How to Choose an Apartment You'll Actually Love

Apartment hunting can be just as stressful as job hunting - especially in a big city like Los Angeles where turnover is fast and prices can be crazy.

Because of the stress, I've lived out unhappy leases in dull, cookie-cutter apartments because I didn't do the right homework.

Where you live matters even more than where you work - it's the safe space where you can be you without expectation or judgment. It's okay to be picky when you have the opportunity to be!

Find where you're flexible

The chance of finding an apartment that fits every one of your requirements is pretty slim, so I've been in the practice of noting where I'm willing to be flexible.

I usually have to decide where to be flexible between these five areas:

  • Location (walkability, proximity to highways for commuters, grocery stores nearby, etc.)
  • Price
  • Safety
  • Amenities (laundry in unit or on the premises, pool, exercise room)
  • Style (wood floors, balcony, updated kitchens)

You may be able to find an apartment that perfectly matches three or four of these - but rarely all. For example, if you want to save on the cost, you may have to choose an apartment that doesn't exactly match your style.

So take a look at that list - where are you willing to be flexible, and what are your non-negotiables? I tend to be strict about safety and location - I like being able to walk to the grocery store, farmers markets, and coffee shops.

Photo courtesy of Minimography

Photo courtesy of Minimography

Start the search early

Six months or so before you move (sounds like a long time, but those months can fly by), start scouting out areas. That is, of course, if you have the luxury of knowing your situation six months in advance.

I choose zip codes that appeal to me and use those to delineate livable areas, but you can also use neighborhood names, streets, or nearby landmarks to help guide your search.

Then figure out what kind of apartments are in the area that roughly match your non-negotiables. Make note of what you like about them and what you don't - since this is six months in advance, don't get too caught up on specific apartments. You're just looking for styles that catch your eye at this point.

Great qualities to look for

Once you're set on an area and have a general idea of the price and type of apartment you're looking for, it's time to start the actual search.

But there are a few more things to look for when you're touring potential living spaces that can significantly affect how "at home" you'll feel.

  • Windows. Are there a lot of them? Do they face more than one direction? If there are only a couple of windows, can you see them from multiple areas of the apartment? There's nothing worse than a poorly-lit space to make you feel claustrophobic and gloomy.
  • Ceiling height. This goes hand-in-hand with the windows. Does the space feel airy or closed-in? Conversely, ceilings that are too high can make you feel like you're in a warehouse instead of at home (but you might like that).
  • Flooring. Apartment carpet is somehow always the worst shade of beige imaginable. Wood floors are generally my pick, as long as they're not so old that they're chipping (I lived in an apartment where I would get splinters). Do you have rugs or bright furniture that will make the space a little more cheerful? Do you have pets that would prefer wood or carpet?
  • Storage space. Take a look at how you'll be storing your stuff. Is there enough well-lit closet space? How about the cupboards - are they going to be enough for your dishes and pantry? Built-in bookshelves can be a blessing or a curse depending on where they're at and what you need them for.
  • Updated everything. This goes for sinks, appliances, doors, anything. There's nothing wrong with vintage - in fact, it can really set an apartment apart from the rest. However, anything in disrepair or with impaired functionality is an issue.

Play by the rules

Finally, take a close look at the rules of your apartment. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification on painting and wall-hanging regulations.

Being able to paint can make your space feel more like your own, so be sure to have an understanding with your landlord about each other's expectations.

Finding an apartment you love isn't impossible, but it can be very difficult. The good news? Apartment experience is cumulative, and your choices will only get better with time.

What are your apartment (or house) must-haves?