How to Find Housing

I just decided to spend $20,000. I wish I could say I was excited about it. I wish I could show you the cool thing I bought, or the cool place I'm going to go visit. Nope.

Instead, we get to talk about the lease I just signed. Yes, you read that correctly. Just to have a roof over my head and a warm place to hang out while not at work is setting me back 20 GRAND. My car isn't even worth that much! Actually…. that's almost 4x what my car is worth.

So. Since I'm spending this huge wad of cash, I decided it'd be worth it to investigate every aspect of every potential property and place I looked at.

Step 1: Decide How Much You Want to Spend

Notice I didn't say how much you can afford. Technically, I can afford a much more expensive place than I want or need. The general rule of thumb is to not spend over 30% of your budget on housing. Depending on how much you make and where you live, this can be either Baltic Ave or Boardwalk. If you don't make enough to get a decent place on your own, you can find a roommate or even stay with your parents (if that's an option). There's no shame in living with people, and if you can save money, why not do it? I originally found a place to stay by myself, and had a friend move in to help with rent towards the middle of it. Having him around to pay half the rent was a huge help, and it was nice to have company as well. When I move though, I will be living on my own again.

Step 2: Make a List of Priorities

What is important to you? Do you want to have a guest bedroom? A dishwasher? A pet? Be near to work? A grand master bedroom suite? An apartment with a pool? A garage for your sweet ride? Having a defined list of qualities and options you want is invaluable in weeding out places. Whip up a spreadsheet and add weight to each category to help you decide. Sometimes, you need that defined numerical stat to provide a definitive reason for not liking a place, other than “I just don't like it, ok??” For me, my list of must haves was this: close to work (so I can bike!), 2 bedrooms and at least 1.5 bathrooms, accepts pets, and an in unit washer and dryer. A dishwasher was major brownie points, but not a must have.

Step 3: Start Looking

Use everything and anything in your power. Use the power of the internet (Craigslist, Padmapper, Zillow, real estate sites, Google), put up a post on Facebook, drive around if you live close to the area, or even ask coworkers. I used a combination of places on the internet to help me narrow down my list. I started off on Craigslist, then Padmapper for other non-Craigslist posts, and even typed in “apartments” on Google Maps. I found a few suitable places and then it was time to start qualifying them.

Step 4: Ferret out the Details

After I compiled a list of places, it was time to get the nitty gritty details. What floorplans do they have opening up soon? What are the average utility rates? Are there any other fees I'd be responsible for? When was the unit built? When was it last renovated? Do they have an employee discount for my company? What are the appliances like? What is their pet policy? Don't be afraid to call and ask all these questions. It is literally their job and they want you to move into their place. Everyone I spoke to was more than happy to answer all my questions, plus fill me in on whatever other perks they offered.

Step 5: Add it all up

You have all this data on prospective places. Why have it at all if you can't easily compare it? Plop it all in a spreadsheet! I came up with something like this to help me decide:

Note the differences in rent. Apt A was cheap and gave me an employer discount. Apt B was the most expensive (and the nicest place). Apt C was a nice middle ground in rent between the other two.

“Oh. That's easy Gwen. Apt A is the cheapest. Search is over!”
Not so fast.

Check out the utilities and water columns. The gas and electric is fairly equal across all 3, but the water was what made the difference. Apt A is the cheapest in rent, but actually came out to be pretty expensive with the $45/mo “eco fee” added in. This includes charges for water, trash, and recycling. Apt B is has a more expensive base rent, but water is included. I took all my information and multiplied it out over the 18 months I'll be staying with them to get this:

The costs are actually much closer than just the rents alone would leave you to believe. At such a close range ($100 spread/mo), it came down to which place had the best amenities (do I like black or white appliances better?) and other hard to pin down factors. For instance, Apt C was surrounded by the elementary school, middle school and high school, meaning traffic would be a nightmare during the school year. Apt C also had the oldest buildings with the oldest appliances. The once white cabinets were turning yellow, the washer/dryer looked like some of the first stacked units to come onto the market, and the bathroom storage was made out of poorly constructed MDF.

Apt A came in a very close second. I couldn't think of any reason I'd live there other than to spend $100 less a month. It was alright. It's main benefit was being .3 miles from work.

Obviously, this means I went with Apt B. They have a free gym, a coffee bar with fruit everyday (hello partially free breakfast!), opportunities to earn points to lower my cat fee every month, really nice apartments (I'll be living on the third floor in an apartment with vaulted ceilings and a fireplace!), and overall nicer living space.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I'm satisfied with my decision. While my heart wanted the nicest place just because of the “ooo shiny” factor, my brain had to agree. The math behind the whole process really helps me feel better about spending so much money renting this apartment. I'm also more at ease knowing other costs will go down while living there (some food, gas, wear and tear on my car…), not to mention the insanely awesome commute time of a mere ten minutes by bicycle.

Hopefully this helps you find a new place! Dig deep and happy hunting!

How did you find your current place? Are you content with your decision?




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