For the last week, since accepting my new job offer and deciding to move to Jersey City, my wife and I have been on a serious apartment hunt. We are leaving no stone unturned! We don’t have to find a place before I start and since our lease at our current place technically expired in October 2013 (I’m fairly certain our landlord thinks we re-signed for two years like the original lease, but it was just a one year renewal and there is no aut0-renew clause). On one hand, I can commute from where we live now so we can take our time to find the right place for us and not just immediately jump on something for the sake of making sure we have a place. On the other hand, my commute from here will be around 80 minutes and not at all pleasant. It’s doable, but it’s not going to be fun. Ideally, I’d like to have a place by September 1st and October 1st at the latest.
We’ve been all over Trulia, Zillow, PadMapper, Hotpads, Craigslist, and a few other sites as well. It’s pretty much consumed us all week. We’re not above refreshing these sites every 15 minutes and setting up email alerts on all of them. I think what we’re looking for between our must-haves, dealbreakers, and this-is-really-important-but-if-it’s-the-only-thing-missing-we-can-live-with-its, I think we’re reasonable for our budget. Picky as hell, but realistic.
Here are some of my random thoughts about the hunt so far:
- This apartment hunt is very different from the others I’ve done. It’s the first time I’m looking for a place that’s not super close to where we are now. We’re close enough to be able to actually look at places and not have to blindly choose a place, but it’s about a 45-60 minute drive every time we want to look at an apartment. There’s also a broker fee that’s fairly standard in Jersey City and many urban environments. I’ve never had to deal with this before, but it’s typically a month’s rent that amounts to little more than a finder’s fee for the realtor. I’m trying my best not to think about this because it seems completely insane to me, but only a handful of places don’t have the fee so there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it.
- Looking for an apartment when you’re transgender is really limiting. We basically have Trulia’s crime map of Jersey City open at all times and check everything against that. If it’s not distinctly in a green area, it’s a no-go. If I wasn’t trans, a place that’s borderline could be more of a possibility, but that’s not the case. This removes about a third of the part of Jersey City we’re looking at from our search. Of course, rent is a little cheaper in those areas and some of them are even closer to the PATH stop I need to take. And I also need to be careful about the areas I’d be walking through to get to the PATH every day, they need to be green too.
- The location we really want is basically the second most desirable neighborhood in Jersey City, at least from what I can tell. It’s the best location for us in terms of my commute and the things we want to do. Location is important and we have the privilege of being able to afford the location we want. Though, that location will likely mean other sacrifices to stay in the affordability range.
- If you’re a realtor, be responsive via all of the communication methods you list. Don’t take a full day to get back to me. Don’t not call me back. If you list a mobile phone number or I put your number into my iPhone and it turns blue, respond to texts. A lot of the time, a quick text is easier than a phone call for just asking questions. Plus, it saves me the agony of working up the nerve to make a phone call…which can be enough to cause me a panic attack.
- Sometimes, just a little extra money makes a huge difference and opens up a lot of new possibilities. You don’t want to spend too much of your income on rent, but if you can sit down and figure out a real budget, that could help free up money you didn’t realize you were wasting somewhere else.
- If a place says pets are okay, double and triple check that. Make sure that your kind of pet and the number you have is okay. There may be a larger deposit necessary or a fee. Be aware of this. We were told one place allowed pets and confirmed that we had cats. Then, after filling out a rental application, were told they weren’t allowed. Our cats are devils, but they are non-negotiable members of our family. They go where we go. No exceptions.
- Speaking of cats, if you’re a cat owner you already know this, but if they’re happy, you’re happy. If you have multiple cats and the layout of your apartment doesn’t allow them each the space they need and allow easy exits when a scuffle happens, you could have a problem. When we walk through apartments, I make sure to look at it from the eyes of our three cats. I look for things that they will each like and things that could be a problem. For us, I know a narrow doorway that splits the overall space into two smaller areas could be a problem. Both Fry and Leela frequently guard doorways from each other. Are there nice big windows for them to sit in? Places for them to climb? When guests come over, is there a place for Leela to hide? Pets shouldn’t entirely rule your life, but the reality is if a new apartment doesn’t work for them, it can make life hell.
