7 Tips to Save on Apartment Living
Having lived in many different apartment communities in a large metropolitan area, I can confidently attest that apartment living can be the pinnacle of service or a miserable, draining experience. Maybe you're downsizing from a house and want maintenance-free living or need to stash some cash for a down payment. Regardless of your reason, utilize these inside tips to have a pleasurable rental experience and spare huge headaches.
1. The top floor walk up isn't always the cheapest.
While I've always been a fan of living on the top floor — no heavy footsteps or loud street noise and reduced risk of robbery — choosing the daily gluteal workout level doesn't guarantee you the cheapest rate. Although rent may be somewhat cheaper with an increase in altitude, consider other costs that could push your monthly bills beyond a lower, less physically demanding unit. By far the largest bill that you will contend with (beyond rent) is your utility bill.
If you're looking at a community with three floors of units, the best insulated one will be the second floor. You'll also be at a lower risk for robbery than a first floor tenant. Apartments are constructed at the cheapest costs possible and change hands often. I frequently pay more in utility bills than friends who have twice the space I do (and the temperature control doesn't always guarantee comfort). Third floor units often offer vaulted ceilings, which are cool for aesthetic but bad for budgets. More than one maintenance worker has attempted to convince me that the indoor temperature will be no more than 20° cooler than the outdoor air. For a Texas native, that means contending with 83° temperatures indoors.
2. Make a spreadsheet to compare community amenities.
When shopping for a posh pad keep a list of all functional extras the prospective complex offers. Will you use their workout facility or have to buy a gym membership? How about partnerships with local businesses like dry cleaners or restaurants that offer discounted services to residents? What is included in the rent (such as utilities, cable, water, trash, etc.)? What specials are going on to bring the rent down? Some communities even have CARES Teams that provide free breakfast, lunch, or dinner once a week, which can save up to $80 a month in groceries and provide a great venue for meeting your neighbors.
3. Get friendly with the city inspector and fire marshal.
Apartment management cares about the bottom line because their bosses care about the bottom line. Most take a highly reactive rather than proactive approach to maintenance. If you have a repair that has not been fixed and can cause a health or safety hazard, threaten to call the authorities. The same goes for the pool. Apartments with temporarily closed facilities can't lease apartments, so expect the job to get done quickly. If they can get away with not putting money into something, they will.
4. Know the specials going on.
Leasing agents and managers frequently "shop" other communities to find out how their property measures up to comparable units. They often offer similar specials such as first month free or complimentary storage units to keep up with the competition. This is great for a new move in, but current residents may not be privy to these specials. It doesn't make much difference that you paid on time every month and even brought cookies to the office. Joe Blow wandering in from who-knows-where usually scores a better deal on a lease than you will on a renewal. Owners know that moving is a pain and bargain that you'll stay even with a rent hike. Find out what new move-ins are getting and request the same. It can't hurt to threaten a move.
5. Location, location, location.
It doesn't always pay to live on the outskirts. Invest in researching the area to add commute costs in your total. Living closer may mean higher rent rates, but consider the surroundings. Can you walk to the grocery store? Do you need to pay for a car (and gas and repairs and insurance) or can you use public transportation more easily? Do you spend a lot of time downtown? These are definitely factors to consider with your proximity.
6. Check out authorized service providers.
Some communities work out deals with cable and electric providers to offer a good bulk rate. This may or may not be better than what you're used to paying for. Investigate the cost per kilowatt-hour of the authorized utility companies and factor that in to the total monthly cost.
7. Make a date with your apartment manager.
Always schedule a meeting with your manager to inspect the apartment before you hand in the keys. Review any charges you might incur as well as any outstanding bills. If you wait for management to send a bill a month down the line, forget protesting it. Have the supervisor sign his/her approval and make sure you owe nothing else before moving out. Due to specials and prorated amounts, occasionally you'll find monetary glitches that tack on extra to your last bill without warning. Your management walk-through is the perfect time to address any snafus.
When it comes to apartment living, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. If you stand by and do nothing, get ready for substandard service. Remember: a big chunk of your rent goes toward paying for maintenance to care for your home. That's one of the main perks of apartment living — included (not free) repairs. Enjoy your living space and make your requests assertively known.
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