Surprises happen anytime you move your entire life into an apartment you’ve never lived in before. But you can significantly decrease the amount of negative surprises — bugs, loud neighbors, and more — by studying this ultimate “What to look out for” checklist — and taking the list with you on your next apartment hunt.
Whether your upcoming apartment hunt is your first one or your fiftieth, there are steps you can take to make sure you don't get blinded by hardwood floors and charm and sign a lease for a place that will end up making you miserable. Below find a list of things to look out for that we've gathered throughout the years.
The key isn't to lose out on a gorgeous apartment unless it passes all these tests; it's about identifying the elements below that would be most important to you before you sign a lease. Then physically bring a checklist with you for each place you look at so you can stay calm and collected and quickly run through your checklist to decide if it's the right functioning home for you. We've organized it in order of what to look out for:
What the surrounding area is like during all hours
You may be laser focused on finding the new address, but try and let your eye wander as you go check out a new place. Was it very difficult to drive there or take public transportation? Are there lots of bars and fast food joints? Is the apartment next to an intersection or bus stop? If possible, visit this new place at different times of the day, but at the very least during a rush hour to see just how loud and wild the place gets. The big question to ask yourself at this point is, do I feel safe and comfortable right now? And once you get to your potentially new apartment, don't forget to check what's next door:
Check out the common areas
As you walk toward your potentially new apartment, pay attention to how well-kept the common areas are, from hallways to stoops to stairwells and more. Not only can it give a hint as to what sort of neighbors you'll be sharing the place with, it could give an indication of how well the management keeps up the property. You might also check out where the garbage is maintained to also see how well-kept that area is.
Look for signs of infestation
Some folks in big cities have resigned themselves to having to live with a certain level of vermin. For others, the thought of having to share your new space with something like mice or roaches is completely vile. So get really thorough when you search your potential new place. Bring a flashlight along to not only search corners, cabinets and crevices for the bugs themselves, but also look for signs they've been there, like excrement and shedding and more.
"Roaches. I recently had a horror story apartment in Seattle. It looked beautiful because they redid everything. The first night the little creepy crawlies came out of the walls. I now look for apartments with a flashlight. I check under sinks, around exposed pipes, and all. One lady said I looked very professional, but I think she meant very nutty. I just never ever want to deal with that again. There's simply not enough boric acid powder in the world." — heresyoftruth
Check to see how the doors and windows work
Check all doors and windows to see that they open and close and latch and lock. But then take it a step further and investigate how energy efficient they might be. Do exterior doors need door sweeps replaced? Are old windows painted shut or very drafty? None of these things are necessarily deal breakers, but they could cause you a lot of money in the future when it comes to heating and cooling your place unless you put a lot of work in.
Check the plumbing
Few people think to run the faucets and flush the toilets, but both of these can give you indications about the state of the plumbing. If the toilet doesn't flush well or runs very long, you could be spending extra money on your water bill. And check that toilet shut off valve — does it work or is it rusted shut? (This is not something you want to discover while your toilet is overflowing) Sinks that don't drain could indicate clogs in the pipes that haven't been fixed. Check that shower — how's the pressure? How long does it take for the hot water to heat up, and how's the temperature? If you're able to check the water heater, does it look okay, or does it look old and damaged? Showers and water bills can be greatly affected by an old water heater.
Check the electrical sockets
Check to see if they work, if there are any loose sockets or other indications of faulty wiring. But also check to make sure there are enough in the rooms that you'll be using a lot of electronics. If you use a curling iron or hair dryer, make sure you've got outlets where you need them in the bathroom. Maybe even check to see if they have GFCI outlets in the bathroom and kitchen.
Listen to the noise level
See if you can just sit in the middle of your bedroom at night (or if you'll be working from home, the place where you might keep your office). Sit quietly and just listen. Is the traffic noise pretty loud or can you deal? Do you hear kids screaming or dogs barking? Are neighbors playing really loud music or stomping? Is a nearby traffic signal beeping loudly? Is a fire truck roaring out of a fire station a block away? None of these things are necessarily deal breakers (ear plugs and noise-cancelling headphones can do wonders), but it's about not being surprised by loud noises after you sign the lease. Of course you might not be able to hear everything in a short amount of time, but it should give you a slight idea of the noise levels of the place.
Look up and down
Make a call
If you see a future neighbor, ask them two important questions
Don't feel like you have to go knocking on everyone's doors, but if you see any potential new neighbors out and about, say hello, introduce yourself, and ask them how they like living there and how they like the landlord. Don't let their words be the final say of whether or not you choose to rent, but take them in account like everything else you've checked off from this list.
We grabbed the above reader quotes from three Apartment Therapy posts worth checking out for the comments alone: