This month marks my two-year apartment anniversary. Normally this would be a dreaded time when I need to decide if I want to renew for another year and then budget for either the hike in rent or costs associated with moving out. However, since my lease expired around this time last year, my wife and I have received no renewal notice letter informing us of a price increase, or anything else of the sort. Yes, somehow we’ve been paying the exact same amount on a month-to-month lease for more than a year (meanwhile my former California apartment must be running about $1700 at this point).
The only downside to this arrangement is that I’m afraid to ask my complex for some of the cosmetic upgrades other units have received, thinking they’d then realize they’ve been undercharging me. This predicament got me thinking back to how we choose our apartment, what comprises we made, and what’s actually worked out for the better. A recurring theme in my findings is just how much you can spend on some small conveniences and how those can add up big time.
About those upgrades…
When looking for an apartment it’s important to find one that’s comfortable, safe, and meets your needs. Of course a few shiny new things can’t hurt either as long as you can afford them. Unfortunately some of those pretty things can cost you a lot when it comes to renting an apartment — and you’ll keep paying for them.
Prior to moving into our apartment in Springfield, my wife and I researched places exclusively online (since we were 1,600 miles away). One thing we noticed was that the photos for our current complex varied from shot to shot. While some units had lovely tile backsplashes in the kitchen and cute, black wooden vanities in the bathrooms, others had boring, white-painted walls and less-than-ideal wooden cabinetry. As it turns out they were in the process of upgrading apartments as tenants moved out, leading to a mix of styles. Unfortunately — or so we thought — since we had to move sooner rather than later, we ended up agreeing to take one of the un-upgraded units.
Although that decision was disappointing at the time — and I do still feel a little bit of pain when I see a pretty backsplash display — it was a huge win in hindsight. Not only would waiting for them to upgrade our fixtures have cost us a ton of cash by extending our time in California but would have also raised our rent here by $100 a month. That means we would have already paid $2,400 for those aesthetic enhancements and would continue to pay for them for as long as we live here. Seeing as we have no plans to move just yet, I’ll just go ahead and accept my ugly-but-functional cabinets for the time being and save the pretty stuff for when we own a house.
Investing in appliances
Another disappointment when we took the apartment here was that this particular unit did not include the washer and dryer that some of the others do. Instead there are hookups in case you wanted to purchase your own appliances. As a result we briefly considered purchasing one of each… until we ran the math.
On the surface it might seem like buying a washer and dryer would be a good investment as it would prevent us from having to spend $2 a load ($1 per machine) on laundry. But if say each machine is, conservatively, $500 to purchase, we would have to do 500 loads before breaking even. Given the fact that we do laundry once a week, that’s nearly a decade of laundry. Plus, at that point, the age of our machines would likely start to show, leading to more expenses. Furthermore, with some houses in our area coming furnished with major appliances, it really just doesn’t make sense for us to buy our own now.
In many cases the price of your rent isn’t just about your unit itself but also what the community offers. For example many complexes will boast pools, gyms, playgrounds, and other lifestyle amenities intended to help attract resident. The thing is, if you’re not making use of these amenities, you might be better off looking elsewhere. After all it’s not like you can tell your rental office you deserve a discount because you can’t swim.
Just as homeowners are now learning about the premium they pay for walkability, renters are realizing that they may be overpaying for perks they don’t need. Additionally, just like the unit upgrades, you’ll continue to pay more for them the longer you stay put. Obviously there may be times when you simply don’t have a choice but it’s definitely worth extending your apartment shopping trip to find a home that offers you exactly what you need — and nothing more.
Renting an apartment gets a bad reputation from those who argue that it’s a waste of money. While I’m a staunch defender of renting, there are definitely times when it can be a drag on your budget. That said, by considering the costs of things like upgrades, appliances, and complex amenities, you can help ensure that you’re making the best financial decisions while enjoying the perfect apartment for you.