An ask about... asking
July 8, 2024 12:54 AM   Subscribe

It's about that time, y'all: I'm starting my apartment hunt in earnest. (AKA, The Almighty Mommy Goddess' dad gave a budget to get me the f out, because Reasons.) What have you asked of people who are the gatekeepers of residences? I know the big stuff - square footage, why is there carpeting in the kitchen, monthly utilities, etc. What other questions I should be asking? What are things that you wished you'd known about, sooner - the good, the bad, and the ugly? Thank you!
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on who you talk to. If you can talk to the current tenant, ask about the neighbours. Knock on some doors and ask the neighbours what the building is like to live in and what the management company is like etc. Get a feel for the neighbourhood as well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:31 AM on July 8

I'd visit multiple times: what's the area like on a Wednesday morning vs a Friday evening, vs a Saturday lunchtime?

How new is the boiler / central heating?

When were the electrics last checked? How old are the windows?
posted by philsi at 2:20 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

Seconding koahiatamadi in that if you are able to talk to the current tenant, you'll find out the "real stuff" about a rental property.

Also, find out what utilities you will need to have in your name, i.e., is the hot water gas or electric? Is the heat gas or electric, etc.?
posted by kuanes at 3:55 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Go there at night and see how loud it is and what’s going on.
posted by Slinga at 4:39 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

What is the parking situation? Do you have a dedicated spot, do you share spots, or do you park on the street? Is there laundry in the unit, or machines shared in the building, or none? If none where is the nearest laundromat?

What are the upfront costs? Depending on where you are you might need to pay up to 4 months rent just to sign the lease (first, last, security deposit and a broker's fee) or you might not need anything but a signature and decent credit score. You should learn what the norm is in your area.

You should also understand how competitive your area is - in many markets you'll have days or weeks to make a decision, while in Boston or NYC you might need to put a deposit down immediately after you've seen the place.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 5:39 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Things to do at a viewing of an apartment that you like:

1. How much light gets into the apartment? Consider what time you are there, what direction the windows face.
2. Check the water pressure in the shower and sinks.
3. Is anything broken that needs fixing before you get in there? Like window screens, is the toilet running, etc? You should always ask them to fix any outstanding issues before you move in.
4. Is there a residence above you? Loud neighbors are difficult, often they don't know they are loud, a building can just carry a lot of noise down.
5. Is there laundry? Is there a dishwasher?
6. What's the maintenance situation? Is there a management company that will fix things, or will you deal directly with a small-time landlord who will fix it themselves (either option has good and bad aspects).
posted by RajahKing at 6:28 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]

As someone who's been renting for almost 20 years and just finished the hunt for a rental last month...

Depends on who's doing the showing. If realtor/property owner, ask things like:

1. what is the process for fixing/maintenance (e.g. if the dishwasher stops working, how does it get fixed)
2. what is the property maintenance like, is there a grounds service that does lawn upkeep, who shovels the sidewalks/driveway when it snows (depending on climate/geographical location!)
3. what utilities are paid/managed by tenants
4. pet policy/additional pet security + pet rent
5. parking (do you get a dedicated spot, does parking cost extra, is it shared parking, visitor parking options)

If the tenant is showing and seems open to questions, I would ask:
1. how responsive/helpful has the landlord been
2. what's been their experience with rent increases
3. why are they moving (bad experience, or just normal circumstances?)
4. typical utility bill costs
5. general neighborhood/neighbor stuff - are the walls thin and you can hear everything, are there frequent loud parties, is there one annoying neighbor that revs their car at 6 am
6. reliability of appliances (does the hot water heater suck, is the AC working)
7. any other tea they're willing to divulge

these aren't so much 'ask' stuff but more 'check out while you're there':
1. water pressure of showers and functioning/non sluggish toilets
2. general condition of walls and flooring
3. any evidence of pests (sticky traps, actual bugs, bug related waste)
4. condition of appliances
5. safety of entrances and exits, and what it will be like to both move in (big stuff) and carry in normal stuff (are there 3 sets of stairs, is there an elevator, what's the trek like from parking)
6. listen for noise level from outside and neighbors

if you decide to apply, ask about the application process (what docs you'll need to provide, is there an app fee, how long to expect to hear back) and if you decide to sign, closely review the lease for anything shady/illegal (I once was given a lease that specified I would automatically have $700 removed from my security for repainting upon exit, which was illegal - I pointed it out and it was removed from my lease, but I wonder how many people signed it and lost money) and make sure that anything you discussed as far as utilities, appliances, etc is covered in the lease.

