I'll be moving into my first apartment. Any suggestions in what to look for before I get there? Can I save myself any headaches with neighbors or other?
Try to get a top floor apartment, they're generally quieter because nobody is "walking on your head".
I don't know your area, but in St. Louis there are a lot of fabulous old apt buildings, built in the 30's, 40's and 50's. They are smaller, anywhere from 6 - 20 units. They were originally built for families, so they're spacious. Not to mention how beautiful they were - not your typical white walled box. There was a mix of people - 20's to 70's - living in that area, so things tended to be quiet and everyone seemed respectful of their neighbors. Older buildings are generally more soundproof too - they built things more solidly back then.
Another thing you can do is narrow your choices and cruise the complex at different times of the day and night. See what's going on, get out of your car and *listen*. If you don't want loud parties or screaming kids, you need to investigate before you sign the lease.
You can also go to the local police station and ask about crime statistics in that area. I wish I'd done that for one apt I lived in....I didn't know that the complex next to mine was section 8, and there had been lots of trouble there. My car stereo was stolen twice :( and the place was really noisy all the time. My bedroom window faced the parking lot. UGH.
If there is coin-operated laundry facilities in the basement - make a visit down there. Are 235 residents fighting over a single W/D unit?
If possible try to see how well sound-insulated the place is - this might be hard to determine but lightly knocking on the walls to gauge their density might help.
See how well maintained the hallways and other common areas are. This will let you know how attentive the Super is with regard to maintenance. Ask if the Super lives in the building - if he does, it is usually a positive.
Check all plumbing - flush toilets and run the faucets to see if everything flows well.
Like the previous poster stated, check out who your prospective neighbors. Parents that let their kids run screaming through the halls don't make the best neighbors.
If you not familiar with the neighborhood, definately try to get at various times if at all possible. It might look great a 2 in the afternoon, but after 11 pm...
And when dealing with landlords and agents, if it isn't in writing, it does not exist.
Also check to see if the area has a sex offender website. Some apartments are magnets for these people--one moves in and tells the rest about it. Some mgmt companies have restrictions about renting to sex offenders (they're not a protected class so they can be discriminated against). You may want to see if the complex you're interested in has this--it's much safer than moving in and finding out a rapist or child molester lives next door. That's the great thing about apartments--they can control who lives there--you can't do that when you buy a house and find one next door.
when you do move in, be friendly to the neighbors. You don't have to be their best buddy (in fact, it's usually better if you aren't), but smile, say hello, introduce yourself.
If you feel comfortable w/ it, give your downstairs neighbor your phone number so they can call if the pipes break, and get theirs.
If you know you're going to do something that might be a little bothersome--let's say you have to assemble furniture in the living room (banging or thumping) or you're going to have a party (music and conversation), you might let them know ahead of time, along w/ an assurance that you'll prevent as much noise as it realistically possible.
That way, they can't say they weren't warned!
If you are looking to move in soon, you may be able to get a great deal - this is not really the hot season for renting. Looking at end of summer is toughest time.
I 2nd the idea to get on top floor - quieter. Also, any floor above ground is less likely to have a break-in.
make friends with neighbors. give your ph # (and name so they can't forget). Tell them to ring if you happen to get too loud, or if they notice anything funny - a loose bike lock cable happened to fall off my bike when I was carrying it up the stairs -- neighbor later put it at my doorstep. Also a nearby resident I didn't know but would say hello to told me when a couple cars got vandalized at one end of parking lot, since he knew I parked there.
Washer/dryer in unit rather than in a laundry room will be a great benefit and likely worth the money. The best was an apt. with w/d in utility room off balcony, thus not inside apt. If they have "utility hook-ups," go for it - buy a used w/d combo, then sell the combo for a few bucks less when you move back out.
They will give you a form at check-in: note ANY little thing, especially stains or other carpet problems and nail holes in walls. Get an experienced person to help with this. [when you leave, do the walk-through WITH the apt person and ask specifically WHAT you will be responsible for - they will likely then note exactly what they tell you and only that, and you will likely get more deposit back- they complained about carpet, but I pointed out on my copy of check-in form how I noted the poor carpet condition].
Map out and look at as many apt complexes as possible at once. Make notes so you remember which is which - otherwise they will all blend together in memory.
If you pick the right roommate, a 2 bedroom can be more affordable and have perks compared with 1br. Be very clear about who will pay what bills, and by when. Develop a ritual for handing over the dough, like "I'm gonna pay rent in three days. Can you put a check under the fridge magnet in the next couple of days? Let me know if you'll need to be late so we can figure out something."
Get close to work/school to bike-commute! or get on bus line!
Get your money's worth out of pool, gym!
Keep pets small, if any at all!! It is really inhumane to put anything bigger than a lapdog (ie max 20 lb) in an apt. Even some small dogs (i.e. jack russell) shouldn't be confined to live in an apt.
The best deal can be an upper floor of a home, or a garage apt. Individuals versus businesses are often more cool. These will be hard to find, but you can find notices at college bulletin boards, as students move in/out at typical times of year.