Tag Archives: safety

The First 10 Things You Should Do After Closing

So you’re about to close on your first house. Congratulations! You’ve come a long way and it’s probably been a big hassle to get here. Saving money, filling out paperwork, viewing house after house… now that it’s over, what’s next?

There’s bound to be a lot of silliness that comes with getting your first house. You can dance around in your new empty living room and call up all your friends for a housewarming party, but there’s a few very important things you’ll want to take care of before you pop the cork on that champagne.

Make Copies of your Closing Documents. If you’re a first time buyer, the documents handed to you at closing are probably the most expensive pieces of paper that you have ever encountered in your life. The first stop you make after closing should be your local copy shop. While all the documents are still together and in order, take at least one copy of everything.

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Safety and the Illusion Thereof

One of the most common questions among renters and buyers moving to new areas is whether or not those areas are “safe.” In fact, the majority of moves, be it between apartments, condos or houses, are within a very short distance. Safety and comfort levels are definitely a factor in this particular statistic – people stay within the area that they know. However, with rising prices in both the rental and purchase housing markets, many Chicagoans are faced with moving to new sections of the city where safety is an unknown factor. As for the folks moving from outside the city, it’s tough enough to understand the hundreds of distinct neighborhoods within the city limits, let alone to compare crime statistics to a reasonable extent.

Antique maps show monsters and dragons beyond the edges of known lands. This is coincidentally also the worldview of people who are moving to a new neighborhood.

Antique maps show monsters and dragons beyond the edges of known lands. This is coincidentally also the worldview of people who are moving to a new neighborhood.

As much as I’d like to reach every renter and buyer and explain to them how to statistically analyze crime risk in a given neighborhood, I can’t do so. Even if I did, my own rational explanations would be massively overwhelmed by the media hype surrounding Chicago’s high crime rates. Those crimes may be consolidated in areas far removed from your neighborhoods of choice. They may have little to no bearing on your daily life. However, they are prominent in the minds of any home seeker, and it’s tough to combat emotional conviction with reason. What you must fight against is not the idea that your particular area is a bad neighborhood, but that the entire city is a homogeneous, crime-ridden hole.

If you’re a landlord or home seller, it’s therefore far more critical to be aware of how safe your neighborhood feels. You can rattle off all the stats in the world, but if a potential buyer or renter feels wrong in your immediate vicinity they will not be interested in making an offer on your property. This is even more critical if you’re expecting to get an above-average price for your listing, since those tend to be taken only by folks from out of town who don’t know any better. Curb appeal in Chicago is not just about the visual appeal of your yard and building. It is also majorly affected by the aura of safety or danger projected by your block.

Familiarity Breeds Contentment

I’ve been living in Chicago for 15 years now, but I grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut and spent several summers mucking about in small New England towns. The last town where I worked before moving here was so small, the residents got offended if they saw you locking your car doors. Now, this doesn’t mean that I was a wide-eyed hick when I moved out here in the late 90’s, but it did take a bit before I found my “city legs.”

Lincoln, NH. My last "home" before moving to Chicago.

Lincoln, NH. My last temporary “home” before moving to Chicago.

Before I moved out here the worst sort of crime I encountered was a prank phone call or two. Since then I’ve had my car windows smashed in three times. Now, for Chicago these crimes are pretty benign, but the first time it happened to me it was still pretty shocking. The third time? I’d gotten used to it. I rolled my eyes, called up my mechanic (Speed Dial 6) and hauled out the vacuum.

As owners in Chicago we become inured to the level of criminal activity that surrounds us. The longer we stay here, the more difficult it becomes to see our neighborhoods through the eyes of a newcomer. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to market your home to a new resident that is exactly what you have to do.

Zeroing Out the Scales

For me, getting into a buyer or renter’s head often involves a day trip to the suburbs. I encourage prospective home sellers and landlords to do the same before they put their property on the market. There is not enough difference between Chicago neighborhoods to truly serve as a “control” in our safety experiment. You need to get out of the city completely – maybe even out of the county – and go spend a day walking in the shoes of someone from the outside. I don’t just mean a quick jaunt to Evanston, either. Get out beyond the reach of the El and walk around a residential neighborhood that has absolutely nothing in common with the city. The best time to do it is a weekday afternoon.

