say otherwise and taking money out of your security deposit
• trust your gut about the places you look at, the landlord, other tenets and the neighborhood
• living close to where you work = much less stress
posted by wildflower at 6:53 AM on June 15, 2013

oh yeah...
• try not to sleep with your neighbors. it doesn't usually end well.
posted by wildflower at 7:03 AM on June 15, 2013

Run the shower with hot water for five minutes or so and let the bathroom steam up. Stains which are poorly covered up may be invisible when dry but appear like invisible ink when it gets humid in there.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:43 AM on June 15, 2013

And this just happened to my new neighbor: he can't get his car up our building's skinny, steep driveway. So if you have a car, and there's a driveway you plan to use, make sure you can make the two work together. :)
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:45 PM on June 17, 2013

Response by poster: These answers have been extremely helpful, thank you all so much (and especially to masquesoporfavor for pointing out this perfect thread which I somehow missed).

I realize that I can't avoid all these pitfalls (or even most of them), particularly on a student budget, but it's great to be aware of them so I'll know what I'm getting myself in for. I've used all these answers (and the ones in the other thread) to refine my list of requirements and preferences that are important to me - if anyone's curious, here they are:

-cats OK, close enough to my work, in my budget
-close to public transit, plus somewhere to stash a bike (no car or plans for one so I don't need parking)
-balcony or yard access, no basements (need a lot of natural light)
-good water pressure (long hair)
-no signs of mold/serious disrepair/bug infestations
-cell phone reception

Preferences (at least the most important ones):
-no carpets (esp. bathroom)
-quiet/safe neighbourhood
-cross breeze ability
-laundry on-site
-good ventilation in kitchen/bathroom
-as non-smoking as possible
-utilities included
-screens in windows
-lots of outlets
-thermostat control in room
-close to grocery store, pharmacy, etc
-good options for internet
-not on a major road (both for biking and noise/pollution)

I think all the general suggestions have been pretty well covered here, but if anyone has any more ideas that haven't been mentioned, they are very welcome.

In case it makes a difference for more specific suggestions, I'm in a Canadian city with very cold winters and hot/humid summers, and will be renting, not buying. Price is a major factor for me so I can't be too picky, unfortunately. I am also very sensitive to bedbug bites so I'll be trying my best to avoid places with bedbug registry reports, but it seems like every apartment building in my city has had problems, unfortunately.
posted by randomnity at 8:01 AM on June 18, 2013

One note about your preferences: be aware of which list items you're willing to drop, because it's unlikely you'll get lucky enough to hit your entire list, especially on what you describe as a 'student budget'.
* no carpets --- lots of apartment buildings require a specified large percentage of floors to be carpeted; it acts as a vibration-deadener and reduces the sound transmitted to the unit below.
* close to work, close to public transit, close to shopping, a quiet neighborhood AND not on a major road --- something here is almost certain to have to give. Suburbs are quiet and safe; shopping areas have lots of traffic and traffic noise; public transit is scarcer in the suburbs but plentiful on major roads.
* lots of outlets, cell phone reception, good options for internet --- that usually tends to mean you should look for a newer or at least newish building; unfortunately, that also often means a more expensive place.
posted by easily confused at 11:50 AM on June 21, 2013

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