I Wish I’d Known: How To Look For a Rental Apartment

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When I first came up with the idea to write the Things I Wish They Would’ve Told Me series, this post was the first one that jumped into my head. It’s taken me a while to finally tackle it, but I hope that it can help you out if by chance you’re about to embark on your first rental experience. I first moved out of university residence when I graduated engineering in 2010, and was supremely intimidated at the thought of looking at apartments. I had never done it before, and was moving out to live on my own, which meant I didn’t have anybody to go home and discuss the apartment viewings with. I ended up dragging my best friend Sam along with me, just for a second opinion, and thankfully he was the voice of reason in my panic to find a new place on a deadline. Looking back, his advice saved me a lot of grief.

Since that move I’ve house-hunted a few more times, and have managed to get a few rules down in order to properly evaluate potential new homes. I’ve categorised the items below into major and minor details, with the major ones having a very large effect on your life when you move. More thought should be given to these items when you’re deciding to compromise them, because even a dream apartment can turn into a nightmare if you hastily decide that you don’t need a given vital amenity (which I learned the hard way!). If I’ve missed any items, please do add them in the comments and I’ll edit the post to suit (edited to add: check the comments, there are tons more useful tips from other experienced renters in there! Thanks for your input everyone.) – even I’ll be referring back to this when the next round of apartment hunting starts early next year!

Major Items of Great Impact:

++Utilities – This is probably one of the bigger things you’ll have to think about, especially if you live in a place that gets cold in the winter and/or really hot in the summer. If utilities aren’t included, prepare to spend at least $50-100 extra per month, depending on power/water/gas costs in your country. If the apartment is a basement, it’ll probably be a lot more temperature-stable than a top floor unit. So if you’re comparing two similarly priced apartments, one including utilities and one not, realise that the price differences can actually vary greatly.

++Fire Alarms/Exits/Sprinklers – this may not seem intuitive to most people, however it’s vitally important. Make sure wherever you move, there is a smoke detector in each area of the house, and that they work! I once lived in a very old building without any, and my mother freaked when she came to visit. Safety is numero uno, friends.

++Laundry – don’t underestimate the availability of laundry amenities. If you like to wash your clothes frequently, you don’t want to be dragging them down the street, on the bus, whatever to the closest laundromat. My preference is for in-unit laundry (no need to worry about clothing thieves either!), but generally having coin laundry in your building is survivable. Likewise, if you don’t have access to a dryer, make sure you have space to buy a clothes horse to hang out your clothes!

++Transit Routes – Unless you’re planning to live out of the city and use a car all the time, accessibility to transit routes is vital. Not just for you, but for friends you might want to have over for parties, etc.

++Parking – If you’ve got a car, obviously you’ll be thinking about the availability of parking, but even if you don’t, remember that you might have other people with cars come visit from time to time. I lived in a place with only 2hr parking, and it was a pain to have to keep moving visitors’ cars to avoid tickets!

++Soundproofing – The one stellar thing about my living in a basement apartment in Vancouver was that nobody could hear my loud music, and I couldn’t hear them. But when checking new units out, listen for the sounds of other building inhabitants, and especially consider how thick the roof/floor might be. Last thing you want is to live under a family of clompers, or girls who love to wear heels 24/7. Especially if they’re early risers!

++Lighting/Windows – again, not the most intuitive, but from someone who thought a basement apartment with only one small skylight would be fine, I can tell you it wasn’t. Adequate natural lighting should not be compromised, and its value shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s depressing and misleading (I left my house so many times thinking it was sunny out, only to step out into a chilly wind, or vice versa), and for most people, having a little bit of a connection with the outside world is a great thing.

 

I Wish I’d Known: The Value of Travel

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Today I wanted to change things up a bit, so I invited my little sister Alycia to write about something she wished she’d known (or listened to!) when she was younger. I hate to be the know-it-all older sister, but I tried for years to get her to see the value in experiencing life abroad, far away from home. It wasn’t until I brought her along with me on one of my trips that she really truly figured it out, and as a 23 year old who’s mere months away from graduating university, I’d say she figured it out just in time. Ain’t nothing like a trip to Iceland to change your perspective! Thanks for sharing your story sistie 🙂

How many times have you heard “I told you so” (or known that someone was secretly thinking it) when you were wrong and they were right? I hate to admit it, but in the past I was on the receiving end of that expression verrrry frequently. For example, when I was younger I thought “I need to experience acne, it’s part of being a teenager”. But when my ‘teenage experience’ popped up on my face and quite literally scarred me, Erica chimed in with: “I told you you should wash your face.” Okay, maybe I was just being dirty (hey I was like, 12!) but I guess I thought I could be one of those girls with flawless skin with little effort…. Wrong. Damn. Ah well, it wouldn’t be the last time, because later in life it turns out I would be waaaay wrong about something else: the importance and experience of travelling abroad.