Observe everything while you’re out there. Notice how far the houses sit back from the street. Pay attention to the people walking around, the cars and where they park, the separation of commercial and residential areas. Observe what happens when a school lets out for the day. Spend some time walking around after the shops close.

"Honey, look! They still have front-in parking here! That's so cute!"

“Honey, look! They still have front-in parking here! That’s so cute!”

Once you’ve zeroed out your mental scales for what clean, wholesome livin’ is all about, it’s time to head back into the city and reassess your home turf.

I Spy With My Little Eye…

Upon returning from the city outskirts, it should become far more apparent what factors contribute to and detract from the feeling of safety in your own neighborhood. We’ve probably all had our moments in the city of turning down the wrong block and instantly knowing that we were unwelcome. However, if you’ve paid attention to the details in the suburbs you should be more able to pinpoint exactly what contributes to an illusion of safety.

Here are a few that I wrote down on my last trip back in from the hinterlands:

  • Claustrophobia. The distance from the sidewalk to the buildings (the “setback”) gets very shallow in some parts of Chicago. This can lead to a feeling of claustrophobia that can be off-putting for newcomers. The areas of the city that tend to feel “safer” also have deeper front lawns. Do buildings in your area crowd in close to pedestrians?
  • Gates and Grates. There are entire blocks where black iron fences line the street in front of the homes, and shops are secured with accordion grating. It’s a common enough sight in Chicago that locals tend to ignore it. To a newcomer, it can imply security problems and fear of trespassers.
This is probably not the "gated community" your prospective buyers and tenants have in mind.

This is probably not the “gated community” your prospective buyers and tenants have in mind. (Photo by therodabides on Flickr.)

  • Sounds. Listen to what’s going on, both during the day and at night. Do you hear lots of shouting? Traffic? Car alarms? How about friendly sounds, like the ice cream truck or the bus announcing streets as it drives along? Is it deathly quiet?
  • Interactions. Do the people walking past seem comfortable with your presence? Do they make eye contact or hurry past? Are there people just sitting around in their yards doing nothing? How about the local kids – what do they do after school? Are there parents and caretakers around? What about pets? Do you see a lot of people with small companion animals? Are there lots of strays? Do you see a lot of dogs that could be mistaken for guard dogs or fighting dogs?
  • Cars. What types of cars park near your house? Are they in good condition? Are there lots of cabs? How about old beater scrap metal trucks? Is there visible broken glass in the street left behind from break-ins? Any cars with the Denver boot, or piles of parking tickets?
  • Cameras. It isn’t tough to figure out that security cameras cameras in Chicago are a sure sign of a troubled neighborhood. Even without the obvious flashing blue lights, security cameras are a tipoff to newcomers that something has probably occurred to merit their installation.
  • Alleys. Newcomers won’t check, but Chicago residents know that our streets are like mullets – business up front, party in the back. Take a walk down your local alleys. Are they clean? Well-lit? Are the garages in good condition or are they covered in graffiti? How about the porches – are they well-maintained, or decrepit and covered in junk? Are the dumpsters tidy, or overflowing?
  • The Commute. The neighborhood around your house extends as far as the closest El station. Many newcomers will test the safety vibe of an area by making the walk from the train to their new prospective home. Alone. After dark. You should definitely do the same and make sure there’s nothing untoward to scare off a potential buyer or renter. Are the sidewalks in good condition? Are there panhandlers or large groups of loiterers hanging out anywhere along the way? Are there large stretches of empty stores or vacant lots?

These are only a few factors that contribute to my personal sense of safety in any given section of Chicago. I’m sure there are many others. Safety is a very relative thing, and I’ve lived here for a while now, so even with trips to the suburbs to freshen up my outsider eyes I know I’ve grown pretty blasé about the things that make Chicago feel like a city.

