Blueprinting Your Life

The questions you will face may not just be where to live but perhaps whom to live with.

Written by: Katherine Starrett, Martha’s daughter, who now lives in London, England

So, you just graduated from college and are starting your first job. Congratulations! If you are accepting a job in a big city where you have not lived before, here are some things to take into account.

First is housing. Given that you’re just starting out, you’ll probably be renting. The questions you will face may not just be where to live but perhaps whom to live with. Unless you’ve just landed a six-figure job (unlikely), or you’re willing to live on the very outskirts of the city, you may need to have roommates, at least for the first few years. Decent studio and one-bedroom apartments tend to be expensive even if you’re not living in the central part of the city. Most single young professionals end up sharing apartments or houses with multiple bedrooms. On the other hand, if you’re part of a couple that wants to live together, you can combine your rent money to obtain a more private, but still affordable, studio or one-bedroom.

When considering locations, think about your proximity to work. If you’re going to be living in a city that has decent public transportation, look for places within walking distance of transport stops (bus stops or train stations) so that you can easily get into work. If you’re planning on working in a city without particularly good public transport and you have (or are planning to get) a car, try to look at places to live that are within a reasonable driving distance of your job. And make sure you look at the traffic times at rush hour, which will be significantly longer than in the middle of the day. This is especially important in northern cities where snow and ice become an every-day issue in the winter.

Speaking of transportation. . . think about whether or not you actually need a car. If you didn’t grow up in a big northern city like New York or Chicago, which both have relatively good public transport systems, then you’re probably used to everybody having a car as their primary mode of transportation. If you’re moving from, say, Denver to New York, keeping your car may be more of a hindrance than a help.

A lot of the places you go regularly like the grocery store, pharmacy and gym will probably be close to you: either a short walk or train ride away, so having a car to get around is not essential. Parking prices in big cities are astronomical, and not all housing is guaranteed to come with parking. You also might find that your auto insurance will increase when you move to a big city because your car is exposed to more hazards. In addition, traffic tends to be horrendous, especially during rush hour, which is why so many people take public transport. If a car does not significantly reduce the time and money that you need to get to the places that you regularly go, it’s not necessary. You can just plan ahead a little and rent one for special needs.

That being said, if you live in a place where public transportation is so poor that it takes you five busses and two hours to get into work, a car may be a good investment. And bear with me for a second as I stand on my tree-hugger soapbox: just because gas is cheap now, doesn’t mean it will always be. If you are moving to a snowy climate, you may want a four-wheel drive vehicle, but not all four-wheel drive vehicles are gas-guzzling SUVs. Unless you need to carry around a lot of stuff regularly, for the love of all that is holy, please buy something with good gas mileage.

When choosing a place to live, also factor in the time it might take you to get to the grocery store, pharmacy, laundromat (if your accommodation doesn’t have laundry facilities) and a few reasonably priced restaurants, as this will make your life much easier and more pleasant.

If planning to move into a shared apartment that already has a few tenants that you don’t know, try to meet all of your potential roommates before you move in. It won’t be a good place to live if one of your roommates is a problem. Also, nothing—not online research or friends’ recommendations—can replace actually visiting the area, so walk around a bit to see what’s there and how long it would take you to get to the places you need to go.

As a general safety tip, try to bring along a friend when responding to roommate ads online or in the newspaper as this will minimize your chance of becoming the victim of an ax murderer. If you can’t get someone to come along with you, at least tell a few people exactly where you’re going.

Once you’ve made the decision, make sure you get a proper lease.  This will stipulate:

  1. the term for which you’ve rented the apartment (generally a year),
  2. the rent you’re expected to pay (and what’s included such as utilities and wifi),
  3. the rules governing your tenancy,
  4. and the obligations of your landlord.

Another good thing to ask the landlord is what, on average, utilities and wifi might cost you per month (assuming this isn’t included in your rent) so that you can work it into your budget.

Even if you’re living in a “secure” building in a “safe” neighborhood, you may also want to consider getting renter’s insurance. This covers the contents of your apartment if they are stolen and can also cover certain damage (from say leaks or fires) to your contents as well as hotel stays if you have to leave your apartment for covered reasons.

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