- Before we look in person, I examine the photos as closely as possible. I build mental floor plans of every place and will use even the tiniest clue to figure out how the photos go together. If there is a tiny piece of a table or chair that’s in a corner of one photo, I’ll look for it in another photo to build out that room in my head. I also know the photography tricks to make rooms look bigger or nicer. I look at furniture (if it’s there) and use that for scale while also compensating for distortion if it looks like they used a wide-angle lens. If the place is empty, I’ll use windows, doors, light switches and outlets, ceiling fans, and basically anything else I can to figure out how big a space really is. I look in the windows to see if there are window A/C units (I’ll use Google Maps street view to look from the outside too) and look on the walls and floors for the heating/cooling–baseboard and radiator heating means no central air, but vents are a good sign. I look at where the light is coming from and how much there is. I look at the counters and the cabinets. Is there enough counter and cabinet space? I look at sink and shower fixtures. I look closely at the appliances and how old they look. Are the stove and over gas or electric? Where do you come in and go out of the apartment? What room is the bathroom off of? What kind of view is there from the windows? What kind of floors are there? How many closets are there? I also take everything in the description and compare it to what I see to make sure it all adds up.
- When we look at a place in person, I’m just as thorough. I open every closet to see how big it really is. I’ll pop my head in utility closets to see if everything looks normal and if there could be extra storage in there. I open fridges and ovens to make sure they’re clean. I open some of the cabinets and drawers to make sure they’re solid. I’ll even open the breaker box and I’m not above checking the water pressure in the shower. I look out all the windows to see what the view is and see how someone else might be able to look in. I pay attention to the floors to see if there are spots that are warped/unlevel or creak or give slightly underfoot. I look at what kind of thermostat is there–is it programmable? If the tenants are there, I’ll ask them what their utility bills usually cost and what the parking is like in the area. I’ll also ask why they’re moving. And in addition to walking through the place like our cats would, I also walk through as if I lived there. When I walk in the door, would there be a place to leave my coat and shoes? Is the bathroom off of the bedroom, meaning guests would have to walk through our bedroom to use it? If one of us is in the kitchen and the other is plopped on the couch, could we still keep a conversation without yelling? Are there plenty of outlets? Are the light switches in convenient places–I once lived in a place where the kitchen light switch was behind the refrigerator. Where does the cable come in from?
- The building we live in has to have laundry and it being in the apartment itself is a huge plus. It’s a dealbreaker if it doesn’t. With us both being runners, we just generate too much laundry to have to be lugging it all around.
- Most apartments are listed in many different places and with multiple realtors. I’ve even found some that are listed on one site with a broker’s fee and on another site stating there’s no fee.
- If you’re looking in an area where apartments go really quickly and the listing or realtor is trying extra hard to sell you on a place, beware. In a location like Jersey City, the best places are often snatched up in a matter of days. Realtors know this so they know they don’t need to sell you on a good apartment. It’ll sell itself. If they are selling hard, that likely means there’s likely a reason for it.
- On the same note, places that have been available for more than a few weeks scare me. Why as it not been rented already?
- Don’t get your hopes hopes up before seeing a place. Most places have listings that make them sound amazing, but are no where near as amazing in person.
- Shop around, but if you find some you really like, jump on it.
- An extra set of eyes can be really helpful and provide a perspective you haven’t thought of. Our friend Dori lives in Jersey City and looked at one place with us. It was nice to have her perspective. Another friend came with me the other night when my wife wasn’t able to come. He recently moved to Jersey City so he just went through the process and was able to compare to the places he looked at.
What do you look for in an apartment? When was the last time you searched? How many places did you look at?