Assemble your own list of criteria and test it out by visiting a new section of the city. Do you feel safe there? Why? If not, why not? Which of your criteria are within your control to fix? Which ones do you just have to accept? Would you adjust your asking price accordingly because of them?

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Rental Site Review: Zillow

A couple of months ago, I posted a review of SearchChicago.com, the Sun-Times online classifieds page. I concocted a scoring method to rate rental websites on a 40 point scale based on diversity of listings, listing freshness, listing legitimacy, and ease of use. SearchChicago scored 14 out of 40 – 35% of the maximum, a dismal failure. Today we’re going to use the same criteria to rate another, more well-known site: Zillow.

Zillow is best known as way to search for homes for sale. Their claim to fame since the beginning has been the “Zestimate,” or their estimated value of a home based on sale data from the area. For conventional homes, it can be reasonably accurate. For homes that deviate even slightly from your standard cookie-cutter architecture it is frequently wildly out of whack. Zillow recently expanded into listing apartments and homes for rent, and they brought the Zestimate along with them. It’s just as unreliable for rentals as it is for homes, but what about the rest of the site? Is it something your average Chicago apartment hunter should be using to find their next place?

Zillow scored 24 out of 40 possible points. Here’s why.

On the surface, it looks like Zillow has a ton of rentals in Chicago. And they do, but it isn’t as diverse as you’d think. In the 60640 zip code (Uptown), they list 910 rentals. The MLS has 79. In the 60625 zip code (Lincoln Square/Albany Park), they list 388 rentals while the MLS has 38. However, once you start picking apart the listings you realize that the surface data is misleading. Looking closely, over half of the listings are either duplicates or similar apartments in the same large buildings.

Even so, if you cut the total listings on Zillow in half, they still handily trounce the MLS. There’s all sizes and styles, from studios to five bedrooms and from houses to high rises. Rents range from $500 to five-figures and all different types of landlords are represented.

In terms of listing diversity, Zillow gets an 8 out of 10.

Zillow does not charge landlords or agents to post rental listings. This means that everyone and their brother can post an ad, regardless of whether or not they have the right to do so. Sites that do not charge advertisers are generally rife with questionable postings, and Zillow is no different on that front. A quick search this evening uncovered a fake copy of one of my own listings, which I reported using their handy “report” button. After reporting it, the listing disappeared from my search results, but I could still bring it up by typing in its direct address in my browser. I’m pursuing other routes to have the listing taken down.

In my search through the 60640 and 60625 zip codes, at least half to 3/4 of the listings used the ominous “undisclosed address.” Many used photos with watermarks from the apartment locator services, which are known for posting bait listings to free marketing sites. Others had no photos at all.

The apartments with actual addresses are more likely to be legit, but Zillow’s checking for unique addresses needs a little work. In the case of the scammer who copied my listing, he simply left off one digit from the apartment number to fool the system into thinking he was posting a different apartment.

Zillow gets 5 out of 10 possible points for listing legitimacy.

SearchChicago got a measly 2 out of 10 when it came to ease of use. Their slow, clunky site made for a totally dismal experience. By contrast Zillow comes out smelling like a rose. The site loads quickly, the back button works properly, and the mobile version takes me from a Google search result to an actual listing with only one annoying nag window about downloading their app.

Their mapping feature is decent, with nice neighborhood sectoring and the ability to draw your own boundaries. I’d have liked to see the ability to do a radius search in a circle around a specific point as well. Unfortunately, the map cannot be turned off unless you click through to a listing, and once you zoom in beyond a certain point you cannot switch from satellite to street view. On the map view, search results are displayed to the right in a list with basic data. However, the “basic” data on many of the listings is overly simplified, which leads to a lot of excessive clicking. Of course, Zillow being advertising-driven they want to be able to demonstrate that they’re generating lots and lots of clicks. Their approach seems to be to provide as little information as possible as a reward for each click.

