Your First Apartment: I Can Help You Cut Through the BS by Asking These 16 Questions
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Your First Apartment: I Can Help You Cut Through the BS by Asking These 16 Questions

As college seniors await their (virtual) commencement, the nerve-wracking reality of post-graduation life sets in: new job, new apartment, new city, new friends, new….me?

Your First Apartment: I Can Help You Cut Through the BS by Asking These 16 Questions
Rent Cafe

While I am not qualified to help you find a job or friends, I CAN help you avoid a lot of hassles as you choose your first grown up, non-college apartment. As well as being a student, I've been a leasing consultant for almost three years, and between these two "careers" I am well-versed in all kinds of BS. I know it when I hear it and I can spin it into a 10 page paper like nobody's business. So allow me to share a few insights so you can avoid the BS and get straight into your Home Sweet Home.

Here's 16 questions to ask the leasing consultant/property manager:

Are you owner-operated or third party managed?

Have you heard a friend complain that their apartment changed management and now everything has gone down-hill, maintenance sucks, or no one answers the phone? It's pretty common. One important consideration when looking for an apartment is to know who will be there to answer your questions, service your apartment, and help you if something goes wrong. When you live at an owner-operated community, the company who built and/or owns the apartments operates and maintain them as well. Owner-operated apartment companies, like Camden Property Trust (shout-out!), usually have high service standards, take great care in operating their community, and create genuine connections with their residents. They have a brand to maintain. Third party managed apartments are owned by a person or company and subcontract out different aspects of the management and operation of the building. This might be fine, but it could also mean management changes take place more frequently. You WILL have lots of questions when you move into your first apartment - its important to know that your management team is there for you! Read reviews about the apartment complex and pay attention to any mention of service issues.

What is your occupancy?

An apartment community's occupancy is usually a good indication of whether its a great place to live. Naturally, people move for work or buy homes but if a community maintains above 95% occupancy it's a good sign. Communities with low occupancy are either struggling to get people in the door or struggling to keep them there, neither of which is an indication of a great place to live.

What "kind of people" live here?

Ok, if they ACTUALLY answer this one -RUN- they do not know Fair Housing Laws and should not be trusted! While that sounds very dramatic, knowing the Fair Housing Act is a leasing consultant's bread and butter. If they don't know it…well, what else don't they know? Or worse, are they ethical?

Are you running any specials?

Ah, specials. You either love them or you don't understand them. While two months free sounds great now, you won't love it 12 months from now when your renewal rent increases by $600/month. A brand new building might offer specials to hit occupancy goals but in 12 months they will get more money for your apartment if you move out than if you stay…so don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Which brings me to the next important question.

Do you cap renewal increases at a certain %?

It is really easy to get caught up in the initial excitement of finding your apartment but you must consider if you plan to stay for more than a year? Most people stay in their first apartment for 2-3 years which means you WILL renew your lease. Depending on the market there will be a typical annual rent increase %. Ask your leasing consultant if they will cap your renewal rate at a certain % to avoid an unsustainable increase. If they don't, do some research on the market before signing to make sure you will be able to afford to stay in your home!

How long does it take for maintenance requests to be completed?

If it's not 24 hours, I don't want it. Look, things happen, maybe they need to order a new dishwasher panel and it might take 7 days, but if you're just left in the lurch for days or even weeks without a phone call it could become really stressful. Having an on-site maintenance team who is on top of their work orders is really important and hugely impactful to your living experience.

How do you handle noise complaints?

Noise complaints happen. If they tell you they don't, they're lying. Some noise is to be expected in apartment living but the way management goes about resolving it can either remedy or worsen the situation. You don't want to end up with broom stick holes in your ceiling or with a passive-aggressive note at your door asking when you got a pet elephant. If your prospective management team has a well conceived chain of communication that is based on policy and reasoning its a good sign.

What is your Walk Score?

Depending on where you live, the Walk Score is really important. You could live in a desirable zip code and be a 15 minute walk from the nearest grocery store or restaurant. One of the most significant appeals of apartment living is convenience! The Walk Score will tell you how convenient and walkable the location of the apartment is or whether you need to Uber everywhere. A Walk Score between 80-100 is ideal!

What is the main reason people move out?

This question might surprise your leasing consultant a little, but it's an important question to gauge people's living experience. If their answer is "most people move out when their job moves them out of state or if they buy a house" it's a good indication that people generally love living there. If their answer is something along the lines of "well, the new apartments that opened up the street had a move in special and a huge gym with Peloton and a rock climbing wall" it lets you know that residents are willing to move onto the next new, shiny thing because there's nothing special about living there.

How often do you host resident events? What kind of events?

Did you move to a new city? Want to make friends? Resident events are a great way to meet people in your building and grow a network. Some communities offer small weekly events like Wine Wednesday or Sunday Brunch, others host bigger event like pool parties, a Halloween party, or a Friendsgiving potluck. Decide what kind of events appeal to you and how often you like to socialize. Not that you have to attend any of the events, but it gives you an idea of how much the complex values community and you can decide if that matters to you.

How would you describe the pool during summer?

The pool can make or break a community. You may find a beautiful apartment that turns into a frat party every Saturday afternoon. Or you might find your dream apartment location and end up being splashed in the face and boinked in the head by a beach ball when the toddlers come out to play. When you ask your leasing consultant to describe the pool listen for key words like "social", "fun", "relaxing", "calm", or "family-friendly" to give you an indication of what to expect.

Do you allow sub-letting or short term rentals?

You want to know that your neighbors have been background checked, right? If your apartment allows sub-letting or short-term rentals like AirBNB or VRBO it means that people who are not registered and who have not had background checks have access to your building. This is not great and shows that the security of residents is not a top priority.

How many parking spaces do you get per apartment? How many are reserved for guests?

If you're in a 3 bedroom apartment do you have 3 parking spaces? When your mom comes to visit, can she park in a gated area or does she have to find street parking? In a lot of cities there are less than half the number of parking spaces as there are residents, so these are important questions that will impact your day-to-day.

Do you have someone available to answer my call 24/7?

Have you ever called a company and had the call go to voicemail? You leave a voicemail, call the next day, leave another voicemail following up on your previous voicemail, and STILL not hear back? When your toilet is overflowing you really want someone to answer the phone. Ask who takes your call when the office is closed. Having a 24/7 contact center is great peace of mind and shows that they care about customer service.

How does package delivery work and what happens if I'm out of town?

Are your packages delivered to the door? Do they have package lockers? Do the package lockers accommodate for the hundreds of Amazon Prime boxes that arrive every day? What happens when you order a 35lb bag of dog food or a rug? If you're an avid online shopper (and who isn't now?) you may find yourself waiting at the concierge desk or sifting through all the packages that couldn't fit into the full package locker. I love having my packages delivered right to my front door (I live in a security-pass building but front door delivery might not be ideal if you don't) so it's important to know your preference and ask the question.

What happens if I need to break my lease?

Things happen, leases are broken. Your job is moving you to London or you decide to travel for a year, or you move back in with your mom and dad because…parents are awesome. You might need to break your lease early. The process for this varies state-by-state and you want your leasing consultant to be able to clearly articulate the state-specific procedure so that if the time comes you can rely on them to treat you fairly (and legally).

Finding your first apartment is exciting yet nerve-wracking. I hope that asking these questions, taking notes as you listen, and really thinking about what is important to you before you walk in the door, will make finding your first apartment easier and maybe even fun. Now go forth and rent!

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