Top 5 things to consider when choosing your apartment

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We all make decisions everyday, some are incidental, like what colour of socks to put on in the morning, some are big, like a vehicle purchase. Small decisions allow you to flaunt the consequences, large decisions require you to carry out your due diligence before making it, as the ramifications can be long lasting and poignantly detrimental

One big decision most of us face is choosing an apartment. So how do you go about making the best decision? It’s straightforward if you don’t have any exceptional circumstances. If you’re methodical, practical and prioritize your needs narrowing down your options the ideal suite will fall into your lap – that is, if the vacancy rate in your city is not extraordinarily low, which complicates matters and may make you compromise down from your ideal situation. Under normal market conditions the descending 5 items on your checklist should look like the one below.

LOCATION

Or should that be ‘location, location, location’, as it goes in the real estate industry? But what does that mean exactly? For most of us it means, moving to an apartment that is conveniently located near your place of work or an educational institute that you’re attending. ‘Convenient’ is a relative term. For some driving 30 minutes is convenient, for others it means being able to walk, cycle or take a short transit ride. You have to decide what your convenience threshold looks like.

You will also want to consider the amenities offered within your desired location or community. Does it have a grocery store, bank, restaurants, fitness centre, local pub and other amenities that are important to you? How far are you willing to travel and by what mode of transport to reach these amenities? The essentials of day-to-day life are just that, so make sure it’s not a burden to fulfill them.

Is being close to family and friends important to you? Or are you willing to travel to see them? If your location has public transit and/or freeway options, then close proximity may not be a big factor. Balance out distance to work/school versus family/friends and you may just land somewhere in the middle.

There are other location variables that are tertiary to the above items, but are nonetheless important, such as community associations, dog parks, safety issues, etc. Consider all the variables when choosing your location, but be sure to weight their importance in a prioritized fashion.

PRICE

Everybody is price sensitive, it’s a matter of figuring out what your upper amount is. It’s best to follow some guideline to determine your upper limit for rent expense. ApartmentTherapy.com has done a nice job of helping you determine your optimum rent versus income safe zone.

“Generally speaking, your rent should be somewhere around 30% of your income. Some people can stretch that figure a bit more, but for most people, 30% is a wise range that will allow you to meet all your other living and entertainment expenses and that will still allow you to save for retirement or to put money aside in case of an emergency.

To figure out how much 30% would be, take your combined annual income and divide it by 40. (This is just a shortcut for taking 30% of your income and then dividing it across 12 months.)”

Remember that there are other expenses aside from the basic rent rate. You may have all or some of these expenses associated with your choice of apartment: cable TV, internet service, utilities, parking, bus pass, pet fees, and more… Add in the items that you will be required to cover to your rent rate before you decide on an apartment and subtract them if the property manager provides any of these items for free, such as free internet. Read the fine print however, the free internet will likely only be applicable for a specified time period, once that ends, can you afford to retain it?

One last item to consider are the costs for moving. These are one-time financial events when you move, and they can be significant, so choose your apartment wisely the first time so you can avoid multiple moving expenses.

APARTMENT TYPE

High-rise or mid-rise? Detached house or suite within a house? Rental condo or townhouse? You have choices, and you probably have preferences. ‘I want a view.’ High-rise might be for you. ‘I would like to have a backyard with a garden.’ Definitely a house or townhouse situation. ‘I can’t carry my groceries up 3 flights of stairs’, or ‘I get vertigo easily’, these perimeters are easy to figure out, they’re a combination of both life-style desires and personal barriers. Sit down, write out your list and again, make sure that they are prioritized in some fashion, as compromise is part of nearly every decision, and some things are easier to give up over others.

APARTMENT STYLE

You should have a wide range of options here. Rental properties typically go through numerous renovations over their life-span, and the styles are going to vary depending on the owner. Chances are, you are not going to find the ‘exact’ style you want, but you will find a ‘style fit’. You need to make broad style categories and in-suite finishings, choose the apartments you want to view based on these categories and you will find a place that has 90% of your wish list included.

Categories could include: character buildings (typically older brick buildings that can be nearly 100 years old) versus modern designed properties and suites. The difference between these being both aesthetic as well as functional, like updated rain shower heads versus claw foot bathtub with no shower. Do you prefer carpet or wood floors? Colour of walls, floors, tiles, etc. are generally pretty standard in rental properties, but some amount of wackiness does exist out there. An important thing to consider is what kind of natural light does the suite get, and at what times of day. If the apartment finishings are all darker tones and the suite receives little natural light, you will need vampire tendencies to enjoy the suite. You can get permission in some cases to paint a suite, but it will probably be at your expense and you may have to return it to the original colour when you move out.

There are also the more basic box type of apartments, but they can have their advantages as well. The suite may be larger square footage than the character buildings (which typically have a small footprint divided into smaller rooms) with a layout suits your needs, by offering you a spare room perfect for your home office or a music room.

Apartment style should be matched to your personal style.

PET-FRIENDLY

If you have a pet, you need to find a property manager that has pet-friendly rental suites, obviously. Some will advertise this fact, others you may have to inquire. They will likely also have some restrictions on types of pets as well as restrictions within types of pets, ie, dogs are accepted, but only if they weigh 7 kilos or less. They may also charge pet fees which are over and above the standard rent rate. These fees are to cover the property owner for costs such as carpet cleaning or natural wear that pets inflict on living spaces.

Make sure to inform the landlord that you have a pet that will be living with you, what type of pet it is and confirm that it fits their guidelines. Also, make sure you understand any additional fees associated with pets before signing the lease.

If you don’t have a pet, but are thinking of getting one, then take the same steps as a current pet owner would. Make sure the property is pet-friendly, know what animal types are allowed and what additional costs there are if any. By planning ahead you can avoid another round of moving expenses when the time comes to adopt a pet.

If you consider, prioritize and base your decision on these variables, you will find the apartment that is right for your lifestyle.

Mainstreet Equity Corp. is a publicly traded (TSX: MEQ) residential real estate company in Canada. Mainstreet currently owns and operates properties in Surrey, BC; New Westminster, BC; Abbotsford, BC; Calgary, AB; Cochrane, AB; Lethbridge, AB; Edmonton, AB; Fort Saskatchewan, AB; and Saskatoon, SK.

Mainstreet provides affordable, renovated apartment suites to Canadians, and is committed to creating real value without diluting shareholder interests.

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