A listing detail page dedicates about the top 1/4 of the page to the information obtained from the landlord or agent. The next 1/2 of the page is spent on Zillow’s useless “Zestimate” and price history tracking. Finally, the last 1/3 of the page is spent on school scores inlined from Greatschools, which is of marginal use to apartment hunters in Chicago who tend to be just barely out of school themselves.

The search feature is quick and dirty, but asks some strange questions. It’s obviously copied over from the home-for-sale search feature with little regard for the specific needs of renters. It allows the user to specify date of construction, lot size and square footage – most of which are omitted from rental listings altogether – but doesn’t allow the user to narrow their search by more important criteria like minimum lease length, security deposit, non-smoking buildings, or number of units in the building.

Overall in terms of ease of use, I’d give Zillow a 7 out of 10.

Finally, we’re down to the criterion that pretty much killed SearchChicago – listing freshness. If you recall, 72% of their listings had been off the market already for at least 3 months. Now, I’d like to say that Zillow did better. The MLS average market time for an active rental listing in 60625 and 60640 is between 40 and 56 days, so if Zillow comes in anywhere near that or better they’d be doing fine on the freshness factor.

Unfortunately, I just can’t tell how fresh the listings are.

See, if you look at the map page you can sort by “days on Zillow.” If you do so, you’ll see that the oldest listings are 34 days old. This makes Zillow look really good on the surface, until you start clicking through to the listing details. That’s where it all falls apart.

This is the teaser on the map page...

This is the teaser on the map page…

... and this is the detail page. Notice the difference in listing age?

… and this is the detail page. Notice the difference in listing age?

This means that short of clicking the detail pages for over 1000 listings, there’s no way for me to tell the actual age of the listings on Zillow. The oldest I found in a cursory search was 92 days – that’s a two month difference between the index page and the detail page!

Speaking as an agent who syndicates listings to Zillow, I can vouch that my listings take about 3 days to get picked up from the MLS. This is a very bad delay in a fast-paced market. I had a 3 day listing a few weeks back that didn’t even appear. However, they do tend to be very good about removing inactive listings promptly once they’re notified.

In terms of listing freshness, Zillow gets a 4 out of 10.

So, Zillow just barely passes with 60% of the maximum achievable score. If you’re comfortable with using maps, you can use it to search for Chicago apartments, but proceed with caution. Make sure to background check any landlord you find on Zillow. Also bear in mind that as the new kid on the block, most agents will post to multiple other sites before they think to post to Zillow, too.

Are You Ready To Start Apartment Hunting? (A Quiz)

Are you ready to start apartment hunting?

Renters, the apartment market in Chicago has gotten very competitive over the past few years. While developers are finishing up new apartments that will help ease some of the frantic pace, most of the new buildings are very close to downtown. If you're going to be looking for an apartment this year you cannot afford to go into the market unprepared. This quiz will hopefully help you to avoid some of the major pitfalls so that you can get the apartment you want on the first try.
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Congratulations - you have completed Are you ready to start apartment hunting?.

You got %%PERCENTAGE%% correct out of %%TOTAL%% questions.

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10 Things that Renters and Home Buyers Forget to Check

“Do you have any questions?”

I always ask this at the end of a showing. It’s really an unfortunate question, don’t you think? Unless you’ve prepared well and assembled a list, it’s easy to forget a few of the big questions when you’re in the middle of a showing. Here’s a few you can take with you next time. They may help you to avoid some major annoyances. Some you can answer on your own, while others will require feedback from the listing agent or landlord.

1. Do the doors close securely?

Look at the outside doors. Do they have deadbolts and doorknob locks? Are there privacy chains or latches on the inside? Is there a peephole or some other way to see who’s outside without opening the door? Is it possible to accidentally lock yourself outside on the porch? Now look at the interior doors. Can you close the bedroom door securely? The bathroom doors? Is it possible to accidentally lock yourself into or out of a room? What about the kitchen? If you have pets, is there an area where you’ll be able to securely store their extra food? (more…)

10 Steps to Secure Your Home or Apartment for Showings

So your landlord or an agent has called to say that she needs to show your home.

