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The First Apartment: Hindsight Is 20/20

I have a lot of friends who, at one point or another during college, considered transferring schools.

Some just thought vaguely about where they might go, but did not actually apply. Others took their considerations farther and filled out transfer applications. Some of those who applied did end up transferring, but I observed that it was actually much more common for a student accepted to transfer to end up deciding to remain at their first school.

I sometimes wonder if the students who had the option to leave, but chose to stay, ended up happier with their college experience than ones who were never proactive about pursuing other options. I think that there is a lot to be said for keeping one’s options open; there is nothing to be lost from considering all of your options and applying for something that you end up turning down, but a lot to be lost in not applying at all. The sense of self confidence that comes from making an informed, controlled decision has the power to repel any lingering doubts that an uninformed one brings.

I have been thinking a lot about this transfer application phenomenon lately.

Just as being given the option to transfer schools puts a student in control of her decision to stay, being fully informed of the good and the bad qualities of a potential new apartment puts a young college graduate in a control of her decision to sign a lease. If I could go back in time to January 2012 when I signed a lease for my first apartment in New York, there are some things that I would do differently in order to ensure that, on moving day, I would be moving into a new apartment fully-informed and up for the challenges that a first apartment will invariably bring.

It’s not that my first apartment was particularly bad; I just wish I had known about a few of its issues before I moved in. I wish I had asked more general questions and been more informed about the building’s flaws. If I could go back in time, here is what I would do: I would ring the buzzers of future neighbors on the ground floor, the top floor, and maybe even a floor or two in between and ask questions. Obviously, without the knowledge that hindsight brings, I would not have known to ask specific questions like, “Do you have a huge mouse problem where you see at least one mouse per day and where mice scale the side of your oven like spiderman and then scamper across your bare feet when you’re trying to cook dinner?”. However, in asking, “Does the building have a pest problem?,” I would have received the same answer (while also appearing much less hysterical). Similarly, “Do you feel safe here?” would have informed me of a few break-ins and a decidedly crazy (though, I am sure, harmless) neighbor, and “Can you tell me about the building’s management?” would have led to a discussion about a rather rude and unhelpful superintendent.

I wish I could go back in time and ask these questions – not because I am convinced that I would have chosen a different apartment, but because I know that had I made a truly informed decision to sign my lease, I would have spent a year in an apartment that I trusted to feel like my home. I just can’t help but think that, had I played things a bit differently, I could have been more prepared for life in my first apartment (with mouse-repelling beepers from day one) – and therefore happier there.

So, my fellow twenty-something blog readers, I hope you will learn from my mistakes. Before putting pen to paper and signing away a year of your life to a real estate commitment, I hope you will speak up and start these dialogues with your future neighbors. I hope you will ask these questions now, so that you never have to look back and ask, “what if?”

Ebbe Sweet