Two and three story apartment buildings are generally referred to as garden apartment buildings. Garden apartments comprise an overwhelming portion of the marketplace. Although these buildings come in many shapes and configurations, the most common format are common hallways with apartments on either side, or separate entrances limited to 4, 6, 8 or perhaps 12 residences. Less typical within the genre of garden apartments are private entrances, although they do exist. Private entrances afford the resident the privacy associated with single family living.
Luxury of Privacy
As suggested, there is a wide array of building configurations that offer residents a range of living environments from a private or nearly private residence, to living nearby anywhere from a few to many neighbors. As with most features, choosing a configuration is a matter of individual preference, there is no right or wrong. Most garden apartment buildings do not have elevators, but if walking steps is a problem, you should focus your attention on first floor apartments or elevator buildings. An important distinction exists between ground level and true first floor apartments.
Ground level apartments may actually be partially in the ground. Moisture control and limited light are inherently negative characteristics of such apartments. Typically, these apartments are found in older buildings. A true first floor apartment is completely above the ground, nearly or completely barrier free (few to no steps), and water is graded away from all living areas. First floor apartments are quite desirable. However, the terminology may vary. When in doubt ask the rental agent what floor level is relative to the outside grade.
Construction: Quality and Design
Of vital importance to any renter is the apartment building, more specifically, construction quality and design. If you ever lived in an apartment, you certainly understand the importance of sound and fire control. Sound control is perhaps the most important component that affects the quality of life of a resident, and while fire control should be the most important feature in choosing a place to live, it is the most over looked component.
Fire safety is provided by construction materials and systems. Buildings constructed with fire sprinkler systems and rated concrete fire walls and floors are vastly superior to wooden framed construction with sprinklers and rated walls and floors. Among the best materials for such fire protection are brick and/or concrete walls, and concrete floors. Early warning is key to a good fire system, and a system built with hard wired smoke detectors, and sounding devices is essential. Buildings that feature systems with superior fire safety often also provide superior sound control. This is the case with regards to the use of concrete walls and floors.
Generally, concrete floors control noise at levels many times greater than any engineered wooden floor can provide. Sound control is not simply an issue between apartments. Sound control should be considered with regards to noises which originate on the exterior of your home. Materials such as brick will reduce such “noise” transmission. It is a mistake for a prospective tenant not to ask about a building’s sound and fire control.
Heating and Air Conditioning
Other issues affecting the quality of life are heating and air conditioning, energy conservation measures, security and trash handling. Many new buildings have been built with central heating and air conditioning. This is not the case with older buildings. In many older buildings, the resident has no control as to when heat or air conditioning is provided (the law provides heat to be available between October 1st and April 15th). Mother Nature doesn’t always follow a schedule, and nothing is more frustrating than to be told you can’t have heat until October 1st or after April 15th. The added disadvantage of such a system is that often times the air conditioning system is based on window/wall sleeved units which provide uneven cooling, and often times inadequate cooling. A properly designed individually controlled central heating and air-conditioning system is superior in its delivery of both heat and air conditioning, as it provides for total control over timing and temperature, and benefits the energy conscious resident by allowing for billing based on actual usage.
Energy consumption is constantly in the news because it affects our climate, our independence as a country, and on a more personal level, a family’s disposable income. Buildings built after 1985 were built subject to federal and state energy conservation requirements. Before 1985 a building’s energy conservation features were subject to the whim of the builder. Many building owners have been aggressive in making improvements to their apartments of all ages in an effort to reduce the monthly energy cost to both the resident and themselves. The difference in energy costs to a resident living in a building “with” as compared to “without” energy conservation features could be hundreds of dollars a year. A good review includes checking to see if the windows are insulated, if the light bulbs are energy efficient, if water fixtures have water saving features, and finding out about the energy efficiency or R factor (measure of the resistance to heat and cooling loss) of the walls and ceilings.
Looks can be deceiving and it’s prudent to check out what security features are present, and review local crime statistics. Ask if the lock on your apartment door gets changed between tenants. Take notice if common doors have automatic door closers, if they are propped open, and if the building’s interior hallways and exterior parking lots have good lighting. No property can guarantee that a resident won’t be the victim of a crime, but good precautions can be a very significant deterrent.
Trash and Recycling
Trash handling convenience is another overlooked element of apartment living both from a practical and cosmetic aspect. While some garden buildings features trash handling within the building, the overwhelming majority handle trash by containers located along the parking areas. Nothing says more about a building’s management than an overflowing trash container. Residents should make sure that the trash containers are conveniently located. It makes a nice appearance when the containers are enclosed, and insist on a property which has a real effective “recycling” program.
Apartment building amenities are not a necessity, but they add value to a resident. A swimming pool and clubhouse can offer a resident a place to exercise, relax and socialize. For those residents in their retirement years, a social club with organized activities adds additional value. Many buildings do not provide additional amenities. There is a growing trend in new buildings to create a lifestyle package which includes fitness rooms, game rooms and media rooms. Building amenities are very appealing, but once again this is an individual preference, and there are no right or wrong answers as to if they should be on your priority list.