For owners this should come as no surprise. If your house is on the market, showings will happen and your agent will probably request that you absent yourself while they occur.

For renters, showings may be a surprise as they can happen at any time of year. You don’t have to be moving out. A showing in the middle of your lease does not necessarily mean that your apartment building is for sale! Your landlord may be trying to get a better insurance rate or refinance the property. Both of these tasks could require access to your apartment. You should grant it provided that your landlord gives you proper advance notice.

Regardless of who is coming to view your apartment, though, you can be certain of one thing – strangers will be entering your living quarters and you may not be able to be home when it happens. Whether it’s a new prospective renter, an appraiser or a Realtor, you’ll want to take precautions to make sure that you’ve safeguarded your belongings. After all, your landlord’s insurance won’t cover the items if they go missing or get damaged.

Google currently shows over 36 million results for the phrase “robbed during an open house.”

Here are ten things you can do to make sure your stuff stays safe when your home has an encounter with stranger danger.

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The Return of Operation Porchlight

We interrupt this blog to bring you some breaking news.

So guys, remember when I posted a couple of weeks ago about my idea to pair up apartment residents with empty houses on Halloween? Well it turns out that some of my friends thought it was a cool idea, so there’s now a website for the project which I might have whipped up over this weekend instead of writing a real blog post.

Operation Porchlight

The new online headquarters for the campaign can be found at OperationPorchlight.com, or Facebook (facebook.com/operationporchlight) & Twitter (@Porchlight_Chi).

We’d like to get about 20 volunteers to adopt up to 10 porches for a few hours on Halloween night. If you’re interested in helping us out, either as an adopter, a housing scout, or in any other way, please let me know. I’d love to get some press attention on this dry run so that we can be on a firm footing for 2013.

Trick Or Treat, Deserted Streets

Hey! Operation Porchlight now has its own web presence. Check it out at OperationPorchlight.com, or on Facebook & Twitter.

Let’s get some activism going.

The Halloween Apartment Blues

At the end of this month comes a holiday that involves strangers visiting the homes of other strangers. It’s a great time for neighbors to get to know each other while passing down a great tradition to the next generation. However, like many Chicago residents, I live in a multi-unit building, two stories up from the street. Giving out candy on Halloween is kind of tricky. Kids rarely buzz up in multi-unit buildings, and it’s tough to convey from way up here that I’m home and have candy to distribute.

I have no doubt that there are oodles of apartment renters in smaller multi-unit buildings – the ones that are too small to have a good number of kids living within – who are in the same position as me. If given a chance to participate in Halloween from the grownup side, they’d take it in a heartbeat but their living arrangements don’t make it easy.

Spooky Houses By the Truckload

While it’s getting better, many streets of Chicago still look like this.

Meanwhile, on the same block, or nearby, in pretty much every Chicago neighborhood, stand homes that have been boarded up and taken over by banks in foreclosure. These houses are more than your standard haunted house. They are reallyscary, and to a trick-or-treating child they pose more than a little danger. Deserted for sometimes years, potentially harboring wildlife, squatters or worse, these homes are dangerous for children to visit or walk past alone. They drive down property values and have made the past 5 years of Halloweens pretty lousy in some sections of the city where block after block of board-ups extend as far as the eye can see.

You guys can already tell where I’m going with this.

Operation Porchlight

So we’ve got residents who’d love to be able to hand out candy. And we’ve got boarded up houses that could use a little TLC, or at least a Halloween costume of safety for one evening. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could figure out a way to pair up one with the other in a sort of grassroots effort for Halloween Night? We could call it Operation Porchlight. Think of the benefits:

  • Neighbors become more aware of their local foreclosures.
  • Kids get a safer street for trick-or-treating.
  • Exposure to a foreclosed property may lead to purchase of that property.
  • Temporary adoption of a home serves as a positive loitering activity that may keep the worse parts of society away from these buildings for a night.
  • Occupying these buildings temporarily on what is traditionally the worst night of the year for vandalism & tagging may help to keep damage down.
  • Apartment and condo dwellers who’d otherwise have to take a pass on the evening now get to help out the kids and help out the neighborhood all at once.

