Author Topic: Which apartment should we rent?  (Read 3129 times)

terran

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Which apartment should we rent?
« on: July 07, 2017, 10:59:19 PM »
Update: We've made a decision, but there's another unit opening in the same building which brings up another set up questions: see post #9

My wife's new job brings with it a new location and a bigger salary, so as these kinds of changes tend to do, it brings us to a crossroads. We've seen a bunch of apartments in the new location (we're currently staying in an AirBnB until August 5th) and have started to narrow it down between a few very different options.

Our situation is that no matter what we pick we'll be saving at least the 2% mandatory contribution from her $95k salary, $18k to her 403b, $18k to her governmental 457, the 10% employer contribution and depending on my highly variable freelance income  (~$35k last year) maxing both of our traditional IRAs at $11000, and my solo 401k ($24.5k last year), for a total of $82.9k. The $18k going to her 457 and the 2% mandatory contribution represent an increase in our savings thanks to her new higher salary while the rest is what we've been doing for the past few years.

Her take home should be $2880/month after all deductions (the savings above, health insurance, all federal/state taxes, payroll deducted gym membership, long term disability), and most/all of my income will likely go to the IRAs and solo 401k.

With the cheapest apartment we're considering (option 2) our budgeted expenses would be $2580/month ($300 extra), and the most expensive (option 1) would be $2830 ($50 extra) for a $250/month or $3000/year difference. Any surplus will go to some combination of additional savings and/or additional travel spending.

We haven't looked very closely at it because we REALLY don't want to be homeowners again, but I think rent vs buy would favor rent in this market.

Moving sucks, so if at all possible we would like our choice to be our home for as long as we're here (at least 5-7 years).

Her take on it is that we can afford option 1, we've already added a healthy increase to our savings ($19.9k), we both like it better, she can "see us there," and it "feels more grown up" (we're 32). I'm struggling because I don't disagree with any of that, but at the same time I think option 2, while not ideal, meets the threshold of "minimum acceptable housing" and would save us $3000 that we could put towards other things.

I think we would both agree that option 1 is more like the kind of place we would like to eventually live, but what we (mostly me) are uncertain of is whether now is that time, or whether we should hold off a little longer and put that money towards additional savings and/or travel which is a priority for us. As are all things with money, basically this is a question of priorities, in our case between financial freedom, travel, and housing quality.

We love travel and plan to make it a part of our life in both our earning years and in retirement whenever that comes (tentatively 45 or 13 years from now, but various things could push that either direction). When we're not traveling we're essentially homebodies: I work from home, we cook more than we go out (and enjoy it), and we like having people over. So both travel and housing are things we would like to spend more on.

This is not a "him vs her" thing as (I think) she can understand and appreciate "my" take on things, and I'm just generally conflicted between competing priorities that will most likely always be in competition in our life.

So should I "loosen the pursestrings" when it comes to housing? Or should we up our savings game? Or spend more on travel? Any stories of a similar decision you've made, how you decided, and whether you feel you made the right choice? We might try negotiating the rent on option 1 - any tips on whether that might be an ok thing to do and what might be reasonable?

Here are the options we're considering

Option 1: The nicest and most expensive option. It looks like the picture below except it is on the 1st floor which has stained concrete floors instead of wood (funky in a good way). 0.7 mile / 15 minute walk (up a steep hill) to my wife's work. 0.2 mile / 3 minute walk to the (free) bus she would probably most often take instead of walking. 1.1 mile / 22 minute walk to the fun to walk around downtown area. This would be among the nicest places we've lived. The front steps could probably be used as a small bit of outdoor space. The landlord is a family run business with 64 units and the young man in charge (probably our age) seems laid back, yet responsive (maybe a bit too much so - daily drive by of his properties were mentioned). This is a 1st floor end unit in a 1 deep, 2 story apartment building. It will be $825 with no utilities included. Available now, but he's willing to push it so we pay half a months rent for July and we can move in at a more leisurely pace.



Option 2: The cheapest and least nice option. It is literally across the street from option 1, so the transit and walk times are the same. The posting didn't have pictures, but it looks similar to the image below, but maybe a bit more run down. The key points are more dated fixtures and furnishings, carpet in the living room and bedrooms (which neither of us, and especially I don't like), vinyl or tile in the kitchen and bath (I forget which, and will have to double check when we view again), and just generally more worn down. This would probably be on par with, or even a small step down from most other places we've lived. It definitely has a college kid feel in this college town, but there's nothing inherently wrong or unsafe about it. The walkway out of the apartment could probably be used as a bit of outdoor space. This landlord also has a handful of buildings, seemed a little "twitchy"/nervous, middle aged, and was a little slow to get back to us about a showing (never responded to my wife's voicemail, but responded to my email -- not sure if he ever made the connection, or just never got back to her. This is a 1st floor corner unit in a 2 deep, 2 story apartment building. It will be $695 with water included (which should save us $50-60/month). The timing on this should work out just right so we move in right when our AirBnB rental is over and we won't have to pay any extra rent.



