Monday, July 4, 2011

Be Vehwee Quiet...I'm Hunting fow Apawtments

So I figured if apartment hunting was taking over my life and preventing me from doing projects that I would otherwise blog about, I should blog about this instead. So this post is about the method my boyfriend and I came up with to find a new pad.

My boyfriend and I decided to move to Richmond since it will be a mid-ish point for his job and my upcoming internship. Neither of us has really lived in a city per se, and we thought that, being a city, there would be oodles of apartments to be had in a neighborhood that was safe and not undergraduate (VCU students are EVERYWHERE) or roach-infested. So. Not. So.

At first, we turned to Craig's List, who had served me well in the past. However, perusing The List quickly became annoying for a few reasons. Reason 1: the filters it uses. We needed at least a 2 bedroom, but there was no way to search for 2+ (we certainly wouldn't mind having another room if it was in our budget). Additionally, being very unfamiliar with Richmond, the main streets, and all the neighborhood names, we soon became tired of Google mapping everything separately.

Now, I had never heard of PadMapper until very recently. Now that I'm using it, I do remember my sister mentioning it a while back, but at that time, it was too early to start scouting (sorry, Sis). However, now that I've "discovered" it, I will never EVER go back to Craig's. Here's why.

PadMapper reminds me of It searches different popular apartment listing sites (which you can customize), and pulls up all of your possible apartment matches on a Google Map. The customization capabilities are super duper awesome; you can put a high and a low on SO many different filters: rent, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, how old the posting is, pets that are allowed, sublets, if there is a picture in the ad, etc. Being a very visual person, I LOVE the Google map that gets pulled up. And if you create an account (it's free and super fast), you can favorite different places to save for another time (the pins turn green). PLUS, when you click on a pin, you can click a link that takes you to the original ad, allows you to do Google Street View right within the window (creepy, but also awesome), and it even creates a "walk score" for you, taking into account how close different places of interest are, like coffee shops, laundry mats, bars, restaurants, gyms, and grocery stores. It's GREAT.

Once we found PadMapper, it suddenly became a lot easier to to find apartments that looked promising, and we needed to come up with a system to make appointments that didn't overlap, and allowed us enough time to get from point A to point B. We came up with a very basic schedule type thing with 30-minute time slots. After the first day where we overbooked ourselves, we decided to allot 1 hour per showing (regardless of whether or not the same agent showed us multiple apartments). This has worked out pretty well for the most part, though 1 hour 15 minutes is sometimes necessary if the apartments are really far from one another. I just write out the times on the left hand side of a piece of scrap after we decide when the first and last appointments are going to be for that day. Then, as we make appointments via e-mail or phone, we fill in the address, name of the agent, and their phone number. It looks like this as it starts to get filled in (blurred out for privacy - don't want any stalkers because I have SO many people that read my blog):

Once the list is finalized (some things get canceled if the apartment is rented before we can see it, or we need to move things around), I type up an itinerary for the full day that we take in a portfolio when we make the trip.

Since we started viewing so many apartments (about 10 per trip to Richmond...yeah, we're picky), we needed to come up with a system to keep track of which apartment being which, what we liked about it, what didn't work, etc. We came up with a ratings and check-list form that we customized to things that are important to us for each room. Some things are rated (counter space in the kitchen, for example), and other things are just a check box system (for instance, whether or not there is a washer/dryer that comes with the apartment). We made some adjustments after the first day (it was far too detailed and it was taking us too long to fill it out), so we streamlined it to suit what we needed it for, and then incorporated space at the bottom to make notes about unique things that caught our eye (whether good or bad).

So far this system has been working pretty well. We learned the hard way that we max out at around 8 or 9 apartment showings per day (day 1 was a total crank-fest at around 14 apartments. Not good). We also learned that you should call and confirm your showing that that morning, (time slot, where to meet the person, and the quoted rent in addition to what it includes). Otherwise, you show up and wait only to find out the apartment has already been rented, the agent is sick and no one took over her showings, etc. Always a bummer, especially since it's about 95 degrees outside, and you've driven all over creation for nothing. It became a necessity for us to confirm rent quotes because we ended up being quoted one thing the week before on the phone, and then we'd show up at the apartment, and all of a sudden the rent was $200 more, which they wouldn't tell us until the end of the appointment. This became a major annoyance for us; not only was it a huge waste of our time because the apartment would suddenly be out of our range and we wasted the time slot, but we would fall in love with a place only to find out we couldn't afford it. Not cool. This seemed to be a trick used by multiple property management companies, so we just started double checking every single one.

It was interesting to see the different reactions we'd get from different people when we'd show up with our clipboards and ratings scales. Some people thought it was a great idea, others obviously privately deemed us insane. But the system works for us, especially since my boyfriend and I each rate the apartment on our own and compare later, so we get to make unbiased reviews, for the most part.

So far, we are still apartmentless. We're both pretty picky regarding very different things (my boyfriend is much more concerned about location and ceiling height for his easel, I'm much more concerned about feeling safe and at home inside the apartment, which usually means sunny windows, somewhat updated appliances, and enough space to not feel like I'm trapped in a closet). So dice. We've been pretty disappointed to find out that our budget places us at the low end of where undergraduates tend to live, which isn't really where young professionals in their mid 20s see themselves. Hopefully this Wednesday will be the winner!

How about you guys? Any advice on apartment hunting? Have any "system" you employ? Think we're crazy for designing and using a rating system? Live in Richmond yourself and have some words of wisdom? Do share!

*Note: All images are mine, EXCEPT for the PadMapper image via here.
**Double Note: I was not paid or perked by any of these sites or companies (pft, I wish they knew who I was--hah!). I just found these sites myself and thought I would share them!


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