When I went off to university in 2008 my parents told me that I was about to live the best four years of my life. They told me I would make friends, that I would make great memories and that I would definitely face some tough challenges. What we never really discussed was the idea of me travelling outside of my little hometown bubble. For my first two years of university, I attended school in Hawaii, and I thought that that was all the travelling I needed… luaus and mai tais are cultured, right? Wrong. Again. What about Europe? Going on exchange? Just plain ol’ adventuring through an unknown city? I never really gave it much consideration until Erica moved to Austria in the summer of 2009 (and spent the next four months travelling to different countries every weekend!? How cool is that!). All I would hear about when we Skyped was how amazing her time was, and all of the new places she’d been. Suddenly, I had this urge to travel, and it only intensified when I moved back to Canada in 2010, started at the University of Ottawa, and met friends from all over the world, all of whom loved to travel.

Then it was upon me…to travel, or not to travel? That was the question.

Well, no-brainer, of course I wanted to go. I was just so nervous. And my finances had always been a problem – I blame my social life… or so I told myself to make me feel better. The one thing that our parents always tried to stress to Erica and me was the importance of having savings, and how having money in the bank gives you the opportunity to jump on it when it arises. An opportunity like the one that arose when Erica decided to move to Australia in August 2012, stopping in Europe along the way. Would I like to come along to Iceland and London? Um, hell yes.

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“Woohooo!!! Sign me up!” I thought. But, what was I going to do about… money? I had some savings, right? Well… yes I did. But the key word here is some.

We went. We did it. I had an amazing time, but all the while, I was so concerned about my finances I found myself short-changing myself because I couldn’t fully throw myself into the enjoyment of the trip. I had money in the back of my mind 24/7. Prime example: at the Blue Lagoon, one of the most famous natural baths in the world, I wanted more than anything to buy a face mask. It was $50. You know what I didn’t buy at the Blue Lagoon, because I’d been blowing my finances on useless bracelets at H&M a few months prior? Yep.

Eventually, I realized the value in what I was doing, and the reason my parents and sister encouraged me to come on the trip with such low finances. “I have to experience being broke while travelling in order to truly appreciate what it would be like to travel with money”. Okay, that’s not exactly what I thought, but I can imagine me saying it like that if I wasn’t so desperate to have more money for the trip!

Now that I’ve finally been bitten by the travel bug, and been afforded the opportunity to travel to many places, including Iceland, London (twice now!), Ireland, the Netherlands, France, the Caribbean, Hawaii and several other states, I realize, and I’ve known this for a while, the immense value that a savings account has, and not just literally. I’m not necessarily saving for a home, a car or something large and life-changing like that. I’m saving so that I can jump on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it comes along, like traveling overseas with my only sister who’s moving across the world. That’s not the type of thing “I can’t afford it” should have to be used on.

Sometimes it’s really hard to put your money aside, to tell your friends that you can’t go out on a Friday or Saturday night because you’re BBC (Broke By Choice — my new go-to phrase) and are saving for an adventure you don’t even know exists. Trust me, I know. But one day you’ll find out that a friend now lives somewhere exotic and wants you to visit and you’ll feel like Donald Trump saying “yeah, I can afford that!” You’ll buy your ticket, you’ll experience new cities and cultures (and food!), and have an amazing time. No pair of shoes or Friday night at the bar can give you that, right?

For me, money is always in the back of my mind. Now, even when I have some savings I constantly think, “But if I spend my money on this trip, I’ll have nothing left for the next!”. But that’s the beauty of savings. You can use them on an adventure or experience, and the memories are what you’ll have left. That is the polar opposite of nothing, if you ask me. All it takes is a little self-restraint and some imagination.

Huuuuge thank you to Alycia for putting this post together for me. I’m so happy I could share the amazing experience of travelling overseas with you little sister, and will never forget all of the fun we had in the process!

Out of curiosity, how do you feel about travelling while you’re young and carefree? Do you see the value in it? Or is it something you’d rather save for later in life? I know some people are quite content to stay at home and that’s that, but that’s just not me (or Alycia anymore). I love to travel, I love to see new things, and I love feeling totally lost in a completely foreign land. It’s unparalleled!

I Wish I’d Known: What To Do When You’ve Got Nothing To Do At Work

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Although I’d held a few jobs throughout and prior to my university studies, I had this illusion of what the working world would be like once I entered it permanently. I imagined myself an uber stylish business woman (well-fitting blazers and pencil skirts a necessity, obviously) running from meeting to meeting, working long hours, and finally getting to use all that knowledge I (partially) retained from university. I imagined it would be the ultimate payoff after years of memorisation and homework. But the reality of the working world was a little bit less than what I was expecting.

