Finding an Apartment

July 11, 2009

Today I spent ten hours in a rented Impala.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I'll be starting as a graduate student in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon in the Fall. One of the implications of this is that I must gather up myself and my belongings and resettle them in a city far from Boston. In a word, I'm moving.

While I won't actually be moving to Pittsburgh until early August, I wanted to secure an apartment well before that. I'd been advised that the good apartments would be gone by then, and I have more peace of mind knowing that I'll have somewhere to go for certain. I'd strongly dislike being a doctoral candidate living on the street.

At Purdue, I was quite satisfied living in university-owned apartments. Purdue Village was inexpensive, near campus, and my neighbors were without exception silent after midnight. However, this wasn't an option for CMU; therefore, for the first time in my life, I would need to explore apartments for rent.

The process began on Thursday. I decided to employ that tool so useful for nearly all purposes, the Internet. I browsed dozens of online ads for apartments, using both a school-sponsored website and Craig's List. I placed several phone calls, and by nightfall Thursday I'd lined up nine appointments.

On Friday, Dad and I took an Impala we rented from Norwood all the way to Pittsburgh, a journey of eleven hours. I'm very grateful to Dad for coming along and driving; it's more driving than I would have been able to do. And I'm also glad to have had the company. We saw our first apartment that very night.

On Saturday, we examined about half a dozen different apartments. Many of those we saw were quite nice. Pittsburgh has some impressive old buildings, and three different units I viewed were created in the 1920s. By that night, though, I'd decided on an apartment and handed over a check for the security deposit. Today was another day spent in the car, heading home. Mom had delicious corn bread waiting for dad and me.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first set foot in an apartment for rent. In each case, the landlord or agent was looking for someone ready and able to undertake a considerable financial responsibility. He or she was looking for someone to trust with a very valuable asset, and looking for someone trustworthy enough to hand over a rent check on time each month. At the same time, I was looking for a safe place to live, large enough to be comfortable, and at a price I could afford on my student budget.

For me, selecting one apartment out of the several I saw required a combination of logical analysis and intuitive feeling. There were some apartments which I quickly dismissed through nothing other than an uneasy feeling. Other apartments felt as though they would be comfortable places to live for at least the next year. Between those, I examined their location on a map compared to the location of the computer science building. I estimated their monthly cost and then saw how each would fit into my budget. I got some input from my friend Dave, who knows about real estate. And I asked Dad his opinion many times, too. I finally narrowed the list down to one apartment. Not a bad task for a single day.

That's often how I make decisions: a combination of thinking, feeling, and asking others for their thoughts. I've read that different people have different decision-making styles, and that tends to be mine.

One other note is that I generally preferred the apartments being shown by, and managed by, their owners to those shown by real estate agents. Similarly, none of the apartments about which I had good feelings were found in large apartment complexes. That may have been either causal or coincidental; I'm not sure.

I'm very happy with the apartment where I'll be living come August. It's the middle floor in a three-story building from the 1920s. It's spacious and open -- it has five well-lit rooms with lots of windows. It's in Squirrel Hill, which is supposed to be a nice neighborhood. And there's plenty of on-street parking. Logically, it fits my criteria for a good apartment. Intuitively, it feels correct.

Of course, I still need to obtain furnishings, decide what to do about having a vehicle, select classes, learn where everything is in town and on campus, and adjust to the culture of CMU and Pittsburgh in general. But at least I'll have somewhere to stay in the meanwhile.