Option 3: We will see this one tomorrow, but if it is as it appears this one should be in between the two in terms of both price and niceness, but a little further away from work and the downtown area. It still has carpet in much of the house (again, not my preference) with tile in the wet areas, and wood in one bedroom, but it's currently owner occupied, so we're hoping it's kept up better. The fixtures and furnishings are still a little dated, but not as much as option 2.  0.9 mile / 21 minute walk to my wife's work. 0.2 mile / 3 minute walk to the bus (one stop further to ride than other two), and 1.3 mile / 27 minute walk to the downtown area. More outdoor space than the other two with a small front yard (need to find out who mows this) and a small enclosed patio in the back. The landlord will be a 1st timer now that she's bought another house and is keeping this as a rental (could have good and bad aspects). We don't (yet) know what her motivations/intentions are in terms whether this is a stopgap until she sells, or if this is a long term thing. This is townhome that shares walls on either side, but has both floors to itself. It will be $765 no utilities included. This one won't be ready until mid august so we'll have to find more short term housing for a few weeks which will probably cost another $500-600, but it will probably be pretty close to a wash with prorated rent.

« Last Edit: July 10, 2017, 04:32:33 PM by terran »

Polaria

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2017, 08:29:37 AM »
What I did to rent my current and previous flats is as follows:
I picked 5 features that the flat should have. If I find a flat with all 5 features and a good vibe, I'd take it with its downsides as no flat will ever be perfect.

In my case the features were:
    1) max 600/month
    2) cats accepted
    3) washing machine
    4) close to metro
    5) no carpets

Maybe you could do that for the 3 options to help you decide which one to pick?
« Last Edit: July 08, 2017, 08:31:10 AM by Polaria »

birdiegirl

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2017, 09:37:24 AM »
I'd say go with Option 1.  As long as neither of you feel you're stretching your budget too far.  Try to find a few other places where you can cut back a bit to increase your savings instead. 

It's important to find a place that feels good for both of you and that you will want to stay in for the full 5-7 years. If you settle for something else you're not as happy with, you may end up wanting to move again, which just brings more hassle and expense.   

 

LadyStash

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2017, 09:54:33 AM »
Having had plenty of maintenance issues as a renter, I value a responsive landlord! From what you write, Option #1 seems to have the most seasoned and attentive landlord/staff.

Also, the photos make it seem like Option #1 is at least a little larger than Options #2 and #3 (true?), so the value per sq ft (esp. considering quality of appliances, fixtures, etc.) may be higher!

I understand not wanting to spend "extra" money unnecessarily, but a little extra is worth it if (a) the overall value is better and (b) you will feel more comfortable there (day-to-day living, inviting friends over rather than going out, etc.).

LadyStash

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2017, 09:57:51 AM »
In terms of negotiations on Option #1, could you capitalize on the landlord saying that he drives by daily to negotiate a break? Maybe something along the lines of, "I'll walk the property daily and report any issues to you rather than you driving by daily for $X off montly rent."

lbmustache

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2017, 11:37:22 AM »
Having had plenty of maintenance issues as a renter, I value a responsive landlord! From what you write, Option #1 seems to have the most seasoned and attentive landlord/staff.

Also, the photos make it seem like Option #1 is at least a little larger than Options #2 and #3 (true?), so the value per sq ft (esp. considering quality of appliances, fixtures, etc.) may be higher!

I understand not wanting to spend "extra" money unnecessarily, but a little extra is worth it if (a) the overall value is better and (b) you will feel more comfortable there (day-to-day living, inviting friends over rather than going out, etc.).

Agree with all of this. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE A GOOD LANDLORD! And quite frankly, I am not a fan of places that are somewhat (or very) run-down... shows no pride of ownership to me and that the landlord is just coasting by. (May or may not be true, take no offense MMM landlords).

I'd go with place 1 or 3, and pass on 2. I'm personally leaning towards 1. 

lizzzi

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2017, 01:37:16 PM »
It sounds like option 1 is the best fit. Since you're going to stay for 5 to 7 years, I think it's important that you like your apartment. I would consider carefully about those concrete floors, though. They're going to be very hard on your legs and feet, and perhaps cold.

redbird

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2017, 02:56:56 PM »
Keep in mind some of the little things that would bug you too. I look at options 2 and 3 and I don't see drawer pulls on the kitchen drawers. I HATE that. It bugs me enough that I actually purchased super cheapy drawer pulls from Walmart and installed them in a rental apartment once. And then I took those pulls off to take 'em with me (not giving the landlord a free upgrade!) in case I needed them later. Luckily, they didn't deduct anything from my security deposit for having drawers with holes drilled in them and no drawer pulls!

Even the most expensive option is honestly plenty fine with the money you and your wife is making, so I don't see a problem with option 1.

Rural

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2017, 06:25:39 AM »
I'll be a contrarian and say give serious thought to Option 2. Guaranteed (and enclosed!) outdoor space plus no risk of noisy upstairs neighbors would mean a lot to me.


