11 Apartments, 2 days: What I Learned From Finding My First Apartment
I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s books. I’m all for personal development, growth, and reflection so I was naturally drawn to her books. I started with the Happiness Project, which is where I learned about the concept of satisficer vs. maximizer (the original idea, however, is from Barry Schwartz). I also learned about this idea in a college course on personal development. The basic concept is that satisficers seek “good enough” where maximizers want to make the “perfect” decision. Generally, people are a mix of both, and the tendency they show depends on the situation.
To give a personal example, when it came to buying my first car, I was satisfied once I found a car that met my criteria (safe, SUV, good gas mileage, inexpensive). For my recent apartment hunt, I displayed maximizer tendencies (even if I found one that met my basic criteria, I kept looking). I wanted to ensure that I had ruled out all possible options before deciding. I do want to point out though that I had a basic set of criteria (close to metro, under a certain price point, 2 bed/2 bath), but there were plenty of apartments that met the basic criteria. It was choosing between the many places that all satisfied my needs that brought out my maximizer side!
I looked at eleven apartments over the course of two days, and by the end of the second day I had applied for an apartment. The first apartment I looked at, I remember feeling incredibly underwhelmed by. It was as plain-jane as it could be - white walls, beige carpet, old appliances, and a smell of fake air freshener. I was a bit discouraged after that first tour, as I saw that my money would not get me very far in DC, but it helped me bring my expectations down. I thought I would feel ebullient about getting my first apartment and going on these tours, but honestly they were exhausting. Most of the places were quite similar with only minor variations from one to the next - different carpets, washer and dryer in unit, bigger kitchen, better view, the list goes on and on. By the end of the first day I was tired from walking all around the area to look at places, but I had a clear winner of the day of which apartment I liked the best. The first day it was easy to distinguish between the places I looked at because a couple were very low end and a couple were very high end.
Day two proved to be a bit more confusing to distinguish between options and make a decision. We saw more units and I also had two people wth me to help, which also meant more opinions and voices to get input from. The units were less clear cut - they were more similar in terms of pricing, location, etc. The second to last unit I saw was great, but it was over budget (god, I sound like I am on House Hunters!) The last unit I saw was across the street from the expensive one, but at a lower price point. It wasn’t as nice (no stainless steel or granite), but it was in my budget and in a good location.
At lunch, I talked it over with my family and roommate, and we ultimately decided that we liked the last unit from the second day better than the top ranked choice from day one for a few reasons. First, it was closer to the metro and on a higher floor (aka felt more secure). While the one we chose was more expensive than the option from the first day, it had in unit laundry and would save us time on our route to work. Also, it had two full baths which would be better for us getting ready for work. The kitchen was also bigger, which was important for me since I frequently cook. However, beside the higher price point it had lower-grade carpets and slighter smaller square footage. Overall, though, I feel confident in the decision we made. And if I had been a satisficer, I wouldn’t have gone to that final appointment!
To anyone who is looking for their first apartment or making a big move, here are some lessons I learned from my apartment search that can hopefully help you with yours!
- There is no perfect, unless you have a really big budget. You’ll have to make trade-offs in one area or another.
- Rank order the apartments as you go and recap at the end of the day so you can remember what units you preferred (and write comments as well to trigger your memory).
- If the leasing agent or realtor asks your budget, don’t give a concrete number. Say something ambitious like “I’m flexible depending on the unit” in order to conceal your budget requirements.
- Make a point to ask about any move in specials or deals, while also asking about fees and any other expenses.
- Check Google for reviews if the apartment is in a unit, people are brutally honest on anonymous forums.
- Take photos or videos of each unit to remember what the interior looks like.
- Ask a ton of questions: Are the walls sound proof? Is the building unlocked at all or do you always need a code or key to enter? How far away are public transit and grocery stores? Does rent increase after the first year? How does the application process work?
- Having people with you is a huge asset because they often raise points you may not think of or ask questions you forgot to ask, plus their perspectives differ which is always nice.
Do you have any tips for finding + moving in to your first place? Let me know in the comments!