I have had the opportunity to look for a first apartment twice. Even though I’ve lived in multiple apartments, there were completely different criteria, which is why I consider it two first apartment searches. The first time was my first apartment ever. The second time was our first apartment together. So if you’re moving away from home for the first time we have a first apartment checklist in our resource library (one version with what we’ve looked for and a blank one for you to make your own). Just subscribe here for free access! If you just want the checklist, then you can skip this post. If you want more detail about what we included on the first apartment checklist and how we’ve picked apartments, read on.
The Top Things to Focus on in Apartment Hunting
- Your own personal make it or break it criteria (ie: pets allowed, kitchen size, security, etc.)
My First Apartment: What to Look for as an Individual
The first time I went apartment hunting, my father-figure came with me. He’s my friends’ dad and had gone through the process of apartment hunting with my friends and their siblings many times before. The main thing we were looking for was proximity to my new college campus. In the first apartment checklist, we have location on the top because it really matters. I wanted to live a little bit closer to school, but the apartments there were already booked up for the year. The apartment I picked was a little bit farther, about 2 miles away from school, but it met the rest of my criteria.
I knew I would be renting it with roommates, who I would find later, so I wanted a big enough bedroom to hang out in most of the time, because I’m not social. I didn’t have many requirements since I’d never lived in an apartment before. Two bathrooms was one of the few requirements. I didn’t want to have to share with other people because scheduling when to get ready around someone else’s shower sounded annoying. My room also had a walk in closet which wasn’t a requirement then, but it most definitely is for our future apartments.
Parking has been a priority since the beginning. I had a street bike back then, so my parking spot needed to be big enough for my car and my bike. The spot I got was covered and so big that at one point we fit three motorcycles and my car into it, while staying in the lines.
Lastly, I had Chili and I wouldn’t want to move without bringing him along. Pet friendly apartments were necessary for that situation. Pet rent is not cheap though. If you don’t currently have a pet, I’d hold off on getting one till you’re living in a house instead of an apartment, unless you’re staying in apartments for years.
My first apartment was pretty basic, which is what I was looking for. I just wanted something inexpensive, comfortable, and close to campus.
Our First Apartment: What to Look for as a Couple
We had a different first apartment checklist to check off when we looked for our first apartment together. We did not want to have roommates, so we just looked for a one bedroom instead of a two bedroom. To read about our move, check out this post, and to read about why we left Orange County, read this one.
Location was also important this time, as it is for every move. At first we were trying to find apartments near Evan’s school. Then we did some more digging and found out that theres a significant amount of crime there and it’s probably not the best area to live. Realistically, ABQ is known for its high crime rates, so there aren’t many areas here that I, a former Irvine (rated safest city in the US for its size many times) and Carmel Valley (literally didn’t even have a police department) resident, would consider to be super safe.
We picked the Northeast area of Albuquerque, which is nicer compared to some parts, like the War Zone. This one time I had to run an errand for work on the West Side and my maps told me to be safe and stay aware of where I was. The area I went to was fine, but it was a little unnerving for my iPhone to be like “hey you could be going to a sketchy place”.
Sidenote: I was listening to Crime Junkie a couple weeks ago and they talked about a serial killer in Albuquerque that was never caught. If you like true crime at all, I highly recommend the podcast.
Once we settled on location, we narrowed it down to a few apartments. We wanted a bottom floor apartment, but ended up with a second floor apartment, which actually worked out better. We have a balcony where we keep random motorcycle stuff. It also doesn’t sound like there’s people stomping on our heads, but that’s what it sounds like downstairs. Now we always want to be on the highest floor because they’ll be quieter. In the last apartment where I lived and Evan lived for a bit, the ceiling had a thick layer of concrete, so we never heard our upstairs neighbors. The apartments here are from the 80’s, so they’re more outdated architecturally.
A couple other things that sealed the deal for us with this apartment: price, double gates, covered parking, and a dog park.
This apartment is smaller than some of the others we looked at, but we didn’t think we needed that much space. Now we think one with a bigger kitchen, bathroom, and more storage would be nice, but the bedroom and living room size is fine. Smaller means less to clean too. Since it is smaller and older, the rent is reasonable. Additionally, we were used to California rent, so in comparison anything here seems much less extreme.
One of our neighbors described this complex as the place to be during a zombie apocalypse. It has gates to get into the resident parking area and gates to get in to the apartment complex from the resident parking. Seems pretty safe, which it is in comparison to other places. We feel much safer here than I think we would in non-gated places. There is security here at night, but I don’t think they do anything but lock up the common area room and leave, so that didn’t matter to us at all.
The covered parking situation here is also great. We got two spots next to each other, so we can lock up our bikes in between our vehicles. There’s also a wall on either side of the covered area, so there’s less wind blowing rain and snow onto our vehicles.
The final thing that I really liked about this complex is that there’s a little gated dog park. I thought Chili would like playing in there. After living here for a bit and trying to get him to play in it, I realized that he doesn’t care about being outside or inside, and people here suck at cleaning up after their dogs, so there’s always dog doo everywhere in there. Chili now just plays inside with us and does his business in the grassy areas.
So, don’t base your apartment decisions on “extras” like a dog park, unless you know you’ll use it for certain. In our first apartment checklist, after necessities and things that would be nice, we have a third column for things that don’t matter. Write down the things that leasing agents advertise to you, but you don’t really care about. Some people may hear about all the extra amenities apartments offer and think “wow, that’s so much. That’s a good deal”, but if you wouldn’t use any of those things, then it shouldn’t impact your decision. Our last apartment complex had three pools. We only used one of them. There was also a dance room. I used it once. It had a lot of windows, so it felt awkward when people walked by.
Don’t fall for gimmicks. Write down the things that are essential for you and others that would be nice to have, but not necessary.
Our Next Apartment: What We’re Looking for in the Future
The primary things we will be looking for in our future apartment are pretty much the same as what we looked for in our first apartment, but with a few additions. We’re looking for a two-bedroom so Evan can have an office and we have more storage space. We’d prefer a bigger kitchen. A garage would be preferable due to the snow up there. Finally, we’re hoping for the location to be close to Evan’s mom and stepdad.
When you’re looking for your first apartment, you’ll want to start thinking about what you want and don’t want well before you go look at apartments. You can use our first apartment checklist and add on to each column, or you can use our blank one and completely make it your own. You can also download our moving checklist from the resource library. All are available by subscribing through this link.