Home sweet home or home sweet hell?

home sweet homeNothing says “charming” like a 1950s pink bathtub, a harvest gold toilet and moldy shower tiles. The owner of this apartment – one of the many places I looked at recently – had a different take on the word than most people. He also advertised an “organic garden” that, in reality, was a cracked concrete lot decorated with two dying plants.

So began my hunt for home sweet home.

Finding a place to live that is clean, safe and affordable and doesn’t look like it was designed during Lincoln’s presidency is a tall order. The rental market is sizzling hot, which means landlords are charging premium prices for shoeboxes and crumbling infrastructure. At the same time, competition is stiff for limited inventory, so decent places go fast.

Here’s a quick tour for the uninitiated:

It takes big bucks to get knobs on the kitchen cabinets: “Naked” kitchen cabinets must be cheaper than ones that come with knobs or handles. It’s the only reason I can come up with why so many landlords don’t provide a way for people to open the doors. It’s OK to look at the cabinets – just don’t expect to use them.

Photos are a poor substitute for the real thing: It’s amazing how the right camera angle or lighting trick can make a flophouse look like a palace. Be especially wary of advertised apartments that feature only one or two photos. Chances are the “missing” rooms are AWOL for a reason.

“Modern” décor can include fake wood paneling from the last U.S. bicentennial, green shag carpeting and full-length wall mirrors: Look at the bright side: You’ll save a ton on groceries because you’ll be looking at yourself all the time and thinking about how you could stand to lose 10 pounds. As a bonus, you won’t drive your significant other crazy asking questions like, “Do these jeans make me look fat?”

“Courtyard Flats” isn’t an old-school hotel. It’s an apartment complex: Highlights include a low-rise building where tenants live neck and neck, no landscaping, a scary-looking rusted sign and a weed-choked parking lot. Run. Away. Fast. Next, take a friend’s advice and move to “Whispering Hills, “Le Jardin” or “The Hamptons by the Seaside.”

“Cozy,” “quaint,” “charming” and “newer” are code words: Translated, they mean “claustrophobic,” “lacking any redeeming qualities,” “overpriced” and “last updated in the Stone Age.” The more adjectives owners use, the more skeptical you should be – that is, unless you really want your sofa to double as a bed, storage unit, cupboard and desk.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Beware below-average prices, especially in combination with above-average features. The tight rental market means there are no deals or steals. You’ll either have to suck it up and pay big time for a roof over your head or share a closet with a guy who resembles Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Have you looked for a condo, town house or apartment recently? Did you find your dream home? Let us know in the comments below.

About Dawn

Dawn is the senior editor at The Simons Group. As a grammar queen, she'd rather lose her wallet than misplace an apostrophe. Fellow copy ninjas unite -- you have an ally.

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