Striking a Balance: 5 Things to Consider When Shopping for a City Apartment

My boyfriend and I recently embarked on a search for an apartment in the now infamous rental market in San Francisco, attending open houses that feel like cattle calls, where prospective tenants line up with their binders full of personal information and checks made out for steep application fees… just to be considered.It can be easy to fall into the same sort of mindset that takes over when shopping at designer sample sales, a mix of desperation and competition that overrides the rational part of the brain that asks: do I really need or even want this? Being both a freelancer and the proud owner of two dogs, I feel a little extra pressure. Those two points alone tend to move me to the bottom of the application heap. In an attempt to maintain sanity and think on our feet, we came up with a little pregame strategy, a checklist of the things that are most important to us in a city dwelling. The more points the place hit the better. We prioritized the ones that were the most important to us and identified what we were most willing to sacrifice.

Here are the five key points we found ourselves looking at when shopping for this, as well as past, city apartments.

1. Location
Location was a very important, if not the most important, factor for us. It can make or break the experience you have in a city. Factors such as proximity to shops and restaurants, what the neighbors are like, noise and safety all factor into the decision making process. The path from your front door to the nearest public transportation is also key — you can live on a great block but still have to pass through some really sketchy areas as a part of your regular commute.

2. Size
We have both lived in very compact city apartments over the years, but need to be sure we have enough space to where we can each have a little alone time and not constantly be on top of each other. The dogs' needs as well as the fact that I work out of a home office also factor into this one.

3. Cost
This is a very personal and situationally specific one. While the general rules about what percentage of your income should be spent on living expenses are great, in some markets they just aren't doable. We came up with a general range of what we could spend and aimed for the lowest rent possible without sacrificing to many of the other points.

4. Condition
Leaky pipes, mold, and drafty windows all can be easy to overlook when checking a place out, but can have a long term affect on your general comfort and health. Checking bathrooms ceilings, underneath sinks, windows and appliances, as well as asking about how maintenance on the property is dealt with, can save you a lot of future grief.

5. Transportation/Parking
This might seem like an afterthought but can be a deal-breaker on even a great place that hits all of the other points. We share a car, so garage parking or a space would be great, but otherwise it's important to find out what the street parking is like and if there are any affordable garages nearby that you could use. Close proximity to public transportation with a safe path that you would feel comfortable walking at night is also important.

If you have any points of your own, feel free to add them in the comments below.

(Image: via Kim Lucian)

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