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Looking For An Apartment

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Tricia Morley is Housing Coordinator and Community Access Facilitator at BALANCE, an organization in Toronto that helps blind and vision-impaired people become more independent.

There are several factors to consider when looking for a place.

The first consideration is how much you can afford to pay for monthly expenses such as rent, utilities, groceries, etc. Once you have an idea of your budget, you can make a decision about where to look for housing.

To start, do a little self-assessment. What is most important to your lifestyle? Perhaps it is easy transportation access, either in general or to school or work. Maybe it is proximity to family and friends. How about access to parks and community resources? Do you prefer to live in a particular cultural or ethnic neighbourhood?

What services are important to you--bus stop, bank, drug store, grocery or convenience store, schools, daycare, hospital or medical facilities, place of worship, community centre, etc.? Where are these places in relation to the apartment?

Identify your priorities so you can zoom in on an area.

If ease of transportation is important, two things should be considered. First, try to live near the place where you spend the most time, be that work, school, with friends or family. The other factor is number of rides. One ride in an hour can be better than three rides in 45 minutes.

Big cities are comprised of small villages. Each area has its own name and reputation. Ask your friends and family about different neighbourhoods. The police can give you information on crime rates. When viewing a neighbourhood, consider safety and access to transit. how far away is a bus stop, subway or streetcar?

Do you have to cross a street? Is there a traffic light or shelter? Driving around with a friend who can tell you what is happening on the streets is a good assessment technique. What is the volume of traffic in the area? This is important if you have to solicit assistance to make a difficult crossing.

Several sources exist for finding rental accommodation.

Local newspaper classifieds categorize listings according to the type of accommodation such as house, condo, apartment or shared accommodation. Each type is generally broken down by city area and then further by alphabetically listed streets. Most street listings are for major intersections. Larger buildings, furthermore, are listed in the yellow pages under Apartments & Buildings.Some housing magazines, in addition, can be accessed over the internet, including www.realstar.ca and www.rentersguide.com

Community bulletin boards in grocery stores, community centres, laundromats, church or library are good resources for specific neighbourhoods. You can also contact your local Community Information or Independent Living Centre and ask for the local housing help centres.

Cruising around an area is the best way to identify desirable neighbourhoods and check layout. Landlords often just post a sign to advertise vacancies.

Starting from the subway or bus stop you like, walk as far as you would in bad weather, making note of worthwhile buildings. If you like a building that has no vacancies showing, take down the number and make a phone inquiry about waiting lists.

Don't forget friends and family. The chances of finding a place increase with the more people who know you are looking. The best places aren't advertised publicly because tenants friends and family put their names on the waiting list well in advance. It's all word of mouth.

Once you begin viewing buildings, consider the following issues: What does rent include (cable, utilities, parking)? Is there visitors" parking? Where is storage? Are there elevators? Is it wheelchair accessible (ramps are handy when moving heavy objects(? What about maintenance and cleanliness? How many units are in the building (smaller places tend to be more friendly)? What other facilities are available in the building such as pool, recreation programs, daycare and convenience store? Are pets and children permitted? Is there laundry on site? How often do units become available?

Prioritizing your preferences and asking questions over the phone will save a lot of time in narrowing your search. How big is the unit? Many people don't understand space as a measurement. Ask questions like "Can I put a queen size bed in the bedroom and still have room for a desk and dresser? Can the living room accommodate a sofa, love seat and chair? Would a table for two fit in the kitchen? Is the dining area big enough for six or eight chairs at the table?

Such questions help in assessing functional size. And what about cupboards and counter space in the kitchen and washroom?

How is the building heated, and can it be controlled by the tenant? Is the unit air conditioned, or can you install one? How far is it to the garbage and laundry room? Can you put in a washer and dryer or dishwasher?

What is the exposure east, west, north or south? Is the apartment light and airy or dark and dingy? Is there a view--will you need curtains so people aren't looking into your space? If the windows open, are there child safety locks?

If outdoor space is important, ask about a balcony, terrace or access to the yard. Those who have dog guides need easy outdoor access and a place to relieve their dogs.

Now that you have a list of important questions to ask, you are ready to make contact with potential landlords. Be ready to make notes. Information gathering over the phone reduces the number of places to visit. Use your most important questions to weed out inappropriate places. Direct questions about rent rate, inclusion of utilities, unit availability, and if first and last month rents are required are good starters. If you get past this point, have a short list of other requirements; for instance, location of amenities, safety and cleanliness. You might be ready to book a viewing if you are satisfied with answers.

Try to make appointments in the same area in 30 minute intervals.

If you decide to make an appointment, make note of: name, address, unit number, time and where to meet the landlord; and information the landlord has already given you.

Treat the viewing as you would a job interview. Be neat and well-groomed. Arrive on time. Remember to smile and maintain eye contact. Be polite and speak clearly. Try to be relaxed and confident. Have your checklist of questions ready. If you are interested, convince the landlord that this is the best place you have ever seen, and be prepared to put down a deposit. Make sure you get a receipt for any money transactions, and find out if the deposit is refundable.

Bring references from people who know you are looking for apartments and can say positive things about you.

When you actually view the apartment, consider the following questions: Are the building and unit in good repair, such as walls, ceiling and floors? Do the floors need refinishing or re-carpeting? Are there any mice or bugs in the building, and what action should be taken if you see any evidence? How new or clean are the stove and refrigerator? Do the kitchen and washroom taps work? How is the water pressure? Any trouble with hot water? How much closet and cupboard space is there? Where are the fire alarms and escapes? Is there a working smoke detector in the unit?

Making a good impression on the landlord is key. Sometimes finding a good tenant is as important as finding a good landlord. Tenants can be irresponsible, resulting in unwanted costs to the landlord--including re-painting, cleaning and unpaid rent. Knowing that someone is caring, clean and planning to stay for awhile takes the pressure off the landlord. He may even be willing to negotiate the rent!

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