You’ve crossed the first hurdle: you found an apartment you love, in a coveted neighborhood, and it’s affordable. Best of all, the place is still available. It’s not a miracle. You probably used Apartments.com — with its comprehensive listings, simple interface and custom filters — to help you find the digs to suit your most esoteric needs. But woah there: don’t commit to anything just yet.
Yes, the urge to say yes to a new place on the spot is great, especially in a competitive housing market, but it’s a choice you can easily come to regret later. Before you put down that deposit, make sure you ask some important questions. (And not just the obvious stuff about utilities and whether you can bring your ferret.)
1. How noisy does it get?
Your apartment should be your sanctuary. Or at least a place where you can get a few peaceful hours of sleep without being woken up by competitive gymnasts who like to practice their floor routine upstairs in the middle of the night. So when scouting a new place to live, be sure to find out — from either the landlord or the broker — if there are any noise concerns to be aware of.
And even if the person showing the apartment swears up and down that it’s as silent as a very comfy crypt, you should do also make your best effort to verify it on your own. Listen carefully for thumping coming from the ceiling. Inspect the vicinity for signs of an incipient racket. (A chicken slaughterhouse next door? A crowd of people crawling up the block bearing glowsticks and the exhausted expressions indicating that they’re coming from an all-night rave?) If possible, you might even see if you can come back later to check the place out at a different times of day. That sleepy cafe downstairs won’t seem so charming when you discover it transforms into a nightclub as the clock strikes 10.
2. What’s the rodent situation?
Before moving in, you’ll want to know if you’ll be expected to share your space with any existing tenants. Especially the type who won’t respect the helpful labels you put on your food or the notes about cleanliness that you leave taped to the refrigerator. When you ask about a history of rodents, make sure to be aware of shifty eyes, sweat forming at the landlord’s brow, or other tells indicating that there might be a problem of the furry variety. If mice have been here before, you can bet they’ll be back. And if even a little bit suspicious, make sure you can bring your cat.
3. Does the super deserve the title?
Sure, the place seems fantastic, but it won’t look so great when an ignored leak in the ceiling gives way to a full-blown avalanche. When the worst happens in your new place, will there be a responsive, helpful person standing at the ready to handle the situation?
Is there a super who actually lives on the premises? Does a grumbly, never-around landlord claim to take care of everything personally? Or is the building managed by a faceless company based out of Delaware? Make sure you find out who handles the day-to-day upkeep on the place — and that they’ll be standing at the ready in case of an emergency — before the pipes burst and you wind up clinging to a mattress as you float down the street because no one was available to fix the problem when you called.
4. Is smoking allowed?
This one’s a no-brainer for committed nicotine-heads, but it’s non-smokers who might actually be more invested in the answer. After all, a smoker in a nonsmoking building can always light up while taking a healthy walk around the block. (Low-impact cardio cancels out the ill effects of tobacco, right?) But those with more virginal respiratory systems will want to find out the building’s smoking policy before moving in.
If smoking is allowed, it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, but at the very least, you might want to make sure your future next door neighbor isn’t a lifelong smoker named Doris who burns through three packs while sitting in bathroom over the course of a typical day. Doris might think what she puts in her lungs is her own business, but it will quickly become yours when you wake up in the middle of the night hacking under the cloud of smoke that’s seeping through the vent.
5. What really goes on in there?
As you’re doing your due diligence, remember that there are others to consult besides whoever’s showing the apartment — the people in the neighborhood can be a major resource too. Trust that the women manning the counter in the coffee shop across the street probably know a thing or two about the goings on in your would-be building, and that it’s just as likely they’re willing to gossip if you buy a latte and leave a generous tip. What are the other residents like? Is there constant turnover, or do people tend to stay for awhile? Is the building being surveilled by a malevolent entity who sends creepy, vaguely threatening letters? That might be a good thing to find out before you move in! Make sure you ask the people who actually know what’s up. (And will actually tell you.)
Look, the search for an apartment doesn’t need to mean making unnecessary compromises that you’ll regret later. With Apartments.com, you’ll have a trustworthy, always on-the-job advisor at your side, to take the guesswork and hassle out of the search so you can focus on the little details. (It even rates the community based on site inspection and renter feedback.) That way, you’re free to be a total Goldilocks about the process: if one place isn’t what you hoped, Apartments.com will soon lead you to the one that’s just right.
Bennett Madison is the author of several novels for young people, including September Girls (HarperCollins 2013) and The Blonde of the Joke. He has lived in more apartments than he cares to think about.