There was something liberating, but also terrifying, about telling my landlord that I wouldn’t be renewing my lease this spring. It meant there would be a slim six-week window during which my girlfriend and I had to scour the apartment ads, find an apartment, sign a lease, pack up our current place, and move.
It didn’t help that our current apartment is a palatial three-bedroom – fancy by post-college standards with a sun porch, living room, dining room and eat-in kitchen. Throughout the year we used the extra bedrooms as a guest room, an office, a television room, bedrooms for various roommates and towards the end, a room entirely devoted to two kittens we’d adopted.
We finally admitted to ourselves that as great as our apartment was, we just didn’t need the space (and could both stand to save some money on the rent). So, at the end of March, I told my landlord we wouldn’t be renewing and set out to find a fabulous one-bedroom.
The evening after I’d officially delivered the news, I set up an appointment to visit an apartment at Winona and Clark. The unit was galley-syle, with the bedroom and living room situated near the front and the dining room and kitchen at the back, separated by a long hallway. Something clicked when we saw it. The apartment was sunny and spacious, though I was tentative about its third-floor location and my girlfriend insisted we visit at least eight apartments before signing a lease.
“I want to have something to compare it to,” she said more than once. The search was made more difficult by the list of demands we created. Our dream apartment, we decided, would be located somewhere between Clark and Broadway, Winona and Balmoral. I wanted hardwood floors, a separate dining room, a dishwasher, and fewer than two flights to climb at the end of the day.
Anyone who’s looked for an apartment with such a long list of demands knows how quickly one is forced to compromise. Anyone who’s searched for these criteria in a neighborhood as small and saturated by single-families as Andersonville knows your odds drop from slim to none. I spent one weekend walking up and down the side streets of Andersonville, dutifully calling up numbers posted on “For Rent” signs, only to learn that one-bedroom apartments in Andersonville just aren’t that easy to come by.
One building that rents only studios and one-bedrooms at Glenwood and Berwyn had no openings in May or June; same story at another building on Balmoral with apartments that have one to three bedrooms. And so, my list of demands began to crumble. I found myself climbing three steep flights to look at an apartment that smelled of cat urine and had a landlord who kept disappearing to greet other prospective tenants, leaving me alone in the apartment with the tenant’s laptop and extensive DVD collection.
Another unit (no dishwasher, no hardwood floors, no laundry in the building) had floors that sloped so severly I feared that if I bumped into the fridge, it would fall and crush me. Another apartment seemed almost livable, aside from the pile of dog waste that no one had bothered to clean up before my visit, and yet another was small and tidy, but nearly a mile outside of my ideal location.
Tempted by the low rent, my girlfriend and I visited a large one-bedroom located three blocks south of Foster. The apartment was large and sunny, just half a block from T’s bar, and within walking distance of the Argyle Red Line stop. Yet there was something that kept me from getting excited – maybe the fact that the back porch of the apartment was loaded with three months worth of filled trash bags, or that all of the work that would need to be done on the apartment (retiling the kitchen floor, painting the bathroom, adding the dishwasher) would be done after I’d moved in, meaning I couldn’t be sure the work would be done well, if at all.
In the end, we merrily signed the lease for the apartment on Winona, relieved that no one else had snatched it up in the two days we’d spent looking at other apartments. And though those days of limbo were gut-wrenching and exhausting, the search will only make me appreciate the apartment more because now I have a long list of smelly, cramped, crumbly apartments to compare it to. Climbing the three flights to sign the lease, I barely even noticed the stairs.