The Apartment Triangle – Picking your best 2 out of 3

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Lacy H.
May 26, 2020

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 good 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

This is Smart City’s version of the iron triangle when it comes to apartment hunting and leasing. Location, price, finishes – when searching for an apartment it can be any two but rarely all three, and one can’t change without affecting another. When searching for an apartment, you’ll need to pick the top two most important aspects of apartment living 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 prioritize 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

This might be the most common triangle combo we see. This is also the most common combo that sparks the most discussion around expectations and causes shifts in perspective. For example, if you’ve picked “location and price,” and you’ve got your ideal neighborhood picked out and your budgeted base rent amount established, the two have to align in order for this combo to work. You’ll want to look at it more so as “price FOR location.”

Every city has its “hottest” neighborhoods. They’re the neighborhoods that offer a highly-desirable vibe, culture, centralization, level of comfort, whatever it may be, to residents who live within it. As cities grow and develop, the demand and cost to live in certain neighborhoods shifts and changes along with them. If you’re looking for a one-bedroom apartment and your ideal location is downtown because it’s central to all the places you commute, but your budgeted base rent ranges from $1,150 to $1,250 with little wiggle room, the 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 and price is truly the best combo for your unique apartment search and needs is two-fold. After establishing a budget inclusive of 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 incurred expenses of things like commuting costs and monthly property or 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 and roommate options 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” translates more accurately in regards to apartment finishes. We can dig it. Seamless design no-doubt catches the eye and properties have stepped up their game in that regard, 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. So, again, think about it in the way of price-for-finishes. If you desire added finishes such as backlit vanity mirrors, Bluetooth showerhead, or farmhouse sink; or look for things like no carpet, the price for those units will definitely increase.

Before you decide price and finishes is the winning apartment triangle combo and core base for helping you decide where to lease, consider a few things. Things like if you’ll have 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 first compare properties in a location that brings you right under budget, then call those properties to get more details about finishes in regards to pricing for certain units that may seem like a fit. From there, you’ll know just which neighborhoods or suburbs will allow you to lease units with finishes that fit right in with your desired monthly spending.

Smart City apartment triangle

Combo 3: Finishes + Location

Price as less of a deciding variable? This is probably the rarest combo we see used as a base for decision making and setting expectations, but we do see it leveraged! Finishes and location is probably the combo we see most that lead to finding, what we call, a “unicorn deal,” but, we’ll get to that. So, say the price of rent is of the essence…

We’re searching for a unit in a specific neighborhood that holds a certain caliber of finishes. Maybe you’re dead set on living in a city suburb. The level of finishes will vary from that of properties located within bustling city limits. For this specific, and very niche combo, figuring out if it’s the right fit to base a search and lease on consists of working through a list of wants, needs, and deal-breakers. The easiest way to get a bird’s eye view is to set it up with “wants, needs, and deal-breakers” as 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 where the level of finishes might outweigh the location, or vice-versa!

More often than not, we notice that location takes precedence over finishes. Even so, it’s important to be methodical as to where it’s appropriate and comfortable to draw that line so you’re signing a lease for a unit that checks all the boxes. This is where we segue into ‘unicorn deals’ because usually if the finishes and location combo is right on point, but the price is actually what moves the decision needle, you’ve probably found a mythical unit!

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. Like we mentioned before, if you’re conducting a search and touring based off 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 around using an apartment locator in your city. Click here – we’d be happy to guide you through your moving journey.


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