Liz Reed is the Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz's column in the April 30, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
Since leaving my childhood home to attend college, I’ve never lived in a single location longer than 20 months. Sure, I’ve lived in Boston for three years, but in that time I’ve occupied three different apartments. In fact, I’ve moved a whopping 18 times since 2006. Ouch. Our current lease will be up at the end of August; we’ve chosen not to renew, bringing my grand total of single abode living to two years. Now it’s time to start the search process all over again.
All this practice has at least given me some insights. If you’ve tried searching for apartments lately, you know that the pace can move very quickly, especially in the Boston area. Reading printed ads for available apartments is nearly a thing of the past, and even online, apartments seem to get snapped up almost immediately. Murphy’s Law of apartment hunting says that listings which best fit your dream apartment will disappear most quickly. The housing market in Norwood is not nearly as aggressive as in Boston or Brookline, where I would recommend beginning your search in February for a September 1st move-in date. On the bright side, we’re not in New York City, where the market is so aggressive people will rent apartments sight unseen.
So, you’ve made the decision to move – now what? If you have a lease for your current living situation, check to see how much notice you need to give the landlord before you move out. Also see if there is a penalty for breaking your lease early. Next, evaluate your needs. Do you need easy access to public transit? Do you need a place with parking or certain utilities included? How many bedrooms will you need, and do you have any pets? Be honest with yourself: how much square footage do you need? And what about furniture? Your day will be ruined if you put a down payment on an adorable loft space only to find that your sofa and bed frame won’t make it up the stairs.
While you’re being honest with yourself, you may realize you’ve become a bit of a packrat. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. I speak from experience when I say that a little effort and a few “tough” choices will be worth the trouble of downsizing, reducing, and decluttering. For moral support, practical advice, and a plan you can stick to, try these library books:”10,001 Ways to Declutter Your Home on a Small Budget” by Morrow, Bykofsky, and Rosenkranz; “Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life” by Gail Blanke; “Living with Less: How to Downsize to 100 Personal Possessions” by Mary Lambert. Available as ebooks in OverDrive, we have “Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One-Minute Tips for Decluttering and Refreshing Your Home and Your Life” by Donna Smallin, and “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo, which is also available as an e-audiobook. Downsizing your possessions means you can look for a smaller (and hopefully cheaper!) apartment, as well as minimizing the amount of stuff you’ll have to lug around on moving day.
There are many places to look for apartments. In my opinion, the best place to start looking, especially if you’re considering a number of communities, are unfamiliar with an area, or just prefer something highly visual, is padmapper.com. PadMapper is a bit like one-stop-shopping: it aggregates from a number of apartment listing sites, including craigslist, airbnb, and rent.com. The site works on Google Maps with pins showing apartment listings geographically. You can easily set filters, such as rent range, number of bedrooms, age of listing, and whether pets are allowed. The site includes helpful visualization tools such as mass transit overlay and Walk Score so you can see how close an apartment is to public transit, or how easily you can accomplish most errands on foot. Remember how I said apartments can fly on and off the market at a rapid pace? You can receive email alerts from PadMapper as soon as a listing that fits your filter criteria is posted. As the site’s creator says, PadMapper makes apartment searching a lot less awful. Even fun.
Despite my romance with PadMapper, the site does not catch every listing. You may find it useful to set up similar email alerts with Trulia, Zillow, Postlets, Zumper, or another site, though none has an interface as user-friendly as PadMapper. If you have narrowed down your search to a few communities, you will definitely want to check out their local Patch websites for rentals in their real estate sections.
While these tools can do amazing things, they cannot completely protect you from shady characters. A few common sense tips: don’t wire money to anybody; if an ad looks too good to be true, it probably is; you can always take a buddy or two with you to look at an apartment or meet with a realtor – besides safety in numbers and having the benefit of a second pair of eyes, a friend could make the experience more fun. Before you meet with a realtor or landlord, or if you want to review your current lease agreement, learn about your rights as a renter. The library has two very good resources: “Renters’ Rights: the Basics” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide” by Attorney Jane Portman and Marcia Stewart. As always, if you have any questions, ask your friendly neighborhood Reference Librarian.