4 Things to Look for in Your First Madison Apartment

So you’re looking into renting in Madison. Congratulations! Wisconsin’s capital is a fine place to live, with two lakes, a major research university, and restaurants and bars galore. Plus, a recent construction boom in rental properties has provided potential renters with a wealth of options. Whether you’re a sophomore at UW or an Epic employee brand new to town, there’s a place for you. Here are four things to look for as you search for your first Madison apartment.

The Money, Of Course
Compared to the rest of Wisconsin, and the Midwest more generally, the Madison rental market is a bit pricey. The large student population, along with building height restrictions and geographical constraints (the is city situated on an isthmus between two lakes, after all) make rent in Madison a bit higher than you might expect. One bedrooms range from about $750 to $1,200, depending on your neighborhood and the level of luxury you require.

That’s why it’s important to set up a budget before you start thinking about signing a lease. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends that you spend no more than 30% of your income on rent to avoid being housing cost-burdened. So add up all of your monthly expenses, including your prospective rent, food, and your “play money,” and subtract it from your income. Is that a feasible amount? If not, recalibrate — choose a cheaper apartment, or commit yourself to a more Spartan lifestyle.

Distance from Campus
If you’re a current UW student, being close to campus is probably a major priority. Who wants to live all the way in Atwood when they have an 8am class?

But if you’re a young professional or have put quite a few years between yourself and fraternity keggers, proximity to campus might not be the best choice for you. Don’t live on Langdon if you’re looking for peace and quiet, and don’t move to Maple Bluff if you want to walk to organic chemistry. If a property advertises itself as “close to campus,” read that as code for “student-dominated,” and act accordingly.

The Tenant Experience
Most properties on Rentable have specs and photos online, and property reviews on Rentable are a great way to see how other tenants feel about a property and its management company. But nothing beats getting a firsthand experience of going there yourself. Even if you think you’ve already found the apartment that’s perfect for you, it’s a good idea to go on multiple walk-throughs of other properties, so you have some context for what a specific rent price is worth in the city.

Don’t jog through a tour. Linger: Check out the view from the windows, and keep an ear out for road noise. Peek under sinks and inside cabinets for water damage or evidence of pests. Try all the faucets and bathroom fixtures. How are the carpets? How’s the paint job? Even if you end up not wanting the apartment, it’s good to know how well (or poorly) a management company keeps up its properties.

The Management Experience
Often, you’ll get the chance to meet the property manager during the tour. That’s a good thing — they’re the person you’ll be dealing with should you have any issues during the term of your lease. So chat them up about maintenance, protocol, and details you might not be able to discern from the apartment tour. Try these sample questions:

  • What’s the parking situation like, and does it change at certain times of the day/week/year?
  • Are the apartments laid out so that living rooms abut living rooms, or is your neighbor’s TV going to be pumping sound into your bedroom?
  • Is there an enforced “quiet time” in the building?

If the manager can’t answer these questions, or if the answers don’t jibe with your lifestyle, keep searching. There are plenty of options in Madison, and our job at Rentable is to help you find the place that’s perfect for you.