In our last post, we talked about how to uproot your life in two weeks.
Now we can look back and see at least one major thing we could have done vastly better: choose our new place to live.
Two weeks doesn’t give you a lot of time, especially when you’re moving to a place with even more of a housing crisis than where you were. We narrowed down the most important things to us:
Down to one car and traffic worse than Seattle (by a longshot) meant access to mass transit was crucial
Walking distance to day care, and grocery shopping
Air conditioning (believe it or not, many places in SoCal don’t have it).
At least two bedrooms, with space for some sort of office space for working from home
We found a large complex run by a nationwide property management company. The apartments were relatively spacious, parking was in a secured garage. It was next to light rail (literally running outside our window) and had the other amenities we wanted, plus two pools, and a small gym. We even did a tour of the property in the limited time we had on the ground in LA before completing our packing and starting our new adventure.
The last time we lived for an extended period of time in a rental was 1999 before we bought our house. There have been intermittent rentals since then, due to jobs, but they’ve always been with the idea we would return home. And so, it wasn’t until we’d been in our new place a few days that we realized we’d made a horrible mistake.
We didn’t check the online reviews.
Granted, online reviews for most apartment complexes are going to be crap. And the last time we rented together, online reviews weren’t even a thing. There was no Yelp, no Facebook. So, we went in and naively signed a one year lease.
Within days, we noticed the veneer of where we were living was nice, but the reality was not. Worn carpets. Elevators left broken (in a 7-story building) for days. Handles that broke off doors in our hands. Latches that broke off windows with one use. Air conditioning that ran 24/7. Visually decent blinds over the windows that were so old and worn, they were almost impossible to utilize. The air conditioner, located right outside our bedroom on the dirty, dusty deck, roared like a jet and was about as energy efficient as your average mansion. We looked at the existing reviews, sighed. and told ourselves we could tough it out for a year.
And then came the fleas.
We noticed, after being in the apartment two weeks, that the cats were suddenly biting, gnawing, scratching. Small red marks were appearing on our ankles and feet, and all over our toddler. Maybe we’d brought home some sand fleas from the beach? We got cat flea treatment, and applied it. We vacuumed thoroughly. We sprayed with lemongrass, lavender, and eucalyptus. And the bites got worse.
We noticed we got bit the most in the room we used as an office. The cats had spent a few days sitting in the sunlight there, but no longer wanted to go in. We, put a light trap in overnight—basically, you fill a shallow container with soapy water, and set it under a light source in a dark room. Fleas gravitate to the light, and drown in the water.
The first night, we got over 40 fleas in that one room. It was suddenly clear the management had not properly cleaned the carpets from the prior owner, and we had inherited their flea issues, which had now migrated to every room in the apartment. Our toddler no longer wanted to sleep in his bed, exhausted from being bitten throughout the night. Every black spot set us on edge.
After an utterly exhausting and prolonged battle with the management company, we got out of our lease. It meant repacking everything, finding a new place to live (hopefully within the same parameters as before), finding movers, coordinating more address changes, and uprooting our son at an age where they insist a routine is key.
It was worth it.
But, in our constant attempt to assess and improve--we should have balanced the desire to be settled, after almost a year of uncertainty, with just a little more transition: temporary housing, extended hotel stay, airBnB. Time for both of us to walk the property and literally sleep on it. Time to explore the area and understand bus routes, walking opportunities, and the rental market (not as competitive as we were led to believe).
Our impatience resulted in sleepless nights, a constant rotation of flea treatment products and solutions, psychological heebie jeebies (what’s that? Is that lint or is it a flea?), moving twice in the space of two months, and multiple month recovery from exhaustion and illness once we completed relocating.
Oh, and we should have read the damn reviews.