The reason I went down to North Carolina this week was to prepare to move down here. To that end, James and I have been spending the past two days looking at apartments. We’ve been ruthlessly studying apartment layouts, comparing prices, discussing the our budget (which we’ve color-coded because we’re super-serious you guys).
Last week James went apartment-hunting and narrowed it down to three options for us to look at this week. When he called me and updated me about his apartment search, he enthused about one particular house. “The living area is huge!” he said. “The layout is perfect.”
The only problem, according to him, was the income restrictions: as an unmarried couple, we would be “roommates” by their policies. Once I was a substitute teacher, we could meet their income requirements. In the meantime, we had enough savings to cover the hole in the rent. He became even more certain when I landed a part-time job at Target yesterday. I had a job down here! Surely we could afford this wonderful apartment.
He took me around to this apartment complex. The grounds were certainly very nice, well-maintained without looking manicured. The clubhouse was huge. The agent was very pleasant and remembered details about James. She congratulated me on the job. She showed me the same model apartment that she had shown James.
I walked in the front door. “I can see a toilet,” I said.
Literally the first thing you see when you walk into that apartment was the guest toilet.
“You can close the door,” James scoffed.
“I’ll know it’s there though!” I insisted.
Once you turned away from the front door, it was a very nice apartment. Very spacious. Simple layout, elegant finishings. When I thought about it later, having the guest bathroom where it was made sense. It was closer to the rest of the plumbing. Perhaps we could throw a large piece of artwork in front of the door so that no one would know, walking in the door, how close they were to a toilet. Oh sure, they’d figure it out eventually, but only after they were in the apartment for a while.
Looking at it later, we realized that we had no way to make income requirements, and set it aside.
James hadn’t had a walking tour of the next apartment, as it had been pouring thunder and lightning when he had visited the place before. “It was in the middle of the woods,” he said. It was just a few blocks from the previous apartment, around the corner and a five-minute drive away. Farther away from shopping. Farther away from dining.
“There’s a laundry facility,” I said. “Are there not in-unit laundry units?” James had been filling my head with tales of in-unit laundry rooms in all North Carolina apartments. I had come to expect them.
“I think some of the one-bedrooms don’t have laundry hook-ups,” he said. “But all the two-bedrooms definitely have laundry hook-ups. Don’t worry, I asked. I want in-unit laundry too.”
I was filled with trepidation as we approached the leasing office. I could see the name of the management company by the door. It sounded like the sort of name you would give Section 8 housing. We walked inside.
The agent was very energetic and friendly. She was wearing purple eyeshadow to match her purple sweater. She hadn’t been there when James had been there before, but she asked us all sorts of questions and managed to make us feel welcome in her life without actually giving any relevant information away. When we told her that we wanted to move at the end of September, she ran around the office, consulting computers and other agents before getting back to us and saying that they technically didn’t have anything available but that they were like 95% they were going to have something available, she had just talked to a current resident yesterday and he was moving, etc etc. It was pretty much a done deal.
She showed us an apartment with the same layout of the one that guy was about to give up. Having just been in the luxe apartment around the corner, I was shocked by how small and dark it was. Perhaps that was just because of all the trees right outside the patio. I swallowed my comment about the darkness and walked into the kitchen. I asked James if the dining room seemed big enough for his furniture. He said it was. I looked in the galley kitchen, then opened the door at the end of it.
“We’ll just have hook-ups in your apartment,” said the agent.
“We have a washer and dryer,” said James.
“So this is where the pantry is?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the agent.
I swung the door open all the way, and saw that the door blocked about 2/3 of the oven. “We’d have to take this door out,” I said.
“Maybe hang a curtain there,” James said.
The agent pointed out other doors that could be taken out. “The door in the master bathroom,” she said. “It gets really cramped in there with the door open. And this door,” she indicated the door to one of the closets. “Look at this.” She flicked a light switch, turning on the closet light. Then she opened the door, blocking the light switch. “Ridiculous, right? We get so many maintenance requests to get rid of that door.”
“That would be my closet,” I mused. “James can have the one in the bathroom.”
We looked at James, who was standing flush against a window, arms stretched out, like he was trying to nap against the trees.
“Is there enough room for our furniture?” I asked.
“I was just measuring,” he said. “I think there’s enough for the king-size bed.”
“What about the dressers?” I asked.
None of us had an answer for that.
We looked at three more apartments today — another super-luxe apartment complex with giant living rooms and closets and golf carts to take us to the model apartment. It was about $100 more a month than we had budgeted. Another was a Camden property, like the apartment I had had with Beth and Jenn. The grounds reminded me so much of DC, and the layout itself was bright and home-like. But there were mandatory services (valet trash, cable) that drove the price up another $105. These had been appealing when we three girls had rented an apartment in 2010, but somehow that seemed unappealing this time around.
Another was right by the train tracks, but within an easy walking distance to Target, where I had just gotten a job. They didn’t have an apartment to show us, so we looked at their model townhouse instead. I had to admit that renting a townhouse seemed appealing. It would be more like home. There would also be a separation of the private and the public spheres, which was a decoration revolution I had read about in some of my colonial history books.
It had a nice kitchen. I nearly squealed with glee at the sight of a microwave oven mounted above the stove. James opened the door in the kitchen to reveal…an HVAC system and a water heater?
“Where’s the pantry?” I asked.
“There is no pantry,” said the agent.
Still, the guest bathroom was just a half-bath — perfect for the sort of guests we planned to have over — and the living area was just the right size. I could just imagine two separate gaming tables, people huddled around each one, fighting over victory points. I was almost reluctant to go upstairs, but I did go upstairs.
The laundry room was right off of the master bedroom. The master bedroom was large — not huge, but large — and the upstairs bathroom were a trek to get through, built to wrap around the laundry room. I could imagine James taking one vanity and me taking the other. I walked right into the guest bedroom and giggled in the closets. None of the other apartments had made me feel giddy. I tempered myself by remembering that the closets were small and that there was no pantry.
Back in the leasing office, James, the agent, and I poured over our options. Three apartments were available, and one townhouse available. We left with our maps and list of available apartments. We drove around the campus, looking at where the availabilities were. We had our eye on one apartment that was at least on the other side of the campus from the train tracks. It overlooked a parking lot, but it would at least be quiet.
“I loved that place,” I said.
“I read the reviews though, and maintenance is supposed to be terrible, and that agent is supposed to be a Jekyll and Hyde type,” James said. “And I could see it, too. Her niceness was just an act she was putting on.”
“How could you tell?” I asked.
He couldn’t really explain.
We brought all of our paperwork home. We plugged the numbers into our color-coded budget spreadsheet. We eliminated the super-luxe apartments and the Camden location for being out of our price range. That just left us with three options: the place with the Jekyll and Hyde agent, the small apartment in the woods, and renewing the lease on James’ current place.
So which option did we choose?
(cue upbeat thinking music)
We chose to renew the lease on James’ current place.
We only renewed it for six months. James is about to be promoted into management at the grocery company where he worked. I only have a part-time job down here. In six months, we’re going to be in much better financial positions. This apartment will be a little overfull with furniture for those six months, but we’ll be able to save money and wait for the autumn rental boom to quiet down. Still, it was nice to see our options, and maybe in March or April, we could look at that wooded apartment complex again…