Apartment hunting Philly frustration: Part 2
May 17, 2018 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Apartment newbie here. Do I get a cheaper apartment now based on my minimal summer school budget or wait until fall when I will have more funding and can probably get a place more suitable to my needs and in my desired location? I'm currently in Philadelphia.

I posted previously for advice on apartments in Philly and got great advice! I'm not sure anyone would notice a new post in that thread so wanted to start a new one.

I'm now in Philadelphia and have been avidly searching for apartments. This is my 1st time getting an apt on my own. I've done some research & have been asking locals questions, but things just aren't looking great. I have found some nicely priced apts ($650-750) in Center City /South Philly, but one went in 1 day & the other seems like a bad idea based on the bad tour this morning. Highly unprofessional property manager and I should have read reviews before I went to tour, the property's past tenants all complained.

Many decent listings I find have terrible reviews, for cheap and expensive apartments, it's a shame. I've considered moving further out (Germantown, Darby, East Falls, etc) to get a decent place at a decent price, but I'm new to Philly & still navigating advice on areas & safety. I'm a single woman who tends to attract unwanted attention from men, although I haven't had anyone hollering after me yet since I got here. Not like in L.A. But I've only been in Old City, Center City and Bella Vista so far for the 1.5 weeks I've been here.

The financial question: My online graduate program starts May 21st and I'd really love to get settled somewhere. But my minimal school funding for summer limits me to getting a 750/mo, maybe 800/mo apartment, if I'm going to pay 3 months down before moving in as per usual costs.

On the other hand, once Fall starts I'll have a budget of $1100/mo for housing, so I am a bit torn; if I absolutely can't find a good cheap place in a decent location now, should I just try to airBnB or sublet this summer and then get an apartment in the Fall?

The catch is I'd probably have to sign a year lease, which could be a good or bad thing, with the apartment extending past graduation. I'd prefer to have the lease end once my financial aid ends, which would be in May 2019.

What am I looking for? I moved to Philly for efficiency and opportunity -- I don't have a car, and I LOVE being able to walk to markets & do all my errands on foot or by public transit. I don't prefer to live in NYC, plus NYC and D.C. are more expensive, but I wanted to be near those cities so I can visit embassies easily for international job applications. I plan to relocate abroad in the next year and teach English. Plus, I model and do event work, and wanted to stay east as much as possible so I'm closer to work in central Philly and/or NYC.

So, maybe I'm being foolish and too choosy for a student without much money. I don't have a consigner either, so even some apartments I could afford with work and school funding I can't apply for. I have noticed some apartment companies don't income qualify students, and based on specials, I could still swing move-in costs for more expensive apartments if they're less than 3 months rent upfront.

At the end of the day, I just need a decent place to stay, and I have chronic health issues so I'd really like a place to myself where I can cook, rest and tailor my environment to my needs. Even if it's just a closet with an oven and stove.

I'm just trying to remember that the further out from the city I live, the longer it could take for me to run errands, and I may end up racking up more UBER costs, which would then defeat the purpose of me moving to the city. I'd rather pay more and conserve my (limited) energy for work and studying and taking care of myself.

I don't want to put the cart before the horse; maybe I won't get much modeling or event work in Philly & DC. But I can't just up and change my apartment if I do end up getting a lot of work. Those jobs tend to be at odd hours, temporary, and in central areas. Which I can accommodate with my flexible online work and schooling, but if I live a 30 min drive out, that may make things more strenuous.

Sidenote: I've heard Camden is dangerous in the past, and isn't the best place to be now with racial tensions, but an apartment just across the bridge in Pyne Point, Camden looks really appealing with great amenities at a low price point.

I would really appreciate any advice. I'm feeling quite frustrated and although I'm trying to think through everything, I'm still new at this and I could use some help.

posted by dancer4life to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Center City, Bella Vista, Old City are all very central and very expensive - I recently left Bella Vista in part because it has a very in-demand elementary school, so I was competing with well-to-do parents for housing.

I definitely understand the reluctance to head out to Germantown or East Falls, but there's a huge range of neighborhoods in between those extremes. I'd strongly suggest looking a couple of stops away on the subway or El from center city; going just a bit further out will save you a ton of money vs Center City without having to go all the way to Germantown.

Philly housing - especially outside Center City and University City - is going to be a lot bigger on "mom-and-pop" landlords who may just own a couple of row homes, vs professional landlords who you'd be able to find reviews of online. I've lived in Philly for over a decade and I can count on one hand the number of my friends who have ever lived in a building big enough to have an online presence to have reviews.

In addition, in part because we've historically had so many inexpensive 2-3 bedroom row homes, there are (relatively) few 1br and studio units available relative to some other cities - people who can afford a Center City 1br often can just rent or even buy a whole modest house for comparable money. If you're comfortable having roommates, finding a room in a chosen neighborhood with other people is probably going to open up a lot of options vs only going for 1br/studios, within your budget.

