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Curbed U's Guide to Renting in Atlanta Part I

How to Find a Rental

Online Searching

You know the stand that’s set up near the exit doors of most grocery stores? The one loaded with all the apartment guides? Those are online now, so you might as well save yourself the inevitable car clean out and go straight to their websites. Forrent.com, apartmentfinder.com and apartmentguide.com are the three biggies, and they're all pretty similar. Using these sites is pretty easy, but keep in mind that they mostly feature the larger complexes, so you’re not going to see every option out there. Sites like Trulia and Zillow also allow you to search for traditional apartment buildings, and they also include rental listings for condos and single family homes. And if you’re focused on condos and houses, be sure to check the websites of local real estate agencies for their rental listings.

Craigslist

Simply put, searching for an apartment on Craigslist is a pain in the ass. If you’re going to go that route, try to be as specific as possible; typing in “Midtown” won’t get you anywhere because so many apartments are described as being only “minutes away from Midtown” and therefore it pulls those also. If you had a specific street in mind, say, Myrtle Street, you might have better luck weeding out the junk. You’ll quickly find that some apartment complexes seem to spam out the same postings all day long, making your job that much harder.
Letting Someone Else Do the Search

If you want to hand the search off to someone else, you do have the option of using a renter’s service, the most well known one being ProMove. Here’s how it works: you meet with one of their specialists and tell them your needs; they come up with a short list of possible properties; you tour the properties. If you sign a lease, you put down ProMove as the referral. The service is free to you - they get paid with the referral bonus. Keep in mind that you’re trusting the specialist to not be biased towards certain complexes that you may have otherwise chosen.

You can also use the services of a real estate agent, if you can find one that’ll work with you. They typically receive their commission from the landlord when they produce a tenant, but sometimes a tenant can expect to pay as much as a month of rent to as a commission.

Physically Scouting

Sometimes the best way to find an apartment, especially intown, is by getting out and driving/walking the area you wish to be in. A lot of times the smallest complexes and homes that have been chopped up will simply stick a sign out front to advertise. Well, maybe they put an ad on Craigslist but it got lost in the muck. A GPS system or *gasp* map comes in handy given the chaotic nature of our street pattern.

Apartment Descriptor Lingo

Reading an apartment listing usually paints a rosy picture, unless the person writing it was completely forthright and/or allergic to BS. Be prepared to tire of the word “luxury” very early on in your search. That word is so overused in connection with apartments as to render the adjective practically worthless - anything with a roof and four walls is described as luxury. Here’s some other code words deciphered:

• Trendy: We’ve renovated with granite countertops and some new wallpaper in the leasing office.
• Historic/quaint/charming: Old, outdated, and probably cramped.
• Minutes to...: Exactly how many minutes are we talking about? Is anyone else on the road at that time?
• Too much to list: We’ve run out of things to list.
• Midtowns/Virginia Highland/Vinings location: Due to their desirability, these are three of the most misused geographical descriptors.
• Best kept secret: no one likes to brag about living here.
• Cozy: Tiny

Using Apartment Ratings Websites

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using apartment ratings websites. We seek the opinions of others for everything these days: restaurants, professors, dog breeds, you name it. But while doing your research, you should keep a couple of things in the back of your mind. First, expect the haters to be out in full force. The old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say...” does not apply here. In fact, if someone’s had a bad experience with a complex they’re more likely to go online and rant about it. There may be plenty of other people who’ve had lovely experiences at the same place, but in their bliss they didn’t think to write a review. Another thing to be wary of is the employee written review. Yes, it’s cheating, and it’ll probably result in some bad karma on the part of the guilty party, but it happens. A lot. So if you come across reviews that are extremely positive or equally negative, take them with a grain of salt.

Wait, Should I Rent or Buy?

Say you have the option of renting or buying in a given location. Unlike New York or San Francisco, buying real estate has been a given in Atlanta until very recently. You’ve heard the expression “throwing your money away in rent,” but is that really the case? More people are seeing buying as an attractive option these days for a myriad of reasons. The “American Dream” of home ownership has lost some of its sheen over the past few years, with many individuals who would be buying a decade ago giving the whole setup a second thought.

Buying requires a time commitment, something that’s not easy to give nowadays. Renting takes the pressure off when it comes to maintenance and repairs. And if you’re just settling into the city, it’s especially prudent to get a feel for what area fits you before making such a commitment. Trulia publishes a rent vs. buy index which puts the decision in a purely numbers perspective and is calculated by considering the median list price of an area’s homes with the median rent price of two bedroom apartments. Out of a list of 37 housing markets where it costs much less to buy than rent, Atlanta falls near the end of renting being a better deal.

Types of Rentals

Single Family Homes

Pretty self explanatory, and sometimes the only choice in some suburban areas where apartments are few and far between.

Chopped-Up Homes

You’ll find these in Atlanta’s neighborhoods that went through decline, but they’re becoming rarer as people scoop them up to convert back to single family. The heyday of converting houses to apartments was post WWII until the 1970s, so don’t expect everything to be in new/perfect condition. Also, don’t be surprised if noise and smells become a factor due to poor insulation. But they are a good option for those who don’t want the giant apartment complex experience.

Prewar Apartments (1910-1940)

Atlantans don’t usually refer to an apartment as “prewar” but it is a good descriptor for a class of buildings in our intown neighborhoods. There’s no denying the charm of these early mulitfamily structures. They’re usually brick, two to three stories tall, and if you’re lucky equipped with porches or sunrooms. Another common theme is the u-shaped layout that allows for an interior courtyard.

Postwar Apartments (1940s-1960s)

After WWII, apartment buildings became more utilitarian, and more accommodating to the automobile. They may not be the prettiest buildings, but they get the job done. A typical example is the two story brick setup with exterior entrances. There’s also the tower apartment, as exemplified by the good ole’ Darlington.

Garden Apartments

Atlanta's own Post Properties blew up this style beginning in the 1980s. The focus was on the landscaping, the amenities, and security. Therefore, they are usually gated and turned inward from their surroundings. These can be found in every part of town, but they are especially prominent in Buckhead, the Perimeter Area, and Cobb and Gwinnett Counties.

Newer Urban Product

With the shift back to urban living, developers have begun to finally build product that combines amenities and security within buildings that are actually part of the city. These units come at a premium. Successful examples include Post Parkside, 660 Marietta Street, Inman Park Village, etc. The next wave is high rise glass apartments, such as SkyHouse, 02 Buckhead, and 12th & Midtown, all of which are under construction.