Unlike schoolwork, which is assigned in mass quantities and gets done if you have time, tasks in the working world must get done, and on time. The consulting industry (which is where I’ve been for the past two years) especially relies on this concept, because you’ve got to win your projects in a competitive market, and slip-ups can cost the company dearly. Because of this, consulting companies can sometimes be inundated with work, and at other times be slow, especially at certain times of the year (Christmastime, for example). Personally, I love coming to work with an excessively full plate because it motivates me to work hard. But when the tables eventually turned and I found myself with a very light workload for the first time, I struggled and didn’t know how to cope. How was I going to excel at work when I didn’t have anything to excel at? What should I be doing? Is this going to endanger my job, will my company decide they no longer need me?

When this first happened to me at my job back in Canada, I struggled to find my place at work without a heavy task load. I spent hours a day reading newspaper articles, blogs, or listening to YouTube clips. I’m embarrassed to admit that in a way, I wasted company time. But to be honest, I was under the impression that it was my manager’s role to keep me occupied, and if he wasn’t, I shouldn’t bother him. He was probably busy, but would get to me when he had work to pass along. But thinking this way was a huge mistake.

The lesson I wish I’d learned back then was that just because there’s no work from your manager, does not mean there’s no work. And if you want to get ahead in your career, which I assume you do, than the easiest way to stand out from your peers and fellow junior-level colleagues is to get out there and track the work down yourself. And this all begins with something I brought up weeks ago: getting to know as many colleagues as possible, both in and outside of your department, as soon as you start a new job.

When I first began my job here in Melbourne, I made a decided effort to talk to and be friendly towards as many new faces as I could. I didn’t always remember what their job title was, or where in the building they worked, but I chatted nonetheless. One of the things to remember is to mention your skills, what you’re good at, or even your hobbies. Developing relationships with people who are not your managers is the first step to keeping busy when the workload is light.

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Once you find yourself with a less than packed schedule of work, this is where you can take action. Estimate how long you’ll take to finish what’s currently on your plate. If you’ve got anything less than a day or two, it’s time to mobilise. Take a walk around the office, visit a few friends and employees outside of your department (if your workplace permits interdepartmental work – most do), and ask people if they’ve got anything that you could help with. The important thing here is to ask in advance of your potentially empty work schedule, because unless the task is urgent, it’ll take anywhere from half a day to a couple days to get even small and simple  tasks from others. Familiarise yourself with the fact that corporate time is a severely exaggerated version of real-world time: what should take someone 20 minutes will often take them a day. It sucks, especially when you’re desperate for work, but it’s the truth.

Something else I’ve learned is that volunteering for the most straight-forward, menial tasks is a great way to get an in with another department or project. Currently I’m working on a few projects at work that are quite interesting, and my involvement began by simply offering to photocopy some files for someone, or to organise their excel spreadsheet. Pay attention to the content of these documents, and ask a few questions about the project once you’re finished. By showing that you’re paying attention to the project, and being interested in learning more, you’re making impressions on the people around you. And when they decide that they need help in the future with something a bit more in depth, they’ll likely come to you because you’re the most knowledgeable (and interested) helper they can think of.

I didn’t figure this methodology out until about a year into my working life. But once I did, it’s like I magically keep busier than many of the other junior engineers in my department. I have Marketing asking me for help, I have other technical sections asking if I have a free moment, and I gladly help out whenever I can, in whatever capacity. Sometimes I’ll stay late to get it all done. Not only have I now established myself as a happy-to-work, dedicated junior employee, but I’m building relationships with people I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with. In a job market like the one we face right now, the more people that can vouch for your, the better. Working life is built upon a foundation of references, referrals, and recommendations, and the broader you throw your net, the more positively your result will be.

A year ago, when I found myself without work, I kept quiet, kept to myself, and read completely non-work-related content on the internet, assuming it was someone else’s responsibility to keep me occupied. I’m ashamed that I thought that now, because I placed my ability to succeed on someone else’s shoulders, someone else who was managing a number of other employees just like me. But when I learned to take the responsibility back, to chase up my own work and keep my timesheet full, that’s when I realised what a benefit that can be, both professionally and personally. I’ve made new friends at work, I’ve developed a reputation as an adaptable and willing employee, and I can walk around the entire building and recognise more faces and have more conversations than I ever could before. If you want to be an employee that coasts, that meets the status quo, and most importantly, is disposable, I can tell you that my old approach will work for you. But if you want to be the best you can be, to stand out amongst the sea of junior employees, and start making a name for yourself the day you step foot in the office, you now know what to do. And I can tell you from experience, it’s far more fulfilling to be the latter. Taking control of your career starts from day one, and as long as you realise that, you’ll do just fine.

Have you ever experienced the work-free work day? How did you deal with it? I think sometimes it can be nice to relax and take it easy, but other times it’s just tough. Do you have any other ideas for getting more assignments? I’d love to hear them 🙂