As general advice, if you're in a busy market, I suggest keeping a spreadsheet or small notebook with notes for each property within, it can help you keep your options and thoughts organized when you've seen 4 places in a week and can't remember which one had the neighbor's dog barking the entire viewing. Take pictures if you can, as they'll sometimes differ greatly from the shiny listing photos :)

Happy home hunting, it can be stressful but I hope you find a place you love.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:02 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

What is the package / mail situation? Do residents have confidence that they will receive packages that were delivered?

It’s always helpful to get feedback from real people about their experiences… check Reddit, Facebook, your own (extended) network.

What is the building’s smoking policy? Do folks actually smoke in the building? (Sometimes “smoke free” buildings have exceptions for residents who arrived before the policy change to smoke free. Sometimes “smoke free” buildings are smoke free on paper but not in practice.)

What is the building’s policy on air bnb and other short term rentals? What is it like in reality?

What is near by will impact your experience (e.g. a college / university, park, stadium, etc).

Investigate whether the management company or apartment complex shows up in the news. Investigate whether the management company or apartment complex has interacted with the city / county government (e.g. lawsuits).

When was the building built and how does that fit in with the history of your area? For instance in some cities buildings built before a certain year are under rent control.

If you have allergies or environmental sensitivities your body may be happier in either “old construction” or “new construction.”
posted by oceano at 7:19 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

To summarize the above helpful comments - before doing viewings, you should get clear on what matters to you. Some people get easily depressed if their apartment is dark (I know I do), but I've had friends very happy living in a cave-like apartment. Some people really value good water pressure, some don't. Some people are sensitive to noise, some people don't care. Etc. Make a list of your top 10 priorities for a living situation and then make sure you're evaluating those - and take notes/photos, it's easy for things to blur together if you go on several viewings in a row.
posted by coffeecat at 7:39 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

Ask if you can be put in touch with a current or former tenant to ask them what living there is like. One time that I did this, the current tenant warned me off of a place that looked very appealing.
posted by adamrice at 8:49 AM on July 8

If there's a balcony, you might ask about restrictions on the balcony (usually no bbq, sometimes no smoking, sometimes storage of things like bicycles or other large items, sometimes even more detailed restrictions).

Some places have storage lockers or bicycle rooms if you care about those. If not, think about where you will store your large items.

I asked what their policy was for dealing with insect pests, since that was very important to me. If they don't have a policy or say that they've never seen any pests, I'd wonder about their honesty if it's a large building. If they say they treat the unit immediately but don't mention treating any adjacent units, this would also concern me.

If smoking bothers you, ask about the details of the smoking policy, including grandfathering, balconies, and how often and how they've had to enforce it.

You can ask about the typical demographics of the building - while there is usually some variety, they may lean towards older people, young professionals, young families, students, etc which all has a huge impact on noise and overall vibe. You also may be able to guess this from what's nearby (especially if it's schools) and the overall neighbourhood vibe, which you definitely should walk around in both day and night to get a feel for.

Ask if you can take pictures and maybe even quick measurements (if they don't provide a floor plan) if you're serious about the place - I did and this was super helpful for planning out my furniture arrangements and deciding which items to toss before moving.

Ask about the temperature controls - who pays for heat/cooling and how effective is it? How hot or cold can the apt get, especially if large/old windows or facing the sun? Will you need to install AC and if so are there restrictions for which type? Beware that it may be very expensive if you have to pay for it yourself, and it may not be very effective if the landlord pays - ideally try to verify with a tenant. You can also try to time your visit for a hot afternoon and see how hot it is inside.

