If I was handed a booklet of life-hack do-over passes, I’d use one for a different choice in my first apartment.
Wait. Strike that.
I’d use the first for a different choice in my first boyfriend.
I’d use the second one for my apartment. (Clearly I like do-overs.)
In my second year of college, I’d ventured into a shared lease with a fellow college friend who placed her trust in me to discover our dream apartment. Afterall, I was on the path toward a Fine Arts degree and we were both working full-time, so certainly I could be counted on to unearth some gem of a pad worthy of MTV Cribs, featuring large windows, natural light, rustic wide-plank wood flooring and clean, crisp, neutral walls with built-ins… maybe a brick-faced feature and a gas fireplace.
She’s so pretty, isn’t she? Sadly, this was not my prize.
Rather, I returned a veritable eye-sore of the neighborhood, and something that seemed as though they should have paid us to live in. It’s still unclear to me as to why we agreed to occupy the sour-smelling second floor of a mint-green, dusty, make-shift rental, except to say that I was blinded by the excitement of new found independence that eclipsed any speck of common sense I had as a then 20 year old college student.
Also, I thought I would get used to the shoe-box sized kitchen and wafting odor of mothballs and stale basil emanating from the first floor. The landlords seemed like kind people of course. But I soon began spending as little time as possible in the apartment, which is counter to the purpose of getting my own apartment in the first place.
So, in light of my first apartment fail, here’s a handy “Hindsight is 20/20” checklist of things to consider in a first apartment.
1. Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish.
There are many benefits to being frugal. But balancing that with an informed look at my finances could have helped me make a better decision. I didn’t really know what I could afford, and so I jumped at a cheaper option simply because it was the cheaper option. I didn’t do my research. I was impulsive and as a result, I spent a full year locked in a lease in an apartment that completely grossed me out. Looking back, I wish I’d crunched some numbers, understood my budget and made a wiser decision with my money.
2. Consider a Professional.
Realtors can be a great resource for rentals, saving tons of time searching through ads, Craigslist and other avenues. Fees are sometimes paid by the landlord who may be looking for just the right kind of tenant and willing to cover those costs. If you think you’d fit the bill as a reliable, long-term tenant, this may be a great option with little or no cost to you.
3. Ask Questions.
OK. I can say it out loud now. I believe we shared our space with the pitter patter of vermin who did not pay their fair share of the rent. That really freaked me out. I should have looked around more carefully for signs, and asked more questions. So please, ask lots of questions. Bring in some reinforcement if you have to. Ok. Moving on…
4. Know Thy Neighbors.
While I’d like to say I put a lot of thought into making sure I would be sharing a home with people who were reasonably normal, I did not. I basically winged it because I was too excited to care. And I’m certain the paranoid homeowner was entering our apartment when we weren’t there to be sure the college students weren’t wrecking the place… which is ironic considering it’s original condition.
5. Know Thy Rights.
Being very young in my first apartment, I did not know I could negotiate with my landlord and request reasonable changes to my lease. And a quick Google search on “Tenants Rights” and your location will return a trusty handbook that you can use to learn about your rights as a tenant and recourse you have in the event of any problems.
But through all of it, I was actually very proud of my accomplishments and new responsibilities. My shiny keys represented things I could do if I set my mind to it. I was honing life-long skills that would prepare me for that next level of home ownership, a 30 year variable rate mortgage and a very, very different kind of budget.
This post is Sponsored by The Harrison Apartments located in Somerville, NJ with studios, 1 bedroom and two bedroom apartments for rent steps from Rutgers University, the New Brunswick Station, and St.Peter’s University Hospital.
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