In addition to getting married this month (more on that in a different column), the lease on my apartment expires in August. While I’d certainly like to stay (and not have to pay movers, or a security deposit, or an application fee, or setup fees for cable, electricity, and gas), my current complex has made it impossible. Not only are they raising our rent by 17 percent, but the neighborhood in general has gone downhill. A year ago, the quiet bikers who lived next door, who we only heard if they were bringing their motorcycles in and out, were been replaced by three roommates who play their music so loud that we could hear it in our bedroom, which is all the way on the other side of the apartment*. We lost our gym for three months, and one of the two pools was filled in to become a play area — but really it was just a mess for more than half a year. And when our apartment was flooded by the people upstairs, the complex brought in repair crews who took forever and never showed up on time. It took almost a month to get back to normal, and even then the walls are still stained, the crown molding is still separating from the wall, the ceiling is still imperfect, there’s still mold in the bathroom, and the carpet is clearly scored from where they cut it to replace the padding.
So we have to move. In fact, we’ve been looking for a new place for six months, and it’s been… challenging. Here are six of the worst things about apartment hunting.
6. Everything is more expensive. — I accept the fact that rents do rise on occasion, and if it’s a reasonable jump, I’ll understand. I won’t like it, but I’ll understand. Last year our rent went up $30. This year, it’s going up by almost $230. We’re in a prime location and the new management company can get more money out of everyone, so they’re going to do it.
But all the other complexes around here have shot up in price as well. Right now we’re paying $1135 per month for a 3/2, and that price point is almost impossible to find in our zip code — or any of the neighboring ones. Unless we want to downsize, that is (and if we do, then we’ll have to move anyway if we decide to have another child). Or settle for something problematic. And how do we know there are problems?
5. Almost no apartment complex in a normal person’s price range is well-rated. — I use ApartmentRatings.com as my source for information about places I’d like to move into. People on there are usually pretty honest, and I can tell when a complex has been astroturfed. I usually read the three- and four-star reviews most closely, because those are from people who are generally happy, but are also willing to discuss the problems they’re facing at their complexes.
Unfortunately, it’s the one-star reviews that are the most honest, because they detail the major failures of the places that look the best on their websites. Maybe it’s maintenance issues; maybe it’s safety; maybe it’s office staff; maybe it’s hidden fees. I understand that no place is perfect, but at my price point (which, as I mentioned, isn’t in the super-cheap range) there are too many problems for me to ignore. And if there aren’t?
4. The floor plans aren’t very good. — Our current apartment has the front bedrooms separated from ours by two bathrooms. However, as we begrudgingly compromise and look at 2/2 units, most of them don’t have roommate floor plans. I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to share a bedroom wall with my child. Of course, the ones with the roommate plans are more expensive, too (because they’re in higher demand), and even if we can afford a nice 2/2, adding the roommate floor plan pushes it out of our price range.
But even if the bedrooms are placed where we want them, there’s often still other issues. Right now we have 1438 square feet, and I accept that I might have to lose some space if we move, and I even understand that galley kitchens are often the order of the day… but the kitchen at least has to have enough counter space to cook a meal, and there has to be a pantry (even if it does share with the laundry), and I personally prefer the kitchen open on both ends because otherwise it can get a little claustrophobic, even if there’s a pass-through window. And there has to be a good number of closets, too; in the house I used to own, there’s exactly one closet on the main floor, and it’s a combination pantry and coatroom. Now, sometimes we do find floor plans that make us happy, and that’s when we start asking ourselves what else is wrong.
3. They’re never in the right place. — Our apartment is four miles from my job, fifteen minutes from my fiancee’s, less than ten from our gym, and less than fifteen from the school. It’s convenient to almost everything, including the train, and the airport is only a half-hour drive away (if there’s no traffic). We’ve accepted the fact that we’re not going to be able to afford anything this close, but there’s a slew of issues with the locations of most of the other complexes.
Take the ones one town up; they’re off a road with a reversible lane (what I call a suicide lane), which makes it almost impossible to get in and out during rush hour — which, in Atlanta, is 6am-10am and 2:30pm-7:30pm. Or the ones in the next county to the west; the only ones in good areas would put the new baseball stadium between us and our jobs, or force us to use the interstate that is in the midst of a decade-long construction project. There are a few great ones in the county to the east (and the one to the east of that), but the perimeter highway is a nightmare, and the back roads are worse, and if we go too far northeast we’ll be stuck on a feeder road that’s backed up pretty much all day — and its interchange with the highway is about to undergo a major reconstruction project of its own. And that’s not even taking into account the ones that are in less-desirable neighborhoods, or too far away from my daughter’s friends, or nowhere near mass transit. What can you do if that’s the case?
2. Rental homes are too expensive. — At least twice a week I scoured the home-for-rent sites, looking for something we can afford. There are condos and townhomes for rent in our area, and they’re in our price range, but there are problems there too. For starters, most of the places for rent were gone by the time we were ready to move. And even if we wanted to move to them, most of them required first-last-security, or at least first-and-security, and at our price point that’s almost $3500. I remind you that our wedding is coming up, and we have to pay for that too.
Renting a home comes with its own set of issues, too. Many condos have very small kitchens, or aren’t roommate-plan, or are out of our price range because they were just remodeled. Townhomes are all well and good, but most of them are in a sketchy-looking part of the next zip code up. With a duplex, you often have to split utilities with the people on the other side of the wall, and in that case you’re at their mercy for how much the bills will be. And actual houses require more money for heating, cooling, water, sewer, and lawn care — although a used lawnmower isn’t that expensive.
But sometimes you find a hidden gem.
1. The best ones are full. — About ten minutes from our current home — twenty in traffic — there’s a perfect apartment complex for us. It’s within walking distance of our preferred grocery chain as well as our favorite brunch restaurant. It’s relatively close to the school and both our jobs. My daughter’s friends live close as well. It’s in a good part of town. It has enclosed entries for each building, and each unit is huge. Even the galley kitchens are big, as far as galley kitchens go. A good percentage of the residents are older, which means they’re not going to be loud. And, according to the manager, some people have lived there for decades.
Oh, and the price is perfect, too; both the 3/2 and the 2/2 with the bonus room are less than what we’re paying now. I’ll even fork over the one-month’s-rent security deposit if it means we get to live there.
But we won’t. For the past year, it’s been completely full.
So what did we do?
Well, we got lucky. Our situation changed, and we were able to up our budget by $100. We checked out two complexes that had high scores on Apartment Ratings, and both had a lot of pros and very few cons. We ended up going with the one that was slightly more expensive because it had enough pros to overcome the cons. We signed the lease, and we move in a couple of weeks.
The biggest change is that we’re downsizing — from a 3/2 with 1438 square feet to a 2/2 with a sunroom (1300 square feet). We lost our linen closet and exterior storage, but gained a nice patio with entrances from the master bedroom and the sunroom. We lost our non-galley kitchen, but we’re getting one with newer, stainless-steel appliances (and a gas range and oven, which I adore). We lost our linen closet, but our foyer closet is twice the size of the old one and should make up for it. We lost the nearness to the train station, but we’re going to be living closer to the school and both of our workplaces, while still being near to most of my kid’s friends. And, finally, we lost our double-length master bathroom counter, but we’re gaining a fireplace (and a living room that’s pre-wired for cable and HDMI, so we shouldn’t have wires everywhere).
The runner-up was offering a top-floor unit with vaulted ceilings, built-in fans, excellent bathroom plans (including dual linen closets and garden tubs), and it too had a fireplace. But it was 150 square feet smaller, and it was quite obvious that footage came from the living room (which was too shallow for our furniture) and the dining room (which wouldn’t fit our table). It also wasn’t gated, and the pool and community center wasn’t as nice. Although the runner-up has a better gym, the winner’s gym is fine, and they also offer free tennis lessons, free boot camp exercise sessions run by a professional trainer, a gazebo by the pool, a car wash station, and the ability to rent the community center for $100.
So, take heart: it’s possible to find the truffles in the mud, if you take the time to search, and if you don’t give up.
Luck doesn’t hurt, either.
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* They finally moved out in May, but the damage had been done.
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