Saturday, December 3, 2016

Some Apartment Hunting Tips

I grew up in a nice home, with woods behind our house; but I found my first apartment when I was 18. Since then, I've rented bedrooms in people's homes, and my husband and I have owned two beautiful homes (in different states, not at the same time). But we've also lived in apartments in several states… before children; while in transition when relocating; and then, more permanently, after moving to Baltimore.

In addition, over the years, my husband has sometimes gotten a call from a recruiter, asking if he would consider a job in this state or that city. Always, I would do a lot of online research into the area they had mentioned.

Looking for an apartment might be a necessity, or it might be an option, permanent or temporary. Some people recommend, when you move to a new region, renting for a while before you decide where to invest in a house. 

So, without further ado, I would like to share with you some tips I've picked up along the way.

The neighborhood:

There is absolutely nothing like going there and seeing a place, the buildings, the grounds, and the general "feel" within the neighborhood and the apartment community.  It might even be good to drive through at night.

Is there adequate parking? Is it well lighted?

I know someone who had to rent, sight unseen from another state, so he took only a 6-month lease, and he turned out to be glad that was all the time he had signed up for.

Also, if a website says the apartment is located "close to Public Transportation", if that's a plus for you, check it out, as that bus line may have been discontinued. If it says there is a grocery store nearby, and that sounds good to you, check, as it may have closed. I once saw a place that said it was located one minute's walk from somewhere, and I followed up and found out it was a minute as the crow flies, but that there was no way to walk.

One other thing I'd like to mention about areas. If someone (in a forum or in a group you are in, whomever) tells you that some place is a "bad area", try to find out what they mean by that. Before we moved to Baltimore, I met a woman online who told me not to live anywhere in Baltimore or Baltimore County, because of crime. I thought that was way too much of a sweeping generalization to have any validity. Also, I've experienced crime, or heard about crimes, in every area I've ever lived …in rural suburbs, urban suburbs, city, country…West Coast, Midwest, East Coast. Looking back now, I can't think of any crime that has come close to my family in the ten years we've lived in Baltimore County, and worked and worshiped in Baltimore City. Now, if someone (in any general area), says there are a lot of shootings in these blocks, or there's a lot of gang activity at this school, that's more specific, and I pay more attention.

The apartment unit:

All square feet are not created equal. We once lived in a temporary apartment with a very big bathroom and a smaller living room. Checking the square feet per room or looking at a picture of the floor plan can help clear this up in advance.

If it says, "2 baths", it might be only 1 ½ (only a toilet and sink in one of the two). You almost have to see the floor plan if you want to know before you go to visit in person.

Often, you cannot see the individual apartment you will be renting before you lease it, because someone has to move out. But here's an idea I learned from experience. Before you sign the lease, at least visit the outside of the building of the unit you will be renting. What's around it in the way of creeks, freeways, etc.? Yep, I always said I wouldn't live by a freeway, and yet, here we've been for the past eight years. Now, I kind of enjoy watching the traffic go by, like a flowing river, but I still think it's kind of funny that it caught me unaware in a "never say never" kind of joke. 

Some not-so-apparent cost factors:

The monthly lease payment is not the only cost consideration.

Will you have to drive further and pay more for gasoline, or will you be living closer to work and services and can pay less for transportation? Are there extra fees, for example, for garage or covered parking?  

Is there a fitness room that would save you money, if you would otherwise get a gym membership elsewhere? Is the fitness room where you would feel comfortable using it? How about after dark or after office hours?

Is a swimming pool important to you? If so, do you envision yourself bringing extended family or friends to join you at the pool? In some apartment communities, you have to pay an additional fee for each guest, for each day they use the pool, and in those cases, yes, someone is there checking you in.

Are some utilities paid, for example, water?

One leasing agent explained to us that the laundry facility, located in each building, was free. He pointed out that was a savings over having a washer and dryer in the unit (as we prefer), since you don't have to pay the electricity to do your laundry. Of course, one would have to be willing to juggle laundry times with neighbors.

Also, not every apartment community which has a laundry facility offers it for free (I haven't seen this very often), nor do all apartment communities who have laundry facilities have a laundry room in every building. If it's down the road, will you drive your laundry there, get a cart of some kind, or carry it? Will you go back and forth or wait for it, or maybe go to an off-site, commercial laundromat once a week?


When I looked for my first apartment, I found the apartment complexes to be more money than I wanted to pay, and I decided my best option was renting from a woman whose upstairs level was an apartment.  It was a very nice place. 

A few years later, still single but in a different, more expensive, state, I walked into a trailer park and asked the manager if she had anything I could rent.

She said, "Our trailer park is for retired people.

Undaunted, I said, "I don't throw parties. Does that make a difference?"

She smiled and said, "Yes, it does!" and she rented me a little travel trailer for a low price that I could easily afford. 

I soon got lonely and rented a bedroom from a friend; but I'm just saying that there were alternatives.

I don't know if it's the times, the place, or that I have a family now; but I haven't seen as many alternative ideas recently. However, I do know a small family in California who rents the garage of a friend as their living quarters.


There are many sites for looking for apartments. I got started using Apartment Guide back when I used to get the paper copies at the grocery store, before we had a PC, and I've just never left. I know they don't list every apartment though, so it's good to use more than one source.

I go for the reviews; I don't pay much attention to the numbers. Often, people only post ratings and reviews when they have a complaint. I love where I live and yet the numbers are currently low. Sometimes people even post reviews without having taken their complaint to management, or they broke a lease and are mad that the apartment management is holding them to it. Most apartment companies would, so it's not a good way to compare one apartment with another.

So, the reason I am suggesting Apartment Ratings (or any apartment reviews) is to look at what types of complaints do people have? No place is perfect in this world, but what kinds of problems are you willing to deal with? If someone says that children run around, I don't mind that; I like children. If they say the management isn't friendly, I don't mind whether people are friendly or not, if they do their job. But there are some other kinds of problems that are red flags to me.

I used to love this venue, but they seem to offer less pinpointed information for free than they used to. However, I can still sometimes get some general ideas about an area.

This is a friendly-looking site with grades for cost of living, crime, etc., although it seems to me that it's often more about a general area rather than a neighborhood.

How "walkable" is an area? This is a good first look. But what I really like to do is Google the address and look on the map to see what's around. How close are grocery stores and other services?  If something is close, how hard is it to get there? Is it on the same side of the road or is there a high-speed, multi-lane road to cross?

How close are schools? A school being within easy walking distance might be a plus or a minus, depending on whether you are looking for your children to be able to walk to their grade school or whether you want to avoid being too close to a high school.


If I'm not familiar with an area or a neighborhood, I like to look up shopping plazas and places of worship. Is the shopping center still there, with many of the shops still in business? Can you find what people say about it? Is there an active place of worship that you would attend? What can you find out about it from a website or Facebook page? I'm not concerned here with their web-building skills (or even if there isn't a website, in which case, hopefully I can find another source). I'm looking for whether or not it might be a good fit.

Again, if and when you're able, there's nothing like actually going into the community, getting a feel for it, stopping at a store, going to a church, whatever you can do to learn more about an area.

Good luck

If you are looking to relocate, I hope a few of these tips might help you in some way. I've had fun gathering them together for you today. I hope this will help you with the quest; and I hope, like me, you will have fun with it, too!

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