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The Apartment Triangle: Picking Your Best 2 out of 3

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Lacy H.
Nov 10, 2022

Ever heard of the iron triangle? Alrightttt, keep it PG. It was this project management model introduced in the late 60s basically explaining that projects can be measured by three key points, or constraints. Each point of the triangle is considered an “iron” constraint because you couldn’t change one constraint without affecting another, and the rule goes that within any three key points of a project, your project can be any two but never all three. Good, cheap, fast, for example – a project can be done well and cheap, but it may not be done fast; it can be done cheap and fast, but it won’t be good, and so on. This same theory can be applied to apartment hunting, too!

Meet the Apartment Triangle

In our apartment-ified version of the iron triangle, the three factors are location, price, and finishes. When searching for an apartment, you can pick two of these but rarely all three, and one can’t change without affecting another. Apartment hunting is all about setting priorities — you’ll need to narrow down the two most important aspects of your new place in order to truly generate a focused search. Otherwise, you’ll cast a net that’s too wide and end up with a ton of options and vague decision-making processes. We’ve found this really helps our clients get to the bottom of what’s most important when it comes to where they live and helps set their expectations of what’s truly available in the current market at the get-go!

Smart City apartment triangle

Don’t get us wrong, the apartment hunt is unique to each individual renter, but knowing where you want to end up definitely helps define where to start and which properties will make the list to tour. You might think you know your perfect apartment triangle combo right off the bat, but once everything is all laid out, variables start to shift and combos often change! Remember, it’s not only about picking which two variables you prefer; finding an apartment that’s the best fit means those two key points work alongside one another.

Combo 1 | Location + Price

If you have a firm budget and an ideal neighborhood picked out but don’t necessarily need anything fancy when it comes to finishes, this combo is for you.

For this combo, you’ll want to think about it in terms of “price FOR location.” Every city has its “hottest” neighborhoods. They’re the areas that offer a highly-desirable vibe, centralization, and level of comfort to residents who live within them. As cities grow and develop, the demand and cost to live in certain neighborhoods shifts and change along with them. If you’re looking for a one-bedroom apartment and your ideal location is downtown, but your budgeted base rent ranges from $1,150 to $1,250 with little wiggle room, the price + location combo probably won’t work. It’s not because your budget for base rent isn’t a good one or that living downtown isn’t an option, it’s because that specific price for location isn’t very realistic. Could it work? In some cities, absolutely. Would it take a witch and cauldron or wizard and magic wand to find? More than likely.

The best way to assess if location + price is truly the best combo for your unique apartment needs is two-fold. After establishing a budget that includes your essential monthly costs like base rent and bills (price), take a look at apartment pricing in the neighborhoods you prefer (location). Based on your market research, do the two align? Would the expenses of things like commuting costs or monthly pet fees affect the style of living you’d be comfortable with? Is there budget flexibility to realistically accommodate current market pricing? Once you’ve weighed whether the combo is a true fit to drive the focus of your search, it’ll be much easier to find possible adjustments or move on to a totally different triangle combination as a whole. If they don’t quite align at first, hopefully, a simple tweak in location or price will bridge that gap!

Combo 2 | Price + Finishes

So, let’s say location isn’t of utmost importance, and “getting the most bang for your buck” means having the best of the best apartment finishes. We can dig it. Seamless design no doubt catches the eye, so let’s section it out a bit and take a good look at the various categories of “finishes.”

Finishes typically correlate to flooring, kitchen, bath, and upgrades like a full-size washer and dryer, closet organization, Bluetooth technology, stainless steel appliances, keyless entry, and so on. Standard finishes will most likely include granite or quartz countertops, wood plank flooring in the kitchen and bathroom, dark and light cabinetry color scheme options, and name-brand appliances. If high-quality finishes like backlit vanity mirrors, Bluetooth showerheads, or zero carpet flooring are on your must-have list, the price for those units will definitely increase.

Before you decide price + finishes is the winning apartment triangle combo and core base for helping you decide where to lease, consider a few things. For example, if you’re renting with a roommate, what apartment price and finishes will be not only important to you both, but what will also be necessary to make living together successful? What specific finishes are worth budging on the price if any at all? What’s a comfortable price range that reflects both a base level of finishes (lower end of budget) and desired upgrades (higher end of budget)?

A great way to match a budget range with what’s actually attainable in the current market is to compare properties in a location that brings you right under budget, then call those properties to get more details about the finishes. From there, you’ll know just which areas have units with finishes that fit right in with your desired monthly spending.

Smart City apartment triangle

Combo 3 | Finishes + Location

If price is no problem for you and the perfect location and features are key, this is the combo for you. More often than not, we notice that location takes precedence over finishes.

The easiest way to get a bird’s eye view of what you’re truly looking for is to set it up a “wants, needs, and deal-breakers” matrix — put these three factors in their own columns, and have “finishes and location” as their own rows running perpendicular to the columns. This way, you’re covering all your bases in both areas and you’re clear about where the level of finishes might outweigh the location, or vice-versa!

Finding the ‘Unicorn Deal’

A unicorn deal is an apartment unit that completes the triangle. Price-for-location aligns with the price-for-finishes, proving an undeniable value when it comes to finishes and location. These units are hard to find, but on the rare occasion they rear their beautiful little heads, Smart City typically finds them! Since we’re doing city-wide apartment searches most hours of the day, it’s just a matter of time before we find a one-off unit that fits the unique needs of one of our clients based on price, location, AND finishes. If you’re searching and touring based on your perfect apartment triangle combination and the third factor becomes the tipping point for leasing, you might have just found yourself a unicorn deal.

We work tirelessly to find every one of our clients an apartment match that seems too good to be true, and while they might not all be “unicorns,” they’re all matched based on the two areas that are most important. Whether you use an apartment locator or do it on your own, every renter can leverage the Smart City apartment triangle! Use it to explore options you otherwise may never have considered, refine and narrow your search, and find the spot that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

If putting in the hours it takes to make an apartment hunt successful isn’t what you have in mind, get more details about using an apartment locator in your city. Click here – we’d be happy to guide you through your moving journey.


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