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St Leonards residential

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First of all, I am sorry if I’ve just stepped all over someone’s copyright laws (Is “The Single Sista’s Guide to..” copyrighted? *Shrug*). Please don’t sue me; I have no money. All I have is this blog, and I (and my 10 readers) would be devastated if it was taken away. Let me have my little bit of fun with a felony, please! Thank you.

Well, as many of you who follow me on twitter know, I got approved for a new apartment today. Yay!! Believe me, trying to find an apartment as a single woman is such a process. There’s so many things to consider: safety, pest control (especially here in Florida), maintenance, neighbors. It took me such a long time to find my ideal apartment, and I wanted to share how I came across it, in the hopes that it will help someone else’s journey easier.

First of all, I currently live nearly thirty miles away from my job in “the city.” I wanted to find somewhere that was closer to my job, eliminating my $1.50-$2.00 one way toll expense and a lot of gas. Also, the place that I live now has gotten a little…shady. I don’t like coming home to men standing around, close together, waiting on who knows what, watching me walk (alone) to my apartment. The loud fights at two and three in the a.m. are also not appreciated. All of this in addition to pest problems and an ever escalating rent!

So I set out to find something in one of the closer suburbs, but there were a few problems. I am not from the area, and have never lived in another part of this area,  so I had no clue about what areas of each town were good or bad. My car was acting up, so I didn’t have reliable transportation of my own. All of the people that I work with: a) make signficantly more money than I do. b.) are married & have someone else helping to pay their bills or c) live at home with parents who support their lifestyles. How was I going to find acceptable properties to visit, let alone select somewhere to live, with so many obstacles?

So, these are my steps:

1. Nail down what you are looking for & what’s important. The things I decided were important to me were:

  • location: it had to be significantly closer to my job and eliminate the toll road.
  • safety: would I feel safe coming home alone after dark?
  • cleanliness: no pest problem. Bugs are unavoidable here, but no cockroaches.
  • price: can I afford it? Is it worth what they want for it?
  • convenience: how close are grocery stores, gas stations, fast food, & recreation?

A word on amenities: Different apartment complex will include different services in their apartments. Some apartment complexes include water/sewer and pest control in the rent price. Some make you pay separately for trash. Some include other utilities like cable or internet. Washer/Dryers in the apartment may or may not be offered. There may or may not be a fitness center on the property, and it may or may not be a twenty four hour facility. Some apartments offer to allow you to paint one accent wall. It is important to know what amenities each apartment complex offers, and which are must haves on your list. Also, it is VERY important to know what utilities you are responsible for.

2. Ask for Help.  I asked people who lived in the surrounding suburbs if they knew of any good apartment complexes, what sides of town were “good,” and where they had lived that were undesirable places. I followed up on their suggestions. I looked at websites to see how the rent prices for those places compared to what I was willing to pay. I consulted maps of the area to rate how close it was to work and other amenities.

3.  Check apartment ratings–with a grain of salt.  Someone suggested that since it wasn’t possible for me to visit each apartment complex on my long list of possibilities, I should use apartmentratings.com to get some information about the complexes. These ratings are a great tool, allowing you to hear from former and current residents about the pros and cons of a property. I would implore you to use a bit of discernment, however. I find that people usually write when they are either very happy with the complex or very angry, both of which can be anamolies. What I did was look at the things which were repeated by several different people, as well as looking for reviews that were balanced. For instance, one apartment complex got rated at a 17% satisfaction rate. Many comments gave key reasons for this: there was a mold problem, a pest problem, and because the complex was old and wasn’t properly sealed, high energy costs. The apartment complex I selected rated 71% with over 80 reviews. It was clean, the staff was friendly, maintenance was expedient, and there were few complaints of noise or unruly children.

4. Prepare questions to ask before visiting. I’ve been tricked by models before. You walk into a model and it’s nice–plenty of lighting, roomy, nice decor, pest free. I fall in love with the model. I imagine living in the model–but the model is not what you’ll have. The apartment looked might different with my check mixed & matched things in it. But the things I forgot to ask about were still pertinent and important. Spend a few days thinking of what you want to know of the community. Ask others for their suggestions on questions you need to consider. Ask questions about specials, amenities offered, etc. The information on the website may be outdated, so make sure you know what you are really expected to pay and what you can expect in return. Ask whether or not rental insurance is required. Be fully informed of any and every cost associated with the prospective apartment.

5. Visit. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to rent any place sight unseen. Just because an apartment complex looks nice on a website doesn’t mean it’s that nice in person. The photographs could be old, or just well lit. Also, you can’t get the sense of the neighborhood from posed photos on the property. Single ladies have to consider our safety. Drive around the entire property and get as full a picture as is possible of the complex–not just the points between the office and the model.

I also imagined routes to work from apartment complexes, as well as to church, the gym, and other locations I frequent. Lastly, I considered the aesthetics of the apartment itself. I have no problem with clean and serviceable, but all things being equal, the apartment’s overall look would be the deciding factor. The apartment complex I chose has a direct route to work ( a right turn, a left turn, a right turn, and voila!). The interior walls of the apartment are painted, there is a white railing around the wall in the dining area, and the bedroom has two doors you open to enter (like an old southern boudoir! I LOVE it!). There’s a ton of space for storage (outdoor storage, a large pantry, a coat closet, a good sized closet), and nicer than usual carpet.

One last thing. Make sure that you meet all the requirements of the complex where you want to live. You usually have to: make three times the monthly rent; have good rental history; survive a criminal background check and credit check. If you can’t afford it, don’t entertain it. Exhaust the possibilities untilyou find what you want.

What are your guidelines/rules for finding a new apartment? What are some of your best/worst/craziest experiences apartment/ house hunting? How did you find your home?