Renovation gamble that paid off

Our friend Ned reports how he gambled and won in the renovation game. A recent Temple University grad, he is now living in the Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia in a totally renovated rental. Here’s how he did it.

”As I watched another open house-attendee write a check for the unit’s deposit, I berated myself for not carrying my checkbook and started to think of options. I had to move in three weeks and I was desperate. Even though this particular agency had only one available listing, I decided to ask if there was anything opening up in the near future. The leasing agent hesitated and then said there was an available project – undergoing slight renovations – that may interest me.

A block away, the agent opened the door to an identical brick townhouse. Well, at least the building’s façade was identical. The interior was not: the walls were caked in dust, dirt and crumbling Spackle. Only one light switch worked, neither sink ran hot water and the small patio was cluttered with broken furniture and cement chunks. And with the bedroom carpet was in shreds, the windows broken and a large crack running through the kitchen sink, it was a total wreck. And that’s sparing the details of the bathroom. Sensing my disgust, the agent guaranteed renovations, claiming it would be unrecognizable in three weeks.

The gamble: $2400 worth of deposits and front-rent for a promise, some shattered glass and an unidentifiable muck in the bathtub. There was month’s worth of renovations to do in 20 days. Worse, if three weeks passed and the place wasn’t finished I would be out on the street. But the upside was undeniable; a signed lease would guarantee access and influence to the construction team. The offer to have an input on apartment basics was too tempting and I signed the lease and checks that afternoon. I was able to choose the new bedroom carpet, cabinets, closet doors and bathroom marble. I also picked the kitchen and bathroom brass, and selected the refrigerator and dishwasher. Amazingly, in 16 days the makeover was complete and the unit was unrecognizable: a remodeled kitchen with marble floors and sparkling countertops, new paint and carpeting, new energy-saving windows and, as a reward for my trust in the leasing company, a deck built on my patio. I was also allowed to move in four days early, free of charge, to my stunning, gorgeous first apartment.

It was a gamble that paid. Not only did I get my dream apartment, but the leasing agent admitted that if I hadn’t signed the lease prior to the renovations, the rent would have easily been $150 more per month.”

Ned’s experience offers a number of lessons to all first apartment hunters:
1.) Always bring your checkbook and other documents a landlord will ask (copies of recent pay stubs, bank statements and a letter from your employer.)
2.) If you miss out on a place you like, ask the broker or agent if he has other similar places available.
3.) Before you gamble on a renovation, make sure the agent is reputable. Check out the landlord. And finally, get in writing what will be done and when.

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