I'd suggest looking around Newbold and Passyunk in South Philly, or Fishtown or the closer-in parts of Kensington off the El (no further out than the Berks stop I'd think, if you're new to town.)

Camden can be a fine place if you really know the area but I can't recommend looking there if you're not 100% sure what you're getting into; for example you'll probably find it to be completely unwalkable.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:38 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at West Philly? Especially in the areas where university police patrol between, roughly, Baltimore Ave and Walnut Street and between 42nd and 48th streets, you'll find a TON of grad students. For safety don't go above 48th/49th, and for price don't go below 42nd. The rent is much cheaper (and apartments much bigger) than you'll find in Center City. It's got great public transportation access (subway, bus, and trolley), is as safe as anywhere due to the university bike cops/Penn and Drexel shuttles, and has good access to 30th street station which you'll want if you're heading to NYC.

I also just really love and miss West Philly. It's the home of Lil Pop Shop and Dock Street Brewery. It's got Shakespeare in the park (Clark Park also has an ace farmer's market). And you'll see people studying in every local coffee shop.

For actual housing, there are a couple of major landlords in the area (I used to rent from Campus Apartments - there's also University City Housing), but you're also likely to do well looking for privately owned housing on Craigslist. You can get a very good deal on rent if you sublet for the summer, because most people subletting in that area are desperate to find someone to finish the summer on their lease and (since graduation is over) are often willing to rent less than they're paying.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'll second West Philly. I'd avoid anything east of 45th street, as it tends to be a little too close to Penn, but 45th out to 52nd is quite nice. Check on Craigslist, too. I found my old apartment at 45th and Locust (above the Green Line Cafe) there, and loved it.
posted by SansPoint at 12:12 PM on May 17, 2018

Not from Philly, but about landlords in general, have you ever had one you really liked? Liked enough to write a positive review for? No? Me neither. Even my "good" landlords did shitty and illegal things. My two cents: I wouldn't put much stock in online reviews. Go with your gut after you see the places. Good luck! You can do this!
posted by purple_bird at 3:45 PM on May 17, 2018

Response by poster: Just wanted to say, thank you everyone for the replies and encouragement! I really appreciate it. I'm sorry for the late response; I've been running nonstop with work and things and I'm finally checking AskMeFi.

Update: I did get an apartment recently, at the western edge of Penn's campus (don't want to be too specific), not far from the 40th MFL station (Market Frankford Line for non-PA readers). It has been a whirlwind. Perhaps I should have posted to AskMeFi before I officially signed my lease. It is my first time doing this, and I felt so anxious signing it, because it is above my ideal budget (965/mo + 1 utility for a studio). I actually found cheaper studios in Center City. But once I was offered this apartment right after touring and applying, and told that they couldn't hold it for me while I considered other apartments (although I had paid the deposit), I feared if I left this opportunity to continue applying for cheaper ones, I might not be accepted for the others and could lose out.

My grad school funding for summer is minimal, and because the apartment I got had a very low move-in cost, I was able to save more towards next month's rent and other costs. Short term it's ok, and I only have two classes this summer, so I plan to work full-time. I'd have to even with a cheaper place. But in the fall, though my funding is higher, I'll still probably need to work more than is beneficial to cover food costs and have savings for after school. It is a nice area, but I'm still having second thoughts. I'm thinking to get a subletter (or someone to take the lease) if I have to for the fall and spring, and I should have no problem finding someone to take it because it's a pretty place near UPenn. But $965 out of my $1100/mo funding for room and board leaves little room for food after utilities and internet are taken out, and a $750 apartment for example would leave more room for food costs to be covered.

I know it would be cheaper to find roommates. I have a chronic illness, so it's really important for me to have my own space, and be able to rest, cook, and work at any hour that my health permits and requires. Also, it's hard for me to work full-time continually, so it's important that I minimize costs so I can save money for relocating after school. I plan to move abroad after getting my master's to a country with cheaper living costs.

I'll probably post this as a new question, but if any of you see this, I'd appreciate further advice! Should I just try to work a ton this summer while I have a light course load with school, and save the extra money I'll need for food during the year, while staying in the same $965 apartment? Or work a ton this summer, save money to help me get a cheaper apartment in the fall, and have my funding cover everything, so that any money I make goes toward savings? Regardless, I need to work full time this summer, even though it's not good for my health or performance in school. But it's better to do it now, vs. when I have a full load of classes starting in the fall. Unfortunately, I don't have another option at this time.

I feel really foolish for signing a lease out of fear that I wouldn't get another place soon enough. I'm new at this completely-on-my-own thing. I really appreciate you all's input! Thanks again.
posted by dancer4life at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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