When you’re in the market for an apartment, it’s easy to dream. Perhaps a bit too easy. You want lots of space, cheap rent, a balcony, a doorman, maybe even a swimming pool and a gym. Laundry in-unit, of course, a nice flower box with ever-blooming roses … and then you pinch yourself and return back to reality.
You’re not a multi-millionaire (at least, not yet) so you’ll need to make some compromises. Maybe you do get a place with a gym on premises … but you settle for a much smaller place than you could otherwise afford. Or you get a huge place … that doesn’t have any other amenities.
But how do you figure out what’s you? Here are five things to think about.
1. How many people do you want to live with? It’s important question, because if you live alone, it’s much more expensive … and it means you’ll get either a studio or a one-bedroom and likely need to compromise on many other things to afford your own space. Check out our test to see if you should go solo.
If you want a roommate (or roommates), make sure you have compatible roomies … and remember that you should all talk together about your must haves. In other words, you’ll need to figure out what each of you needs and how you can make it all work.
2. Neighborhood. For some people, a great neighborhood is all they need – they’re willing to live in a shoe-box if they can walk to work, or have access to fantastic take-out, or they simply love to live in the hippest of areas.
For any neighborhood, there are three components to consider: its general coolness (which includes shopping, restaurants, nightlife and cache), its commutability (in other words, how easy is it for you to get to and from work) and its safety (Do you feel comfortable walking around at night? Is there a lot of crime in the area?). If any of these things might be one of your must-haves.
3. Privacy v. Common Areas. This has to do with the layout of your apartment. Not all three bedrooms are equal, for example. Some apartments excel in common areas over private spaces. For instance, in Chicago three bedroom apartments frequently feature a huge living room/kitchen combo with three little bedrooms that open directly onto the living room. If you love hanging out and feeling a social vibe, this might be for you – but if you really don’t want to hear you roommate’s movie while you lie in bed reading, then you’d need to consider a different layout.
On the other hand, if you have a place that features a central hallway with bedrooms off of it, you may have a very small, out-of-the-way common area, and it may feel like you’re living compartmentalized dormitory – sure, you have more privacy and you can’t hear your roommates from your room … but you also rarely see your roommates and it doesn’t feel like you’re living in a shared space.
For people living alone, the question is: How big of a space do you need? Are you going to feel claustrophobic in a studio? Do you plan on entertaining? (If so, a studio might be trouble.) Or, do you envision your apartment as simply a private space where you go to recharge – in which case, a studio might be fine.
4. That one amenity you can’t do without. While you can’t have every amenity in the book … you can probably afford one. Maybe you just don’t feel safe without a doorman. Or indoor parking is just the boss. Or you’ve been having some health problems and you could really use an elevator to get around. Or you’re a gym rat, and having a gym in-building would save you a ton of time.
Whatever it is, having one amenity that you need is probably doable – and it will help you filter your search.
5. A few nice features you really want. Features differ from amenities in that they’re part of the unit. While they certainly add value, they’re not necessarily something everyone would care about – and they don’t necessarily cost extra money.
For example, maybe it’s important to you to control the temperature of your place – so you will only look at places that don’t have radiator heat. Or you find that you’re happier with lots of natural light – so you want a living room with tons of windows. Or you have bad allergies, so hardwood floors are a necessity.
Figure out a few of these needs – what kind of neighborhood you want to live in, and what aspects of an apartment you really need — it will guide you how to assess apartments on your hunt. Once you have your musts set, you’ll only need to spend time looking at places that are real possibilities.