The Five Stages of Apartment Hunting

Looking for an apartment in a new city? Have I got a game plan for you.

  • Pick a location based on word-of-mouth recommendations and a Google search because you’ve never actually been there.
  • Take a late flight out after work on a Friday.
  • Find out that your flight has been delayed by two hours and convince the airline staff to let you switch to a flight headed to a different airport.
  • Lose your prepaid car rental because the company doesn’t have a vehicle that you can return to your original airport, and end up booking with a different company at twice the price.
  • Visit back-to-back apartment complexes over two days, make your decision based on the model unit because the actual apartment you would be living in is occupied, and hand over a check on the spot because you have limited time to make a decision and the housing market is heating up for the summer.

Sound like a good plan? Well, it’s not. Hey, did I mention that’s what I did this weekend?

Armed with spreadsheets, credit reports, and digital camera, I flew to LA with high hopes. I had spent months researching neighborhoods and compiling a list of the nicest apartments in my price range. I thought I couldn’t possibly be more prepared, but by the end of Day One my list was exhausted. Freeway view, brick wall view, no light, bottom floor, middle of nowhere, unsafe, overpriced – you name it, there was something wrong with each and every property on my list.

After visiting my seventh apartment complex, I stepped out into the LA heat with a sinking feeling that I recognized as Stage One.

The Five Stages of Apartment Hunting

Stage One: Despair

All of my careful planning destroyed in a single day! What would I do? I didn’t have the time or money to make another trip to LA, and besides, I’d already exhausted the best of my research. I pictured myself living in the bottom floor unit facing a brick wall and started to cry.

Stage Two: Cynicism

Convinced I had overlooked some obvious option, I desperately combed the internet and reconsidered past rejects. But I knew too much. No professional photograph could fool me with its plentiful sunlight and tasteful decor. “Liars!” I yelled at my screen. “Charlatans! That’s the best apartment in the building and the rest are swimming in cockroaches!”

Stage Three: Bargaining

“Maybe one of these will be OK,” I tried to convince myself. “I can handle a little street noise and some Section 8 neighbors.” I reconsidered each of my reject apartments and began to see new possibilities in each of them. “Yeah…that could work. So what if it’s way over budget? I can eat instant ramen for two years. No problem.”

Stage Four: Obstinance

Just as quickly as Stage Three came, it was replaced by righteous outrage. “Compromise? Heck no! I’m too old to live in a ‘luxury’ (overpriced) apartment with a ‘view of trees’ (no light). I have my standards, dagnabit, and I’m not going to give up on my search until I’ve met them!” So I made a new list of potentials and set out for Day Two with a lighter heart. This time there was no beating around the bush. “I want full appliances, washer and dryer in unit, good light, and a quiet location,” I demanded of each rental agent.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The turning point was realizing which criteria I would and would not compromise on. Older appliances? Not necessarily a deal-breaker. Room overlooking a noisy pool? Fuhgeddaboudit. My new strategy was more effective, not because it yielded better apartments but because it took less time to determine whether the rental agent had anything to offer me. Once I understood what I really wanted from my new home, I was able to review my options with a clearer head and pick out something I could live with.

The Five Stages passed, I forked over my deposit with only a slight twinge of uncertainty. Apartment hunting is not for sissies, but luckily the learning curve is gentle. It only takes one or two truly terrible apartments to make that so-so unit start to look pretty good, and that’s when you know you’ve made it to the other side. So if you nodded with understanding while reading this blog, go ahead and sign that lease, my friend. You’ve earned it.


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