This idea actually hit me about a year ago on Halloween day, too late to do anything about it. But as of today, we’ve got a month to get something going. I think we may need to start up with just a few volunteers who would like to “adopt” a house – or at least a front porch – for the evening. I can pretty easily find out which bank has foreclosed on any given Chicago property and try to get permission for a candy-giver to hang out there for an evening. We’d need to figure out the insurance issues. We’d need to know which neighborhoods stay filled with kids and which are pretty much abandoned in favor of the suburbs. But I think it’s possible to accomplish.

I would love to see this kind of thing take off. Does it interest you at all? If so, leave a comment and please share this with other parties who might be able to help, either banks with REO departments, neighborhood foreclosure counselors, or other potential advisors.

Your New Noisy Roommate: Steam Radiators in Chicago Apartments

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that this article was linked on October 18, 2012 from a certain HVAC newsletter with the instructions to “find as many errors as possible” in the article. This has resulted in a stream of hate mail and comments including some threatening me with injury and death. As such I have disabled all comments other than one from a solitary, polite commenter which explains how radiators are supposed to work in a perfect situation, even if they don’t work that way in most budget-range Chicago apartments.

So, it was 41 degrees last night in Chicago. Many of you probably found yourself searching the web for “Chicago heating laws” or something similar. They exist. It gets cold here. Heat is considered a life-essential service for a little less than 3/4 of the year. Today we’re featuring a handful of facts that you should know if you’re owning or living in an apartment with landlord-provided steam heat.

They will make noises, but they shouldn’t be too loud.

Here’s the basic premise of a steam radiator. Water is heated in a boiler down in the basement. It turns to steam, which flows up a big pipe, past a few safety valves and into your big clunky radiators. The metal radiators absorb the heat from the steam, which condenses back into water as it cools. The water flows back down to the boiler either through the same pipe or through a separate, slightly narrower pipe. Repeat ad infinitum. These are called one-pipe and two-pipe systems, respectively, and they are very, very common in Chicago’s old-school vintage walkup apartment buildings.

That’s a lot of physics going on. In a perfect situation you would hear no noise, but these are Chicago apartments we’re talking about here. The systems are rarely in good condition, but they’ll suffice. What’s important here is to know what’s reasonable and what’s dangerous. You will hear some ticking as the metal radiator expands & contracts in reaction to the temperature changes. There will be some hissing as excess air escapes through the pressure release valve on your radiator. You may even hear the gurgle of water as it flows back out. These are all normal sounds and part of living with your noisy new heat-giving friend. However, there’s one sound that you should not hear: knocking. (more…)

10 Warnings every Landlord should give to their First Time Renter

So you’re renting your Chicago apartment to someone who’s never lived on their own before. This means that the person living in your space won’t have necessarily had the time to build up an inventory of common sense and practical wisdom that come with living alone. It doesn’t mean that they’re stupid or poorly educated. Rather than risk you having too many episodes of complaining to your friends about “kids these days,” here are some things that you’ll want to warn them about, or plan for.

1. Hair in drains. Renters may have previously had housekeepers who stood between them and the need to clear out a drain. If your renter has hair (most do), suggest that they get a hair catcher for the bathroom. Similarly if your property has particularly fragile plumbing please let your tenant know this. Often. Post laminated signs in the bathrooms. I’m not kidding. You’ll probably still need to snake the drains at least once a year, but at least you can say you made an effort.

2. Pilot lights. Old fashioned gas stoves & furnaces have live-flame pilot lights. This will be a new experience to renters coming from homes with high end electric stoves or electric spark pilots. A tenant who discovers a lit pilot may consider it to be a malfunction & fire hazard, and extinguish it. In the category of easily avoided bad ideas, this is the ultimate example.

