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How to Compare Apartments

Comparing apartments is difficult. Everywhere is different from each other in many different ways. There’s no pattern to what places have what, and what trade-offs you’d have to make for one place over another. If you’re willing to put in the work, though, you can cut through all of that and find a great place for you, hopefully without costing you too much.

Lease terms and costs

When comparing apartments, one of the most important concerns is how much it costs you and for how long. Remember that rent isn’t the only monthly expense associated with your apartment. Consider these additional expenses:

  • Utility bills that aren’t included in rent
  • Late payment charges
  • Payments for parking spaces
  • Amenity fees

You also have to pay upfront, and some of those are significant costs. They can include:

  • Security deposits
  • Application fees
  • Non-refundable pet deposit fees

In addition to financial terms, make sure that lease conditions will work with your lifestyle. Are pets allowed in your new apartment? How long do you plan to stay at your place? If you have to move suddenly, can you sublet? Can a friend or relative move in with you if they have to?



Consider how the following neighborhood features might affect you:

  • Access to public transportation
  • Proximity to shopping and entertainment areas
  • Distance from your office or school: The importance of this needs to be made clear. Remember that you’re going to be going to school/work every day. Reducing your commute can be a huge improvement to your life, so it may be worth giving up other things for.

Safety features

Safety features should also be a factor – you want to feel safe where you live. Some safety features may include:

  • Fire extinguishers in your unit and outside buildings
  • Deadbolt locks on doors
  • Functioning smoke detectors
  • Outside lighting
  • Gated entrances
  • Emergency exits

Apartment amenities

Sometimes when several apartment communities are comparable in price, amenities can make all the difference. Consider which are important and which you’re likely never to use:

  • Pools
  • Tennis courts
  • Concierge services
  • Laundry services or laundry facilities
  • Apartment workout rooms
  • Bike racks
  • Barbeque areas
  • Shuttle vans

In-apartment features

When you live in an apartment, you’re going to spend a lot of time there. When you’re looking for an apartment, keep an eye out for these:

  • Usable square footage and layout
  • Outdoor spaces like patios or decks
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Condition of carpets or hardwood
  • Lighting features including overhead lighting and window placement
  • Amount of storage space
  • Age and condition of appliances
  • Type of furnace
  • Water pressure
  • Washer and dryer in unit

How to make useful comparisons

Now that you know what things you’re likely to find, how do you use that information?

  • Know the difference between what you need and what you want: There are a lot of things in an apartment that would be nice to have. These are usually some sort of luxury items, which will seem much larger and more important when you’re looking – it’s more attractive to market the luxury items, after all. But those are things you want to have, not things you need to have. Make sure that you have the requirements clearly laid out (school district, distance to work, enough rooms for a home office) and separated from the things you’d want, but aren’t necessary.
  • Have a clear hierarchy of your priorities: What’s more important to you? Being close to work, or having a washer and dryer in the unit? Having a gym in the building, or access to public transportation? Having a clear list of your priorities and the order they’d go in will help you make the hard decisions. If you already know what’s most important to you, then you’ve already chosen between different apartments – you just need to consult your list of priorities.
  • Make a list of everywhere you’re looking at: When you’re ready to make a decision and have places lined up, make a big list. Make several columns for the different features, and every community you’re looking at goes on a row. Place a checkmark where every community fits your criteria. When you’re done, it’ll all be laid out right in front of you how each community stacks up, and which one you should choose.
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Getting Started on Your Apartment Search

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