If no dishwasher/laundry, you could ask if there are restrictions about the portable ones, if you want those. If there is laundry, ask how many machines vs how many residents, or count that yourself.

Ask about pet policy if you have, plan to have, or are bothered by pets in any way.

Look for how many outlets are around and how conveniently they're located, especially in areas like the kitchen and where you may want a workspace.

Not a question for them, but one thing that can make a huge difference is having a good management company. Check google reviews, social media for your city, etc. Look for both bad and good ones. I did my research and picked one with a good reputation for dealing with pests efficiently and just overall not being jerks/slumlords (while keeping in mind that all reviews for all apartments will overwhelmingly lean negative because people don't usually review when they're happy - but look at what they're complaining about exactly, how bad those things are and whether those issues come up in multiple reviews). I only looked at buildings run by the company I wanted. I'm very happy with my decision after being in my new place for a year with no issues and prompt maintenance help.
posted by randomnity at 9:01 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Temperature modulation/climate change impacts/extreme heat considerations.

Think about heat island effect on the micro scale -- is the apartment surrounded by asphalt parking lots or is there a big shade tree that will protect the apartment from direct sun in the heat of summer. There are workarounds like insulating curtains etc but this makes the difference between your apartment being 5 degrees hotter than the outside temps or 5 degrees cooler.

I wanted lots of windows for my apartment (rainy Portland) and didn't think through how goddamn sunny it is in summer (and how quickly the apartment heats up) when there are 4 windows and a sliding balcony door that all face east (and no overhangs to shade the windows) and two south-facing windows (so hot, so so hot). Use suncalc or similar to figure out how the sun changes over the course of a year. The importance of window direction will vary by latitude, but I'm exhausted right now because we keep all the windows open to cool down the bedroom at night and the dawn starts at 5 am right now. Reflective window film can help a lot, but if I had thought this one through I might have picked a place with a different orientation to sunrise/sunset.

Re: window placement, make sure there is the possibility of a cross breeze. We put in inward facing fans in the window on the cool side and outward-facing window fans on the hot side and it pulls through a decent amount of air on most summer nights once the air has cooled down.

Thermal bridges are also something I learned after the fact - but due to the concrete floor being extended all the way to the outer envelope of the building, our floors lose heat quite quickly in winter and despite all those lovely windows, the apartment can get very chilly (workaround, lots of rugs).
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:25 AM on July 8

You might get better information finding a local group (Facebook, maybe reddit) to ask this. What's legal and what shenanigans landlords get up to vary a lot by location.

Google your potential landlord and see if you can search for liens on the property. If they're already in debt to that point / have that terrible a relationship with tradespoeple, the odds that they're fixing anything go way down.

When being shown a place, keep an eye out for signs of damage / damage being covered up / anything that feels off. Only the bathroom ceiling has fresh paint? Only one room has new carpet? The landlord should be forthcoming and plausible about what happened and what they did to fix it.

I'd also give yourself permission to aim for a place that you feel good about coming home to. Think through the functions you need your home to serve for you (hobbies? cook a lot? close to x?) and how this place can do it.
posted by momus_window at 10:51 AM on July 8

One other item to think about is how the unit will be in a blackout if you're in an area that loses power frequently. Will you have water if there's no power or is it electrically pumped? Can you manage carrying groceries/water/etc up to your unit? Not relevant everywhere, but worth thinking about if you're mobility-restricted or looking at units in high-rise buildings.

Also, look at the trash room or trash chute area -- no bugs there isn't a guarantee of no bugs, but it is a positive sign.
posted by snaw at 10:07 AM on July 9

One rule of thumb for those prone to analysis paralysis: tour your top five picks. If you can’t find something that would be “good enough,” you might need to reevaluate your selection criteria or recalibrate your expectations. My addendum to that rule of thumb, is that first you might need to tour some places to get a sense of what you like or don’t like.
posted by oceano at 1:51 PM on July 11

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