Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Adventures in rental hunting

We knew almost a year ago that we wanted to move to a larger space. Unfortunately, our lease was up the weekend of our wedding, not an ideal time to move. So we signed the shortest lease possible and here we are, 7.5 months later, packing.

But finding that perfect next step in the Anchorage rental market was a challenge. We didn't want to spend significantly more, but wanted more space, something a little more our personality than a huge apartment building and a neighborhood with good schools.

Anchorage is ranked 31 in a CNN article listing the 50 most expensive cities to live in the U.S.

So the hunt began with Craislist, newspaper ads, local property management websites and more.

I called and e-mailed on several places and we viewed six. I had never put so much work into rental hunting, but I don't want to feel like we've outgrown our place in a year. I have lived in seven different apartments in seven years, a good portion of that college. Now I spend more time at home that any other in my life between my new family, my freelance work and the 9-plus months of winter in this city. Eventually we would like to buy a home, but we just aren't there yet. Until then, I want an amazing duplex, townhouse or apartment.

Here are lessons I've learned from my many, many rental searches and advice for the rental hunter:
  1. Be honest about anything that might be a deal breaker. I saved myself a lot of time by asking upfront, "Do you allow cats?"
  2. Cozy is just a cute word for small.
  3. If it doesn't say no smoking on the ad, the place probably smells like smoke.
  4. If the ad includes standard inclusions such as garbage disposal, private bathroom: stay away.
  5. In a city were nothing is more than a 20 minute drive, everywhere is "close to everything!"
  6. Never, never, never view a place that doesn't have pictures in the ad. It's not worth seeing.*
  7. If the ad sounds too good to be true, it probably is.*
  8. Start early, but know a lot of landlords want to fill vacancies immediately. We lost out on one great place because were planning a month in advance, but weren't willing to double up on rent for a month.
  9. Make a list of your priorities and know which wishes you're willing to live without.
  10. It hunting online watch out for scammers. Never give out to much personal information, don't be afraid to ask for tenant references and never put money down on a place you haven't seen.
* If you're wondering whether I learned these ones from experience, I did. We toured a three bedroom, two bath house in our ideal neighborhood for just $30 more that we pay for our apartment. The ad said all utilities included.

When we got there, we had trouble finding the place because it was down a gravel driveway behind an apartment building. The front room reeked of smoke and the livingroom had wood paneling on the walls. The three bedrooms were all in the basement, no windows. The landlord pointed at a picture on the wall of one of the bedrooms and said, "There's a huge storage space on the other side of that picture."

"Nice, where's the door to it?" I asked.

"Oh, no, honey," she said. "It's a crawl space ... you just take the picture off the wall."

Did I mention the current tenants were still there? When the teenage daughter opened up her room, she was wrapped in a bathrobe and a cloud of smoke ... not from cigarettes, mind you. And there was a teenage boy scrambling to dress in the corner. A man I suppose was her father was watching TV in the living room upstairs. We left quickly.

The good news is, we did find an amazing place. More on that later.


  1. I am so excited for you guys and cant wait to see your new place!!!

  2. Thanks Kim! I'm so excited to have you over.

  3. yeeesh! You sound like you know what you're doing. I'm renting a room in a house with two dudes because apartment shopping was just too expensive and sketchy in Everett.


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