The best thing Option 1 has going for it is the concrete floors, though. Those are wonderful and indestructible. Have you seen the actual unit you'd be renting, though? I would not sign anything sight unseen.

However, you're in a position to choose based on preference. Which apartment do you like best? Is your second choice good enough that you'd rather live there and have a higher travel budget? I think that's where your decision should lie, not in the money itself - you're saving enough, even for this forum.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2017, 06:28:14 AM by Rural »

terran

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2017, 04:30:15 PM »
Thanks everyone! This has all been very helpful to put things in a little bit of perspective.

So we saw option 2 over the weekend, and it didn't really have the space for our table to really open up, so it would have constrained the entertaining we like to do occasionally. I also wasn't wild about the carpet. The first time landlord thing also put us off that one.

We decided to definitely skip number three -- it would be fine, but it's definitely college student type housing, so we've decided to skip that in favor of something a little more age appropriate.

I saw some other places today, but they had their problems too. The biggest one was that the landlady was this older woman who was either a little dottie or a very shrewd and not entirely honest businesswoman (changing stories, assurances that everything is/will be fine, claiming the smell in one apartment is paint when it definitely wasn't. That kind of thing). I can deal with dottie, but if that's not what was going on, I don't much like the alternative.

So the big reveal: I'm still not entirely comfortable with the price, but we've decided to go with option 1 and I feel much better having made a decision. It turns out that another unit in the same building is coming up for August, so we're going to see that one tomorrow and go with whichever we like better. August would work out better since we have the AirBnB until the 5th, so we would avoid the extra 1/2 month of rent, but not the end of the world either way.

While we will take the one we like better, the option of another apartment in the same building brings up another set of questions regarding orientation. The building has six units, 3 up / 3 down, and is oriented East (rear) / West (front), so the right of the picture below is to the south and the left is to the north. There are no windows on the sides of the building (south/north).

We're looking at the left and right first floor units. The right unit (with its exposed side facing south) had a bit of shade from trees along the right this afternoon at 3pm, but quite a bit of sun was still hitting it. The amount of sun hitting the front/west side seemed pretty similar, but the left unit seems to get a bit of shade along the left of the west wall, and is pretty buried in trees on the North wall.

We're in a southern state, so it should be more A/C and less heat than we're used to up north. The local utility says 952 heating degree days in January and 431 cooling degree days in July (the respective peaks).

My wife does best with plenty of sun (but works much of the day). We're pretty early risers so east sun in the morning probably isn't too big a deal, although on the occasion we want to (try) to sleep in, I guess it could get frustrating.

The street the google street view below is from is a dead end that only serves this building, the street to the right is a local traffic through street that has never been super busy, but I expect the whole area to get busier once the kids come back to college.

The right unit looks at the side of the house behind the building. The left unit looks at a very overground back yard. It's possible that house is currently vacant.

Questions:
> I assume an exposed south wall (right unit) is going to help in the winter and hurt in the summer? Any thoughts on which to prioritize in our climate?
> I don't yet know the layout, but if they're the same one unit would have kitchen/bathroom/bedroom 1 along the shared wall, while the other unit would have living/bedroom 2 along the shared wall. We'll double check, but I think the bedrooms are the same size, so it's mostly about the living room vs kitchen/bathroom. Would you rather share a wall in your living room or your kitchen/bathroom? Would you rather share a wall with your neighbor's living or with their kitchen/bathroom?
> Any considerations I've missed? All other things being equal, which would you pick based on the orientation/layout?


lizzzi

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Re: Which apartment should we rent?
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2017, 05:12:55 PM »
Both my house and my apartment have the back facing East and the front facing West, both are at 41 degrees north latitude--I feel comfortable in either place--the back will get more morning sun and the front more afternoon sun. Close your blinds a little bit if you want to block out some sun and heat. On very hot summer days--high 80s--I open the windows until around 11 am, and then close them and put on the A/C until around 7pm if it cools off--just leave the A/C on if it is still hot and muggy. The apartment stays very warm for some reason. The house stays cooler, and I use much less A/C. It is in a woodland setting, and of course being a SFH does not have the other units around it like an apartment does.  In the apartment, I turn on the A/C again at bedtime. Although window fans would help,  I have security concerns. It looks to me from your photo that the unit on the left will be quieter in terms of being further from the road on the right, and also has those trees on your northern exposure...and also has the empty, overgrown yard behind it? I'm thinking that if you like the left hand unit inside...it may be more desirable. But of course you'll need to go with whichever unit you prefer inside. I'm not sure it is going to make a whole lot of difference in terms of utility bills.  Does your building have a basement, and if so, what goes on down there? If that is a laundry area, and you are above it, you may be assailed with the strong scents of fragranced fabric softeners, etc. Are people allowed to smoke in your building? I've not had that as an issue, but my apartment neighbors tell me that previous tenants who smoked wafted the smell all over the building.