When I first moved to California, I wasn’t sure what city I wanted to stay in. I lived like a nomad for months, camping on friends’ couches in a few different cities and assessing the territory before deciding where I finally wanted to settle. I eventually decided to stay in Los Angeles, partially because I felt that as I got older, I’d never be so foolish as to make that decision again.
I had a crappy little Honda Civic that threatened to collapse at each bump in the road, and two hundred square miles of potential places to live to cover. I scoured Craigslist, researched and narrowed down neighborhoods, and visited at least fifteen apartments before I finally signed the lease to my current place. My pickiness wasn’t entirely by choice: more than one suitable apartment was snatched up before I could even get my credit checked. Some apartments were great, spacewise, but in the wrong neighborhood, or with far too funky a smell.
My roommate and I joined forces via e-mail after I’d decided to settle in the City of Angels. We’d gone to school together back in Boston and he’d been planning and saving for a move for several months. Because I was in the city while he was still back east, I did all the searching. I emailed him digital photos of potential pads. We faxed info, including credit reports and leases, back and forth. This was labor intensive, but worth it because we got to live with each other, not with random Craiglists roommates.
At one point, we thought we’d found our future home, shelled out a hundred bucks each for a credit check/”preliminary security deposit,” and become very friendly with the Hungarian superintendent Ernie, only to return to the rental association the next day to pick up our leases to sign and to find that the apartment had been “given” away. Despite the fact that Ernie and the rental agent had both promised us the apartment was ours, there was little we could do: we hadn’t signed any agreements other than our credit check forms, and we had no way to prove that anyone had promised us dibs. We had to chalk the financial loss up to experience, and we learned to trust less in the future.
A few lessons I gleaned from my search:
1) Don’t be afraid to take advantage of friends’ hospitality while you search. This lesson was also emphasized in last week’s post. If couch-monkeying buys you time to learn your way around a city, it’s worth it. As a show of gratitude, treat your friend to dinner when you’re able, and make sure to write a thank you note when you finally move on.
2) If you don’t have friends with space in the area that you’re moving, consider subletting a room for a month or so while you get to know your new city. Rushing into signing a lease may leave you paying too much or living in a less than ideal apartment.
3) Don’t trust anyone. While the landlady showing you a potential apartment may seem nice, don’t believe any promises that are not in writing.
4) If you’re searching with a roommate, make sure you’re on the same page. My roommate and I were fine, even on opposite coasts, because we’d discussed very specifically what we wanted in an apartment, and I knew what we needed and what we were flexible on.
5) Whatever happens, don’t panic. It’s just an apartment. If you’ve got a place to sleep and you’ve been smart about keeping records of your financial dealings, you should have no problem waiting until the next great place pops out at you.