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


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.


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