Hanging your hat without losing your mind: Apartment searching.
For those of you who follow Project: Priceless—the NEST, you know that Brian and I have been looking for a new apartment. Our current abode has, quite literally, melted under our feet: many years of a leaky tub has resulted in the entire bathroom needing to be replaced, and the mold is driving us crazy. We began our search in early September, and I’m happy to say, we have just found a place. I could say that we ‘lucked out’ in finding exactly the type of place we were hoping for, but a lot of hard work went into the search, and very little was left up to chance. For those of you out there who may be looking for a place—to rent or own—in the future, here are some tips from an all-time expert (yours truly):
Make a chart
Yes, this sounds anal retentive, and yes, maybe it is. But it’s the first step to keeping sane during a lengthy and particular search. My chart is simple: make a ‘table’ if you’re using MS Word. Have the table be 7 cells wide, and as many deep as you like. Across the top 7 cells, fill in these headings: DATE, BEDROOMS/TYPE, CONTACT INFO, PRICE, UTILITIES, PARKING, NOTES. With each new apartment you find in your online search (may I recommend your local UsedEverywhere site?), write in the details of the ad and any additional details you get by email or phone. This chart will help you to be sure you don’t forget what you’ve seen; I can’t even count the number of times this simple table has stopped me from settling for a mediocre apartment, simply because I would have forgotten about the one I saw three days earlier.
Set 5-10 priorities
Make a list of ten things you want your apartment or house to have or be. Then go through and put a star beside the five that are non-negotiable. If there’s more that need stars, mark them, too; but beware that the more stars you have, the harder it may be to find a place.
Set a budget
I have a stellar budgeting system, and one day perhaps I’ll blog it, but the part about your rental allowance is the key here. The experts say that your rent should never be more than 30% of what you take home on your paycheque. Now, depending on your city and your family size, this may or may not be possible, but it’s a good goal. Don’t forget to ask how much utilities cost the last tenant; if the landlord doesn’t know, you can often call agencies like your electricity provider and get an average monthly estimate.
I’m a believer that bad things happen to people, and it doesn’t matter your gender. I always encourage people to go in pairs to a viewing, and if you want to be extra safe, give the address to someone who can be your ‘back up’; set up a plan to call them fifteen minutes after the appointment time, and let them know what you want them to do if they don’t hear from you. This may sound paranoid, but safe is always better than sorry. (Hint: this is also a very good practice for anyone who is using internet dating sites.)
Another important safety tip: visit the rental’s street at night time. Some places just seem a little rundown during the day, but at night can be downright scary. When considering new neighbourhoods, I have always made a habit of jumping in a car with a friend, driving down to the area, and sitting with the car off and the windows open a bit. Do you hear types of activity that make you uncomfortable or would drive you crazy if you lived there? Do you see anything going on that would make you feel unsafe? I lived in a neighbourhood where I had to keep someone on the phone with me the entire walk home from the bus stop, so I know what it’s like to live in a scary neighbourhood; man or woman, you’ll need to evaluate for yourself what you feel up to handling.
Be creative in your search
Do you have a specific neighbourhood you’re interested in? Search for that keyword (ie. ‘Wellington Village’ or ‘Britannia’), but also try searching the names of specific streets and apartment buildings. Some people in really great neighbourhoods don’t seem to realize the extra value their neighbourhood’s name may give to the property; our new place, actually, wasn’t listed under its neighbourhood’s name, even though the area is very trendy and is a popular search word for renters. Because we familiarized ourselves with the local street names, we were able to dig out this ad with the search engine and snatch it up before any other locals found it.
You are allowed, and entitled, to turn on the taps, open windows, shut doors, look in basements, flick light switches, and flush toilets. I admit, it freaks landlords out, and sometimes I can’t muster up the courage to do it, especially if the current tenant is still living there…but if you have the chutzpah, do it. You may save yourself a year of grief when you discover that the shower just sort of spits on you rather than showers you.
Found the place of your dreams? Not sure? Join the crowd
Once you find the right place, my opinion is that you’ll know it in your bones. But many of us get attached to one place because of some specific aspect: the price maybe, or the view. If you have any doubts about a place, take the application home with you and think it over. Take a couple photos if you can, and talk about the place with someone who didn’t come with you; if you find that you keep making up excuses for the shortcomings of the apartment, you know you need to keep looking.
When you find the right place, get your application in as quickly as possible and be sure to take a moment and tell the landlord a bit about yourself. They are happy to hear that you plan to stay for four years while your partner finishes school, or that you like to volunteer with the neighbourhood watch. Make yourself a real person in their eyes, not just a name on a sheet of paper. And when they call you to offer you the place, there’s only one more piece of advice I can offer you:
Celebrate. You can find boxes and packing tape later
Editor’s note: Have your friends and family stopped answering the phone at the end of the month? I have two words of advice. HIRE. MOVERS. Seriously.