Students should inspect their future residences before signing the lease. Credit: Joe Matts | Lantern Reporter

Apartment hunting can be a daunting task. After combing through hundreds of online listings, it can be easy to forget that what you see in pictures is not always what you get. Not every landlord is to be trusted, so it’s essential to have a plan when you go in for a tour of your potential new pad.

The following tips from a chronic overthinker and campus-area renter will help you pick out the best apartment for your budget, but compromises will always have to be made. 

The goal is to know what challenges you will face with a unit before you rent. If you point out any of these issues, many landlords will promise to have them fixed before you move in. I once had a landlord promise to replace all the flooring and drywall in an apartment that cost $600 per month. Yeah, right. If it isn’t in writing, get it in writing. And if it is in writing, be skeptical.

First, make sure the unit you’re touring is actually the one you will be moving into. If the guide will only show you the model, that should raise some concerns. There will be different quirks, details and damages in every unit, and you will want a good idea of what you’re getting into.

One of the first things you should notice about any apartment or house you are touring is the smell. Mold, mildew and water damage are distinctly smelly, but even if you don’t detect the telltale mustiness, an excess of candles and air fresheners can be a tipoff. If the unit is pet-friendly, it’s probably going to reek of dog, and it probably always will. Also be wary of mold spots on the ceilings and corners.

As you walk through the apartment or house, check your cellphone reception in every room. Try to send a text. If that works, try to watch a video on Youtube. If you aren’t getting a clear signal in your own home, it’s going to be a frustrating living experience.

If you’re feeling particularly neurotic, you can bring a phone charger and plug it into each outlet in the unit to make sure they all work. This is also a good time to make sure they are three-pronged outlets.

When you get to the kitchen, check for pests. Look on top of cabinets, in drawers, under appliances and behind the fridge for droppings. If you see white powder along the baseboards or in any of these spots, it may be a cockroach treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask if the building has a history of pest problems.

Utilities can rack up quickly, so getting an idea of their costs ahead of time is essential. Find out how old the appliances are and if they are energy efficient. Ask about the usual costs for heating and air conditioning. Even better, ask a tenant who lives in the building now. 

Look at what temperature the thermostat is set to and what the actual temperature is in the unit. Do they match up? 

Run any faucets at various temperatures to see if the pressure is consistent. Check how long it takes for the water to get hot and how hot it gets. Make sure the hot water is clear and clean. Flush the toilet while the shower is running to see if it affects pressure or temperature, then watch how quickly the shower drains.

Find out what the parking policy is. If there is a parking lot, ask how many passes you get and whether the spots are reserved or open to all. If you have the time, it’s smart to scope the lot out in the evening to see how full it is and if there is room for everyone. Finally, find out who tows for the building, just in case.

Safety is also a big concern around campus. First-floor apartments can be more vulnerable to break-ins. If a first-floor apartment can’t be avoided or if you are looking at a house, make sure the windows have working locks, and check the effectiveness of the blinds.

Finally, it’s time to assess the damage of the apartment. Make sure you are taking pictures and notes of any scrapes, scuffs, chips, cracks or rot. No apartment is going to be perfect, but having a written and photographed record that you share with the landlord before moving in will keep you from being liable for damages. Ask who is responsible for maintenance concerns, and familiarize yourself with the request process.

Once you have done all of this, the guide or landlord will probably be looking at you like you have three heads. Though many college students may not know the warning signs of a bad apartment, you can get ahead in the renting process armed with this knowledge. Or you can be like me and rent a moldy, pet-smelling apartment with awful climate control and 30-year-old appliances anyway because it’s all you can afford. But at least you’ll know what you’re getting into