Your average 25 year old will have no idea what these are.

3. Furnace filters, fuses & other comestibles. An apartment has needs. Your average newbie renter may not know that they’re responsible for replacing certain items as they wear out. The major repairs are generally going to be your responsibility. However, here in Chicago tenants are normally responsible for replacing light bulbs, blown fuses, smoke detector batteries, and in some cases they’re responsible for changing the furnace filter. Make sure they know this up front.

Oh, and now that we all use expensive eco-friendly bulbs, don’t be surprised if your tenant takes them to their new apartment upon moving out and leaves you with empty light sockets.

4. You keep whatever is nailed down. Basic landlord-tenant law. In an apartment situation, at the end of the lease, the landlord keeps as a fixture anything that’s attached to the walls or floor, plus any appliances provided at the start of the lease. This means that if the tenant puts in their own ceiling fan, full-length mirror, medicine cabinet, shower curtain rod or chandelier and they don’t remove it, it’s yours to keep.

5. Maximum capacity. It’s been almost a decade since the 2003 porch collapse disaster. Your average new college graduate was just wrapping up grammar school when it happened. While the event was sufficiently epic to merit its own Wikipedia entry, the after-effects have been less than thorough. Two-flats escaped the scrutiny of the inspectors and many private homes that have now entered the rental market were never inspected regardless of size. Chicago porches that are up to code have to bear 100 pounds per square foot but many are not up to code. Your first time renter may not be aware of the history. Don’t let them overload your porch.

From user sedatephobia on Tumblr.

6. Water is heavy. Humans have a weird tendency to deny that transparent items are heavy. Glass is molten sand and very heavy. Air is extremely heavy. Water appears benign, but it’s one of the worst offenders in causing floor damage in apartments. If you stuck Chicago’s Bean into a snow globe, the water around it would weigh over 26 times more than the bean itself. A tenant may think that their pet fish are harmless compared with a cat or dog, but a heavy fishtank on an old floor can be just as dangerous.

7. You are not alone. Unless your rental is a single family home, they will be sharing the building with other people. Noise carries from apartment to apartment, through floors, walls, and out of windows. Tenants fresh out of college dorms may need a reminder that they are no longer in a homogeneous environment where noise is forgiven as part of the scene.

8. You are not alone part 2. Pest problems are rarely confined to just one unit in a development. If one tenant gets rid of a pest problem independently of a whole-building treatment, the pests will simply move on to another apartment nearby. Infestations can be embarrassing but they can happen to anyone regardless of their housekeeping skills. Make sure your renters know that there is no shame in reporting a problem, if it means the issue is solved before it spreads.

9. Keep the doors locked. New renters may be coming from dorms or homes where the exterior doors automatically locked closed behind them as they left. It will take them several months of practice to get into the habit of checking behind themselves to lock your door on their way out. Encourage them by posting small signs above the door handle to remind them that safety is everyone’s business.

Miniblinds. Saving the world from needing eye bleach since the 1970s.

10. Out of sight, out of mind. Window treatments are not just a matter of style. They’re vital to the safety of your tenants’ belongings. Remind your tenant that valuables that are visible through a window are easy marks for nearby criminals, and that other people can see into their apartment through open windows at all hours.

This could very well have been a top 20 list but I figured I’d save some for another installment later on. Help me out. What seemingly obvious facts of apartment living have your first-time tenants somehow missed? Share them with us in the comments and I’ll try to cover them in the next installment!

Not all Insurance Policies are Created Equal

This is not the time to be learning about your insurance limits.

I serve as property manager for my condo association. Lately our insurance for the property has gotten pretty expensive so I have been shopping for a new policy. I had the following interesting exchange with one of the insurance agents:

Me: Yes, I’m also a real estate blogger.
Agent: Oh wow! [Company name] doesn’t let its sales agents have blogs, so could you please please do me a favor?
Me: Maybe…
Agent: Can you tell your readers about actual cash value vs full replacement cost? Please?

So hey, here we go. (more…)