Never pick out your apartment online. Rather, if you do, make sure you have several backups.
I found a place in Phoenix online that sounded perfect. It looked to be in a decent location with decent perks. It had free cable, internet, included utilities, furnished, gated… all the things we needed for a semi-short term stay. Only thing was, it was run like a hotel and it was first come, first serve. I called several times while on the road to make sure we weren’t going to have problems renting one of the apartments. I was told there shouldn’t be a problem and if there were no apartments left, the company owned several properties that also had availabilities. So we continued on our westward journey fairly confident the housing situation wouldn’t be a problem.
We arrive into Phoenix on a Monday. We pull up to the complex and still feel somewhat ok with the appearance. The neighborhood was a little shady but we felt we could cope. Unfortunately, there was a sign on the office door saying the office was closed for a few hours so Vess and I hung out in the parking lot waiting for the manager to arrive. Another car arrived 45 minutes later and they waited beside us. Someone pulled into the parking lot an hour later and the people parked beside us rushed to the office door.
“That must be the manager.” I informed Vess.
Vess and I got out of the car and went into the office. Finally, after days on the road, we would be sleeping in our own place tonight. As fate would have it, the woman who jumped in front of us was looking at their last available apartment. I was told that if she didn’t want it, we could have it. Well, of course she wanted it. The manager called one of the other properties.
“They have a small studio at the other property.” the manager stated.
“That’s on the other side of town and really far from my wife’s school. We would really like to stay here if at all possible.” I pointlessly reasoned.
“You can check back tomorrow. Maybe something will open up.” the manager said with indifference.
Damn. Another night in a hotel… but I had a plan: We would check back the next day. If nothing was available yet, we would stay at the other property until something at our first choice was available. It HAD to work! It was genius in its simplicity!
After staying another night in a too-pricey hotel in the city, we packed up our travel bags for hopefully what would be the last time. Luckily, a friendly receptionist was sympathetic to our plight and printed out a list of furnished apartments in the area if we were still apartmentless at the end of the day.
I called. Still nothing available.
That’s ok. Time for plan B. We go to the second property and stay there for a week. We pull into our second choice and it’s even shadier than the first. We walk into the office and are in luck! They have a small studio available, but it won’t be ready for 3 hours because it needs to be cleaned. We are granted permission to look at it and take the key after leaving our driver’s licenses. We walk to the end of a small courtyard and stick the key in the door.
“Get ready to say hello to our new home!” I tell Vess, trying to put a happy spin on things. I open the door.
The stench was the first thing to hit our noses. It smelled of garbage and a breakfast of recently cooked eggs. The whole place couldn’t have been any larger than 200 square feet. The carpet, walls and bed were stained. The furniture (a TV stand) was rickety and close to collapse. The “kitchen nook” was missing sections of counter and had no lights. A hot plate stood in for an oven. You could practically hear the bedbugs closing in around you. It was obvious that this room had been used for prostitutes and drug deals more than once.
“This place is a dump.” Vess said, stating the obvious.
“What are we going to do? We don’t have a place to stay. We can handle it and it will just be for a week hopefully.” I replied, trying to convince myself as much as I was trying to convince her.
Now, I don’t know why I did what I did next. Maybe it was the desperation of the situation or maybe it was the fact I had been on the road for 4 days and had run out of clean clothes.
“We’ll take it.”
Vess couldn’t even look up at this point. The manager charged my debit card and we started filling out the pages of paperwork – alarming paperwork. Words like “rats”, “roaches”, and “convicted felons” kept coming up repeatedly. I laughed at the fact that the agreement said “No pets allowed.” After stopping short of providing fingerprints, we were given our receipt.
“And we get free high-speed internet?” I remembered reading it on the website.
“There’s wi-fi, but the signal sucks.”
A major setback considering my computer lacks a wireless card.
“What about our phone?”
“There’s a pay phone outside your room.”
“I read on your website that you had free long distance.” I was getting desperate now.
The manager look befuddled, “We have a Skype phone here in the office. We haven’t had phones in the rooms for years.”
Vess started to well up in disappointment.
“We can’t do this. Is there any way you can cancel the transaction on my card?” I practically begged.
“Maybe, but it will take a while.”
Vess and I went to the parking lot while he attempted to cancel the transaction. Suddenly I remembered the list that the receptionist printed out for us. I started calling every number on the two pages. Everything was either way out of our price range, for rent more than 4 months, or not open until 3 weeks later. As I crossed number after number off of the page, I started noticing I was running out of cell phone minutes… and I was running out of places to call. It was getting serious. Vess was full on crying now, and I had no idea what to do.
After about an hour, the transaction was finally cancelled. I apologized to the manager for the inconvenience and told Vess of our new plan. It was hastily cobbled together, but it was all I could think of at the time. We would ride down the street and stop at every complex we could find until we found a place. I assured Vess and myself that everything would be ok and that we were being looked out for. She followed me down the road (we returned the tow dolly the day before) in search of a home.
We came across the first complex soon after. “2 Bedroom Apartments, All Utilities Paid” was printed across the sign. It was in a nicer neighborhood, so we walked in with low expectations and begin talking to the manager. They had 2 apartments available. We decided to check them out. The manager brought us to our potential apartment and opened the door. It was like a breath of fresh air. There was a gas stove, refrigerator, garbage disposal, bathroom bigger than the one we had at our old house, 2 bedrooms, a huge storage shelf unit, and 3 closets. They even allowed pets which, due to us leaving our beloved Mako behind, wasn’t a factor now. There were problems, though: It was a little more expensive and there was no furniture, TV, or bed. There was no internet or phone, but you could have it activated separately. Vess and I discussed the logistics, but I think we had already made up our mind.
“Do you want to see the other one available?” the manager inquired.
“No.” For the second time that day, I said, “We’ll take it.”
One small obstacle stood between us and apartmenthood. We had to pass a credit check at $25 a piece before we could be handed the keys. My credit is great: I took care of the house payments and always tried to pay our utilities, insurance and hospital bills on time. Vess, due to very seasonal employment, hasn’t been so lucky. We sweated for a good 45 minutes waiting for our credit reports to come in to the complex office. Finally, the printer sprang to life. The manager began to shake her head in seeming disappointment. I glanced at Vess. She looked like she was already lamenting the wasted $50 we had just spent.
“Well, your credit reports check out fine! You can move in!”
I did a mini victory fist-pump and looked at Vess. She looked like she was welling up again, this time in gratitude. We had found our home. Everything was going to be ok.