Searching for an apartment can be one of the more stressful things, particularly as a newly landed immigrant who is still learning to navigate the city! Besides searching for a job, it ranked high on one of the difficult things to do in Vancouver especially with the extremely low vacancy rate. It could sometimes take less than 24 hours before an apartment is listed as vacant and it being scooped up by a new tenant. That being said, do not rush into the first vacant apartment you find without doing your due diligence.
But before getting there, take the time and evaluate what it is you want in the apartment you’re looking for as that will greatly help you narrow down your options.
The prime factor to keep in mind when looking at an apartment is its location. With transit not always available, living in Coquitlam and working downtown can prove to be difficult with the daily commute, especially without a car. That being said, if you don’t have a car, make sure to check how transit accessible that location is as that will particularly be of value in the winter days.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Metro Vancouver cities and neighborhoods are very different one from the other. They all have residential areas but places like Kitsilano, Davie Village, Commercial Drive and Main Street are more bustling with life and right next to series of restaurants and shops. We live in the West End for example which is more on the quiet side but closer to the beach on English Bay and a 10 minute walk to Davie Village.
Think of what type of location you would want to live in depending on your preferences, needs and family size. That would help you immensely narrow down your search.
I hesitated about putting this as the top one but it comes without saying. Know what your budget is and make sure to look around. A lot of people get sucked into one year leases they can’t afford and that are above market rate because they didn’t do enough research. There are also a lot of gems that are lower than the market rate. However, be mindful of potential rental scams, especially if the owner pretends they’re in another province and needs a deposit to hold the apartment.
When budgeting for cost, remember you will also have to put between two weeks and a month’s rent as a security deposit before getting the house. This will be the most expensive thing you will be paying monthly so be sure you are paying something that is reasonable compared to the market price.
Number of rooms
The most common types of apartments available are bachelors, one bedroom, two bedrooms and less frequently three bedrooms. The building we’re in for example only has bachelor apartments and one bedrooms.
The number of rooms you should go for depends on your family size. If there’s three of you, a bachelor will be out of the question. While there aren’t any specific maximum number of tenants per unit type, one must be reasonable and honest with the landlord as that would justify an eviction if there are people living in the apartment who are not on the lease.
Furnished versus Unfurnished
Furnished apartments can be a blessing in disguise when they save you the headache and money of buying furniture. They are more expensive to rent than unfurnished apartment but the difference compared to buying all the furniture can be worth it.
However, keep in mind that with furnished apartments you may not have the choice of replacing items, that they will almost all have been used by strangers such as the mattresses and couches.
Talk with your landlord if they’d be fine with replacing or removing some items depending on your comfort level. Living in an already furnished apartment isn’t for everyone but can be a good way to get started.
Accessibility to stores
When a big supermarket chain opened right next to our apartment building, we realized how much of an added value that was. Going down the elevator and grabbing what you need and heading back up is priceless especially with winter around the corner.
Comparing that with walking 10 to fifteen minutes, making sure nothing was forgotten because we can’t just hop to the shops, and we realized how much accessibility to grocery stores and supermarkets is important.
When looking up an apartment, look at it surroundings: what kind of shops are there? will you have to walk far to get your essential groceries? can you get everything in one place? do you have several options to price match and choose from?
You may often find utilities included as a motivator to choose an apartment. However, make sure to see what is really included and if it would affect your choice by match. A lot of rentals will include water and heat and for example but not electricity or internet. Sometimes, the latter will be included but the rental would be at a higher price point.
Length of the lease
More often than not, landlords will ask for a full year’s lease as a requirement. That means that you are committing to spend 12 months in that apartment. Of course that makes it harder to decide as it seems like a long time to commit before realizing something is wrong. Sometimes, some places will be fine with just a 6 months lease or going straight with a month-to-month and that will be less of a burden when deciding to go with a place. Just keep in mind that the one year requirement is the norm and is not unusual at all.
Do not underestimate the importance of natural light inside the apartment. When we first landed, we stayed in an apartment for two weeks that barely had any sun coming in. Both of our moods were badly affected and when we saw ours with the giant windows, direct sunlight that would flow in all day long, we jumped at the occasion. Basement apartments are notoriously known for being cheaper but with barely any sunlight seeping in. This is another situation to consider whether you would be willing to sacrifice for cost.
Noise can come from various places and can negatively affect your life depending on your tolerance. We live in a concrete building and can barely hear any noise coming from the other units. Sometimes we would hear loud music the minute we step outside the hallway but nothing would seep in to our house. We know however that people who live in wood frame houses struggle a lot with noise and it can feel sometimes as if they are living with those people in the same house. If your neighbors have children and you can’t put up with the constant noise, it could be a struggle.
Another source of noise is construction zones. While we love our current apartment, it did feel we did spend two years listening to constant hammering and drilling until the site ended. Also, living right next to a Skytrain station will seem like a great idea until you realize you may have to listen to the train passing by every four or five minutes.
When going to see an apartment, listen out for the noise outside and the neighbors as it can be a nightmare if you can’t put up with the noise levels.
Commute to work
You may not have a job at this stage (or you may) but commuting to work can severely impact your daily life. If you have two change a couple of busses and take a Skytrain all adding up to over an hour’s commute each day, it may not be the optimal location. The further from downtown you live, the cheaper the rent, but it could turn into a worse commute. Doing it twice daily can start draining you physically, not to mention the wasted hours and waiting for your bus in the rain. Google Maps is great at estimating how long a commute needs and how much walking versus transiting is done.
Patio or balcony
That was one of the elements we agreed to sacrifice when moving into our apartment. Fortunately for us, being on a high floor, opening the windows is enough to let a lot of fresh air go in. However, if we were at a lower floor, we probably wouldn’t have been able to put up with it. A patio or a balcony with your apartment is of added value, especially if you don’t have a source of fresh air. If you’re in a basement with no direct sunlight, having a small outdoor space you can use can make up for it.
Larger buildings especially downtown will have a few extra perks justifying their higher rent, most notably a gym and a pool. If you don’t care about those, then it may not be worth the extra in the rent. However if having access to a gym is an added value, compare the price increase to a gym membership and ask the potential landlord about maintenance and cleanup. Same for the pool, while it may be there, it is possible that it may not be well maintained and cleaned.
It’s not unusual for buildings to have a common laundry area instead of en-suite washers and dryers. Those machines are usually “coin-operated” by topping up a card with your bank card. The total cost per month doesn’t add up compared to the hydro bill that you may receive if you have your own washer dryer. Unfortunately, doing laundry midweek at the end of the day or on the weekend can be a pain as there are a limited number of washing machines and dryers and people may not always be good at getting their loads out on time. That being said, some rentals won’t have either. In that case, make sure there is a laundromat nearby because no one wants to have dirty clothes piling up around the house!