Shelter Needs Part 1

This month I have been stressing a bit about the fact that we will be meeting with a Realtor and a homebuilder in August to see if we can actually afford to buy a new construction home. The timeline would be perfect: builds starting in September/October finishing in February/March. Our current lease is up in mid-May 2019, so that would give us a couple of months to transition and get the rental cleaned and ready for inspection.

I’ll be making another post covering my worries about this process later. I wanted to talk about renting houses and apartments. I’ve been renting since January 2005 and if my bumbling experience can help you improve yours, I am glad to share. Today we’ll look at all the places I rented and lived in on my own and in a follow up post we’ll explore my rental experiences with the husband in tow.

The first place I ever rented was a small attic apartment in Bangor, Maine. I had just ended a 3 year relationship (1 year engagement), gotten a new night job as a telemarketer, and was starting my student teaching assignment in the spring term of my senior year of college. Instead of staying on campus in my cozy single room I decided to stretch my wings and live on my own. I would avoid parking issues on campus when I returned in the evening and I would have a shorter drive to both the student teaching and my job. The logic was sound, but an important lesson I learned from this apartment was to keep looking until you find one with a real bathroom. A bathroom with a weird clawfoot tub that you have to buy one of those shower hoses for that falls off all the time and hooks and nails for the ceiling to hang the shower curtain from because there isn’t a shower rod might not be the best choice.

My second rental experience was in extreme northern Maine. My first teaching assignment was hours away from even the most major interstate. It was the kind of town that just has a blinking yellow/red light in the middle of it. The town police chief rented me his house for $395 a month. I had a furnished, 2-story house to knock around in that fortunately had a washer/dryer but unfortunately did not include heat. I didn’t know to ask about this, but when I ran out of heating oil in December and discovered I couldn’t afford more on my $24,000 a year salary, I learned a valuable lesson: NEVER RENT IN A PLACE WITH SNOW THAT DOESN’T INCLUDE HEAT IN THE RENT.

When I left (was run out of) that little town I moved to Arizona to teach and get my master’s degree at Arizona State University. I reserved an apartment using the internet and phone calls. I remember quite distinctly that I said to the woman at the complex “I am going to be living there alone and I can’t afford to fly out to see it. You have to be honest with me, is this a safe place to live?” I was so fucking stupid when I was 22. I drove cross-country in a Toyota Corolla packed full of all my belongings (and my cat Chloe). We arrived just as the complex office was closing to sign the lease and move in. I lived there for one year and had to be fumigated three times for German cockroaches, lost water twice due to water main breaks in the area, had someone break my master bedroom window and try to break in one morning, and had no washer/dryer but (thankfully) a laundry room in the complex. Lesson learned here was not to rent sight unseen, but I didn’t really have a choice and again, I was really dumb/inexperienced.

So as my finances improved a bit (as a result of an influx of student loans from my masters program) I looked for a better place to live. I now had a whole list of things I wanted in an apartment: a real bathroom, clarity about what is included in the rent, safety, and a washer/dryer in the unit. So I moved just a little bit west to a safer area, a gated complex, into a one-bedroom with a washer/dryer in unit. It is one of the nicest places I have ever lived, it was just a shame that I could not afford to furnish it with anything other than my IKEA platform bed, office chair, ad computer desk. My tv and internet router sat on the floor. Any gathering I had was a BYOF(urniture) gathering. If I had stayed longer I probably could have furnished it slowly, paid on my student loans for a while, and continued to gain experience as a band director. One of my biggest regrets was rushing to get my doctorate and leaving what was already a pretty good foundation in a place that I loved to live. The lesson learned here was to always consider leaving an apartment/house carefully, because you might actually already be home. But again, I was 23 at this point, naive and very ambitious.

My next living space was actually the empty apartment of my friend in Phoenix, because she had moved back to Ohio but her lease wasn’t up until the end of July. My lease was up in mid-June, so I got an air mattress and a litter box for my THREE (yes three at this point) cats and set up shop in her totally empty apartment to bridge the gap between my apartment and moving to Indiana. I didn’t stay here as long as I had planned because it was terrible and boring so I turned in her keys for her and headed east.

I had originally planned to stay at an Extended Stay for a bit until I could find an apartment in the college town (learning from lesson of renting sight unseen) but I had an acquaintance/regretful fling that I knew so my three cats and I stayed with him for about a week until I found a place.

Now the lesson I learned at ‘shitty apartment on the east side of town’ was to never rent at a place where people have to walk past your apartment to get down stairs. This is kind of like requesting a hotel room away from the elevator. The apartment was set up like a shitty motel, and so to get to the second floor you would walk up a set of stairs and then down a walkway/balcony to get to your door. My two bedroom, one bath apartment with the literal oldest appliances ever (but a huge built in bookshelf!) was situated as the first door of two on the second floor landing. So my neighbors loved to look into my apartment as they came home, and their kids treated the entire walkway as their playground, including right in front of my door. It was an okay situation for what it was (again, it seemed as though every time I moved I was broke and desperate) but overall it was loud, intrusive, and frustrating.

Up until this point I had always lived alone. I had never had a roommate aside from the brief first semester of college when I was forced into a double room with a girl who ended up living with someone else like two months in, leaving me alone in a double room that I eventually traded in for a single room in my second semester. Most of the lessons I learned from renting on my own were very basic: see before you buy, get a real bathroom, washer/dryer is important, being in a safe area (if affordable) is important, check out arrangement of units for how residents are forced to intermingle.

Next time we’ll move into the cohabitation portion of my history, and I will outline the lessons I learned as a result of having my first (and only) roommate of all time – the husband – and also how we navigated finding places to live together.