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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Apartment Hunting

Back when the Hubster and I were young, finding an apartment wasn't a big deal. There weren't as many then, certainly not one right after another for miles the way they are now. Before we went to Missouri, Lil had talked to the relocation department with her new employer. They helped her narrow down the areas that were good, and from there she went online with her requirements and found a few to look at. It helped that her budget allows for a nice apartment in a good area, but we still looked at some that made me nervous of her safety.

When Brownie went apartment hunting in Oklahoma, she had a few things stacked against her. First, her employer doesn't have a relocation department or anyone to advise newcomers so she had to rely on the internet and the recommendation of people she really didn't know. Second, her budget is lower. When she interviewed for the job at the hospital, she spent a few hours looking at nearby apartments, and found one she liked. I was skeptical of there being any nice areas around a hospital if that city is anything like the big cities around here, but when I went back with her, the area did seem nice though none of the apartments in her price range were gated. We saw an actual empty apartment at the complex she liked, and the only thing I didn't like is that it was on the parking lot side of the building instead of facing the courtyard, and was on the bottom floor.

We looked at some other apartments in the same area, and they all seemed about the same. Even though most apartments are fairly quiet during the day, the real test is at night when everyone is home, so I suggested we go back about 10pm and see how noisy they were before deciding on one.

At dinner, we were looking over the apartment magazine and the brochures we had picked up, and our waitress saw one of the brochures and commented what a great price it was. It was one that gave discounts to hospital employees. She said she had lived in that area until recently when she moved into a house in a nearby suburb. I guess she saw the cross I was wearing and asked Brownie about church and then told her the church she went to had a huge singles group, and she gave Brownie her phone number to call if she wanted to go there.

Then we found a hotel and I got online (or tried to, the connection was incredibly slow) and started looking up apartments for us to look at the next day. When I typed in one of the names, a website called apartmentratings.com came up so I clicked on it. It had comments from former and current tenants, and most of the negative comments had something to say about murders, gunshots in the night, rapes, drugs, or vandelism to cars. It freaked me out so I started looking up all the apartments we had looked at that day from the same area, and all had similar comments.

In the apartment finder magazine, none of the rates for apartments in the suburbs were within Brownie's price range and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want her living in an area where there was a high crime rate, and every single apartment we looked at had a sliding glass door which are the easiest to break into. So after several hours of super slow page loading, I told Brownie that I thought we should find the police station closest to the hospital and ask them what area was safe.

The next morning, we asked the hotel clerk if he knew where the closest police station would be, he gave us directions (which weren't quite accurate, but we had a GPS with us) so we took off. Turns out, that police station was in the suburb that the waitress from the restaurant lived, and we saw the church she attended. It was big, new, and I could see how it would have a big singles group.

We got to the address the gps directed us to, and it was the city hall building. Since there were police cars in the parking lot next door, I wasn't sure which building to go in, but we went in the city hall building and found a door marked Police Information. Inside was an older man in uniform behind one of those glass windows with the little cutout at the bottom to slide a payment under.

He had that look of "what crime are they going to try to talk their way out of" when we walked in the door. I told him we were apartment hunting in the city and after looking at the website listing all the murders, rapes, and other crimes I wanted to know what areas were safe for a single girl in her first apartment. His attitude changed immediately, and I showed him the little map of the area where Brownie would be working and where we had been looking.

Another officer walked in and started to talk to us, and then said he would come around to the part of the room we were in. He told us we shouldn't look in the city at all, that crime and especially drugs were really bad there. He told us that the crime rate in their little town was very low, only one murder in the last five years and that was a domestic issue. They haven't had any rapes or stranger on stranger attacks and very little robbery or drugs.

About that time another officer walked by the door he had left open and he came in to talk too. He was about my age I think and said he had two daughters and no way would he let them live in the city by themselves. One of them left to go get us a map of the suburb and they told us that there was a good apartment complex in town and the manager was a lady who didn't put up with any crap. All three of them thought a lot of her and that complex even though it was older. They told us which apartments to avoid, and told us about one where they had never had a single call. They were all very nice and went out of their way to help us, so I felt hopeful we could find something in that town.

The one they really liked was a townhouse unit but had no sign up with a phone number or anything saying there were vacancies, so we went to the older apartment complex. It was indeed older and looked like it could use some spiffing up, but it wasn't run down. It was a combination of concrete and wood siding walls, flat roofs, and outdoor stairwells with lots of kids toys around them.

We found the office and Brownie asked if she had any one bedroom apartments available. The lady said no, and there was a nine month waiting list for the one bedroom units, but she did have a two bedroom open. It was supposed to be taken but the couple had just backed out. So we looked at it, even though it was $575 and that was $75 over Brownie's budget. It was on the first floor, and had new paint & carpet because the previous tenants had a puppy that had ruined the carpet and the folks were heavy smokers. Even with new paint and carpet the apartment had a heavy, musty smell. That alone would bother me, but Brownie has almost no sense of smell and barely noticed it.

We told the manager that the officers at the police department had recommended the apartment complex and her to us. She said that a lot of people from the police and fire departments had lived there, in fact there was a policeman and his wife just across the courtyard from this apartment. She said they did background checks and no one with a record was allowed to live there, and if she ever saw any sign of drug use, she called the police and they came out to investigate. If they found anything, even if it was a guest of the tenant, the tenant had 24 hours to vacate.

She also said that they were within a mile of a school and park, so no sex offenders could live there. All in all, I had a much better feeling about this place even if it wasn't fresh and new. When I started thinking about it, several of the models and empty units we had seen in the city had security systems and I thought at the time that was a bit odd for a rented apartment. Another thing about this one is that they had no sliding glass doors. No patio in this unit, but I can't see Brownie really using a patio anyway.

That was just before noon, so we left so we could talk about it and call the Hubster to get his opinion since it was so much higher than Brownie wanted. The manager had also said that she could get on the list to transfer to a one bedroom when one came open and residents got first priority. Hubby said if we felt good about the safety here, and it was the only apartment complex in town other than the ones the police told us to avoid, then $75 wouldn't make that much difference. And Brownie might be able to find a roommate once she starts working or going to church.

So we went back to the apartment and waited for the manager to come back from lunch. She gave us the key so we could take another look at the apartment, and we opened the doors and drawers and gave it a good inspection. The kitchen cabinets are made of vinyl covered pressed wood, like the bookshelves that come from the dollar store, but they were clean.

When we went back to the office, there was another couple talking to the manager about the apartment. They decided to think about it and left and we let out a big sigh of relief. We didn't know where we would look if she didn't live there. She filled out all the paperwork and the manager called her a couple of days later to say she got it.


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