Here’s an exhaustive checklist for choosing a good apartment and good roommates. Some are things we may overlook as we’re caught in the middle of a stressful and time-consuming process. Be careful to be objective in evaluating some of these factors even when you find a “good” place or “good” roommates who trigger positive emotions that may affect your judgement.

Be EXTRA CLEAR about the price
– Heat included?
– Hot water included?
– Any utilities included? If not, what’s the estimated cost of utilities per month (gas, electricity, internet, cable)?
– Broker fee?
– What’s required to secure the place? Security deposit? First and last month rent?
– Will the place be furnished? Does that come at an extra price?

Policies of the apartment
– Pets? What kinds?
– Parking? Guest parking? Cost? Or is there enough free street parking?
– Allowed to sublease for some months?
– If certain things like a roofdeck or basement storage are advertised, are you actually allowed to use it?

Check the apartment for yourself
– Is it well-kept? What condition is the place in?
– Is the hot water consistent? Test the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and bathtub.
– Is the water pressure good?
– Is there a dishwasher?
– Laundry? How far away? How clean is the laundry room? What’s the cost?
– Dumpsters and recycling? How far away?
– How clean are the surroundings?
– Storage space? Linen closet? Pantry?
– How high are the ceilings?
– How do you like the layout? Will it fit the furniture you already have?
– Number of outlets? Locations of them?
– Bedroom size? How big is the closet?
– How big are the windows? How much light is let in?
– How are the heaters and AC? Do the old heaters clank? If there’s no central AC, are the windows big enough to fit window units?
– What’s right outside the apartment windows? A nice view, a busy street, a wall, or dumpsters?
– How thin are the walls? Can roommates hear each other through the walls? Can you hear people in the building’s hallway too much or your neighbors too much?
– How is your own cell phone reception there, especially in your bedroom?
– Do you notice many mouse traps or insect traps?

Research the apartment location
– Crime stats, crime log websites. (I like http://spotcrime.com/)
– Located near public transportation? Near subway stops? Near bus stops?
– What’s in the neighborhood?
– Grocery stores? How convenient is shopping?
– Gyms? Pharmacies?
– How are the schools? (I like http://greatschools.net/)
– What are people talking about on the neighborhood’s Reddit forum?

People in the building
– Notice or observe: What are the resident ages? What life stage are most people in? Do you think you’ll be a good fit in the middle of students, families, or young professionals?
– Is there a culture of cleanliness in public spaces, alleys, and lobbies?

Roommates
– If you’ll be living with strangers, you can gauge these prospective roommates based on a mix of your gut, noticing some things, and directly asking them these questions (and letting them know your honest answers too):
– Notice for yourself: Do they seem like trustworthy and responsible people?
– Ask directly:
– Smoking? Drugs?
– Cleanliness level on a scale of 1-10?
– What does “clean” mean? (Some people like clear counters and things put away. Others like to dust and mop often. Others care mostly about the bathtub. “Clean” means different things to different people. Start this conversation to see if you’re a good match or even if the cleaning task you each enjoy the most complement each other! For example, I love organizing things and putting things away and I’ve had roommates who love sweeping. Instead of taking turns on tasks we might not like, we just automatically did the things we loved and kept a clean place.)
– Bedtimes? Wake up times?
– Deep or light sleepers?
– Noise level? TVs, music, etc.
– Jobs? Hobbies and interests? What do they do for work and for fun?
– Are you looking to be independent and to lead your own life at home? Or are you looking for a very social culture? Or a balance?
– Thoughts on partners staying over? Dinner party guests? Party guests? Overnight guests? How often do these happen? For all of these, what’s “too often”? For parties, how many is too many people in the apartment?
– Thoughts on sharing food?
– Are the roommates consistent and responsible about taking turns to buy toilet paper, dish soap, and other shared items? Or is there a system where money is pooled?

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Contact a former tenant
– Ask the owner or your realtor for a former tenant’s contact info if it’s okay with that tenant.
– Or in the case of a large building of units, wait outside to ask someone entering if you can ask them a few questions.

Ask the current tenant or a neighbor:
– How long have you lived there?
– How often do you have problems with hot water?
– How often do you have problems with the heat?
– How are neighbors? Are any pets in surrounding rooms loud? Any bands nearby that play loudly?
– How are the other residents? What do they do? Who are they? Students, professionals, or families? Responsible people?
– Noise level? What should I know about parties, trains, street cleaners, and anything else loud?
– What internet service do you use? Have you been satisfied?
– How often do you see mice?
– How often do you see bugs, spiders, ants?
– How quick is maintenance? How do maintenance requests work?
– How is the property manager? Responsive? How much does he or she help with a resident’s satisfaction?
– How often has the owner raised the rent? By how much?
– On a scale of 1-10, what would you rate your experience here? If you knew everything you knew now, would you still choose to live here?

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Ask yourself
– You won’t ever find the perfect place, but what are your own priorities in finding a place and in roommates? (Some things in this whole list might not matter to you at all.)
– Do you know yourself well enough? What are the differences between what you need and what you want? (Try to think back to other times you were searching for apartments or roommates. Were there things you thought that mattered that wound up being insignificant? Or vice versa?)
– What things can be fixed later and what things can you create a solution for later? You can’t fix the fact that the place is next to a cemetery if you don’t like that, but having an electrical outlet on the other side of the room from where you want your desk is fixable if you get an extension cord.

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Please share this checklist if you found it useful or if you think others would find it useful. Having a home that gives you joy and roommates who match well with your living style are keys to leading a slow and mindful life. Being self-aware, asking the right questions, and noticing the right things will help you live in a place that you’re glad to call home.

Best wishes and good luck finding a new home!! =)

You might also like the internet’s most detailed checklist for college dorm packing (visited and shared by thousands), also written by me:
http://howtospellcollege.com/2008/08/28/master-checklist-for-dorm-packing/

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