Investigating Apartment Living


We all need a place to live. With just a few of my tips, you stand a strong chance of settling in a decent place and not a dump. Maybe you have sold your house, kicked your ex to the curb and need housing in a hurry or just need a change of scenery. As I have long said: Spy before you buy!

Remember, you get what you pay for. That extra $200 a month could mean the difference between smelling the flowers in the morning or listening to thrash metal from the upstairs neighbor at 2:00 a.m seven days a week. Heed the time of year you are looking. It seems a lot of people seek housing in the spring and early summer trying to get a place to live before the school year starts. If you can be a bit choosey when you move in, you can save money.

Most of you will start with online reviews. All good and well. Just be selective about giving more or less weight to certain reviews. Does the reviewer seem balanced and fair or are they a crackpot bent because they got shorted by $30 on their cleaning deposit? Consider the overall validity of the reviewer. Down to brass tacks:

  • The Friday Night Test. Anything freaky and untoward will happen on a Friday night. Wage slaves need to cut loose. Check out your new digs about 11:00 pm for a couple of Friday nights. If it’s under control on a Friday night this bodes well for a sane place to live.
  • Look for cigarette butts in parking areas, near dumpsters, everywhere. Many cities and apartment complex have “laws” against smoking but reality dictates they won’t do squat. This is not to suggest that smokers are bad people. Just the opposite, they can be great neighbors. But if one of your deal breakers is to avoid living next to the Marlboro Man and having to inhale smoke going to and from your front door, consider this an investigative priority.
  • Condition of vehicles and propensity for motorcycles. Look for broken down vehicles hemorrhaging anti-freeze and missing transmissions. Any vehicle in obvious need of repair reflects poorly on the complex. If you can’t afford to repair a car how are you paying rent? Nothing wrong with motorcycles but too many of them in a complex makes me think Sons of Anarchy and meth.
  • Does any member of management live on site? All those shiny happy people you talk to in the office likely live 30 or 40 minutes away and have no idea in hell what really goes on at the apartment building. Extra points if someone in management actually lives at the place.
  • Graffiti check. Seems obvious but really walk the grounds and make sure no tagging.
  • Visibility. If you are thinking about a pad make sure it is in plain view. Weird stuff happens in out of the way and dark places. Pick a place not obscured by trees, dumpsters, etc.
  • Online police records. Go to homepage for local police department and search for online crime incidents and Megan’s Law offenders. Most cities have easy to navigate searches. Look for vehicle thefts, assaults, auto burglaries, etc.
  • Longevity test. Talk to anyone you meet at the place. Ask them how long they have lived there. It’s reassuring when you meet seemingly normal people who have lived at the place for more than four or five years. It suggest the place is good enough for them to like it and stay.
  • Security. How accessible is it to the general public? It’s good if someone has to make a bit of an effort to find it and they can’t just easily walk in and walk out of the place.


Spy Before You Buy

It happened again. A client calls to say that a man who bought his business has ripped him off for $100,000. The sad part is that for about $250, I confirmed that the client never should have gone near him with a 10-foot stick let alone put scads of cash at risk.

The buyer approached the client, a bar owner, with a seemingly impressive list of businesses he had owned, several references, etc. The buyer had also been in the bar business for years and said all the right things. A tentative deal was made but the buyer helped himself to a lot of cash, a credit card and failed to pay many employees.

The buyer had concealed a personal and business bankruptcy from 2004, really not that long ago. He did it by: not providing a true SSN, lying that his past business simply closed because the lease ended, using a variation of his name and providing a bogus name for his wife.

It reminds me of another case, where an attorney hired me after his client had been scammed for several hundred thousand in an investment/loan deal with an “artist.” The problem? The artist was an outright fraud. A relatively quick and easy search of San Francisco County Superior Court and some other public records on Black Book Online would have revealed about five other past fraud suits against the scalawag. (One of my fave details was that the “artist” liked to rock an ascot. What, no eyepatch?)

Back to the bogus bar buyer. The first step in checking the guy out was coming up with his past address history based on a known or given address. That database search yielded variations on his first name that I had not initially checked. It also showed the true name of his wife. Once I had his variation and his wife’s true name, I could then run them both through the excellent federal records pacer system. I learned that they had no real assets. (Searching for bank accounts is a whole other deal to be covered in another entry some day.) I could then check the names and addresses in the court papers against the addresses in databases.

It’s hard to go through life paranoid. You don’t have to. The Spencer rule of thumb: If a deal is worth more than $1,500 or $2,000 spend a little on a professional private investigator and check it out.