When you’re going through a place you might live, it’s easy to get distracted by little things. Can you believe that chair? or Ugh, I hate that wall color! However, replacing the previous residents’ furniture with your own or changing the paint colors of a living room is pretty easy.
More important are factors fundamental to the experience of living in a place: Is it quiet? Does it leak? Many aspects of a property offer tradeoffs — you might be willing to climb an extra set of stairs to get to your apartment if that makes the rent cheaper.
Here are some factors that I’d consider red flags for everyone, regardless of whether you rent or buy:
1. Safety Of Your Apartment
My first big-city apartment was in a rather commercial area at a time when “push-in robberies” were common, in which the mugger waits until you are busy with your keys in the door lock, and comes up behind you. I was so nervous about coming home at night that I made friends with the guys running the Indian restaurant across the street they’d watch me as I entered my building. The city isn’t so dangerous now, but I’d still say being safe is first priority. Even if you like a property during the day, go back and visit it at night and make sure you feel safe. If you’re in doubt, knock a neighbor’s door and ask them what the area is like.
2. Does The Apartment Get Leaks?
You never forget when your first ceiling falls in – one minute it’s above you, the next minute, there it is, a bunch of board and plaster at your feet. In my case, it happened because of a persistent leak – one my landlord should have addressed long before! If I had known better, I would have seen it and not rented the apartment. Look for discolored spots and distorted plaster or paint that looks like melting wax. To check for leaks, look around the frames and bottoms of windows of a property, on the floor near the radiators, and, most importantly, up on the ceiling and near the tops of walls, especially in a bathroom.
Here are some red flags that apply specifically to prospective buyers:
If you’re renting for a year, you can ignore a little Saturday night noise or put up with some truck traffic. But if you own, consistent noise gets old fast, and it will depress your property values. Look on the block for bars or restaurants that might be open late, and check out the width of the street you’re on to see what traffic is like. If you’re looking at an apartment, one trick is to drop something heavy on the floor, like your purse or a hardcover book, and see if the noise makes one of your neighbor’s dogs start yapping.
2. Sagging Or Cracked Foundations
Interior work, like renovating a bathroom, is one thing – but jacking up a house to repair a bad foundation is another. It’s one of those problems that renters can ignore for a year, but that owners will have to address. After all, it can lead to leaks and even wall collapses. To check for foundation problems, look for actual cracks along the outside of the house. Also, check to make sure that the basement stairs are level. If they’re “tilty,” that’s a clue that you might have foundation problems. Move on to the next house.