Searching for a new home requires some serious diligence. Pictures on some websites can be misleading, and nobody wants to sign a lease only to discover that their dream apartment overlooks the train tracks and is already populated by a family of rats.
Ideally, you can either visit the unit in person or have access to high-quality photos from the property. Only those who come fully prepared can land the best deals. Write yourself a little checklist of these tips for finding a new home when viewing a place.
5 Tips for Finding Your New Home
1. Check out the neighborhood.
Before you’ve even stepped through the door, you should already be judging. Does the neighborhood have the kind of bars and restaurants you like? Are there great parks and shops? Is it safe? Is it noisy?
Everything can seem rosy on a Saturday afternoon, but it may not be so nice coming home late on a Friday night. Be sure to check out your neighborhood at all times of the day — talk to the neighbors, too. Ask them candid questions about the area.
2. Inspect, inspect, inspect.
You’ve done your research online. You know how many bedrooms there are, and you’ve looked over the floor plan, but you don’t really know anything until you spend some time in the apartment. Don’t let the broker sweet-talk or distract you.
Ask questions and pay attention to detail. Is the paint peeling? Are the amenities new, or are they likely to break soon? You’ll want to minimize the number of calls you’d have to make to the property manager after moving in, just in case he’s the type who never answers the phone.
Check everything, from the light switches to the faucets to the toilet. Do you get cellphone reception? How’s the view? Where are the power outlets? There’s no use packing your wide-screen television only to find that there’s no place to plug it in. Every potential problem can waste you time and money.
3. Learn what’s included.
With rents in cities like San Francisco already sky-high, you need to know what you get for your rent check. Does it cover utilities, or will you be paying extra for water, garbage removal, and heating? Is there access to laundry? That great deal might not seem so great when you discover that every bag of garbage costs another $10.
4. Test your commute.
Most people view apartments during the weekend, but this is the worst time to get a sense of your potential commute. It could take 15 minutes at 2 p.m. on a Saturday, but the same commute might take more than an hour at 8 a.m. on a Monday — and even longer when you just want to get home at quitting time on Friday.
If you plan to drive, you’ll need to check parking, too. Will you have a designated spot in a garage, or will you be reliant on street parking? Finding a space in some parts of town can be harder than finding the Ark of the Covenant in that warehouse at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and the costs of parking meters can really add up.
5. Take photos and notes.
Don’t just see with your eyes; see with your smartphone. Taking photos of flaws will help when negotiating your lease or discussing the security deposit.
Write down any concerns you have, as well as any repairs you find necessary. You’ll be glad you remembered the crack in your bedroom window once winter rolls around.
Don’t feel pressured to rush your decision. If you’re moving in with a roommate, sit down and have a frank discussion about how you see life in the apartment. Compare notes. Who gets the master bedroom? How are you allocating closet space? Do you both feel at home?
Unless your situation is more temporary, you’ll likely be spending at least a year of your life in your new place, and you don’t want to be miserable. Practice due diligence up front and you’ll save time, money, and hassle.