IF YOU'RE MOVING TO CARBONDALE . . . (some blunt, hopefully not too biased, advice about this rental market, etc.)
1) If at all possible, come here and look at the place you will be renting before you sign a lease. Some landlords have wonderful advertising skills - they can make that small dump sound like Buckingham Palace and at a bargain rate, too! - and it's really a place I wouldn't allow my dog to stay in, much less a human being! If you can't come yourself, try to send someone to look for you. Because many people are sympathetic to the problems of renting a place long distance, you may be able to find someone in the department you are coming into who will be willing to take a look for you once you've made a decision about which place you would like, or perhaps, you have a family member [parental units can sometimes be tapped for this job :) ] that can do the looking and report back to you.
If at all possible, schedule a trip for weekdays - we try to not pester our current tenants with showings on the weekend if possible. We will show on the weekends as needed ñ we just think itís less intrusive to our current tenants to show during weekday business hours. If it is not possible for you or someone you trust to look at the place you've decided to rent, try to get pictures and/or a floor plan of the place. (Real photos are more difficult to "fix" than digital ones.)
In the past, we have been able to put prospective tenants in touch with the tenants currently living in the unit they are considering renting. We won't give you the name and phone number of the tenant living there (we want to protect the privacy of our tenants) but we will call them, explain your situation, and ask them to give you a call collect. Most people, unless it is an extremely busy time (you know, like the week before finals!) will call you. Needless to say, we have really nice people living in our units.
The other thing you can do to check out a place is to call Code Enforcement @ the City of Carbondale (618-549-5302), give them an address and ask if there have been any particular problems with the place. If there have been violations, they can tell you about them. Unfortunately, most of the information they can provide you with is a little on the murky side - an electrical complaint may be something as minor as a cracked cover plate found during inspection or something as major as no grounding to the building. Their standards also apply primarily to health and safety issues, not to aesthetic concerns, and the general livability of a place. Their focus is habitability, not livability. For example, the heating plant may be extremely inefficient and expensive to operate, but as long as it poses no threat to health or safety, it will pass Codes requirements.
The City inspects all rental units in town on a three year cycle ñ approval is given when the most basic habitability standards are met ñ City approval is not an indicator of quality ñ just a certification of the basics at the time of inspection (ie no holes in the floor, roof not leaking, it has a heating system of some type, etc).
Websites are wonderful things ñ a great way to communicate with a lot of people ñ obviously, we believe this or you wouldnít be looking at this site. (Iím really proud of the fact that we had the first website and the first virtual tours for rental property in Carbondale!). Just an observation ñ when Iíve looked at some of the other local rental property websites Iíve been amazed at the actualization of the ìsowís ear into a silk purseî proverb ñ they still are sowís ears when you physically look at them or speak with the managers or owners, but if you looked only at the websites, you would be sure they were silk purses.
2) Rent as early as you can if you want a really nice place. The great places go first - as is common in most markets. Early means between
December and April. As those of you who are familiar with the Carbondale area rental market know, we often no longer have places available to rent for May/June or August occupancy by the end of Spring break. Some years weíre all ready fully leased or in process for certain types of unit such as the 2 bedroom suites or 1 bedroom lofts, and some years we are almost fully leased across the board.
The drawback to renting early is that if you change your mind, you are stuck with a lease that may not suit your needs. Which brings me to another point - we know that we will have a few people whose plans will change for various reasons and they will want to cancel their lease. If you happen to need the place they no longer need, you may luck into a place that suits your needs, even if you are looking later in the season, You'll be the person I always call the one the Fates favored- the one who was meant to live in a certain place and the Fates arranged it for them. Unfortunately, the Fates don't favor most of us!
3) COMPUTE TOTAL LIVING COST, DONíT JUST COMPARE MONTHLY RENTAL AMOUNTS! Most of the places we rent are new ones that we have built. The energy costs are much lower in them, than in the older places that have not been well maintained. When you add rent, utility costs and the cost of the laundromat, our places frequently cost less per month than cheaper rent older places. We have had several tenants over the years tell us that their monthly housing cost has gone down when they have moved into our places from a dump they had been in the year before. Another point - all new housing is not created equal - if the builder has cut corners to cut the cost of construction, the utility costs will be more. One of the easiest ways to see if corners have been cut is to look at the windows and the heating plant. If the windows are uninsulated glass and/or aluminum on the inside, not wood, then a major corner has been cut. Also see if the landlord has provided a heat pump, rather than just an electric furnace. Both increase the cost of construction, but lower the living costs.
To make it easier for our prospective tenants to compare energy costs, we get the figures from Ameren each year and do an average for each size of place in each complex. You can obtain similar figures from Ameren by calling 888-789-2477 and asking for the Equalizer amount for a particular address. This isn't quite as good of a guide - you have no way of knowing if this particular person is a power pig or a power miser (the range between units in a complex is frequently quite large, but when we average all the units, the costs get really close between the same floor plan in different locations - yes Virginia, that math teacher was right, it really does work!). Ameren can't give you an average for a complex, they can only give you an Equalizer amount for a particular address. Unfortunately, unless Egyptian Electric changes their policies, they will provide no data about usage. So all of the places served by Egyptian will not have an average figure available.
4) Some other factors to consider when comparing newer housing in Carbondale ñ do you want a lot of immediate neighbors? Some people who are transitioning from a dorm situation feel more comfortable with the large complexes that have several apartments stacked together. If you want more privacy, then look for a smaller building in a smaller complex (our specialty).
Noise considerations ñ do you want a more quiet environment? Ask if the builder has spent the extra money to build the units as condos ñ with the extra walls between the units ñ it really cuts the noise transmission. Loft style 1 bedrooms and townhouse style larger units will be more quiet than the apartments that are stacked on each other.
Parking considerations ñ Is there a parking spot for each tenant at no charge? Is it close to the unit or will you be walking a long way to your home with the groceries etc.? Parking for visitors? Required parking by Carbondale City codes only requires 1.5 spots per 2 bedrooms (simplified from the formula used). Several deveopers are building only to that standard ñ a standard we feel is too low. We plan 1 parking space per bedroom plus extra spaces.
5) Check out the landlord. We check you out when we check your references, and I think you should check out who will be collecting your rent. Check with people in your department, look in the old DE articles - there have been major uproars about landlord abuses - peeping Toms as well as other privacy violations such as going through drawers, taking pictures for ads without tenant permission, rundown property because owners wouldnít spend the necessary money on maintenance, etc. People who have lived in town for a while know whom to avoid; you, unfortunately, are going to have to find out whom to avoid without the benefit of being here and seeing what happens. And, no, I can't tell you who to avoid - it wouldn't be ethical for me to do so. I don't have the first hand experience; I only know the stories some of our tenants have told us and that, of course, is only one side. All I can tell you is that we don't fall into that disgusting group. Trust your inner voice, instinct, whatever you want to call it. If you get a funny feeling when speaking with the prospective landlord, don't sign a lease until you do some checking.
The other advantage to checking out the landlords is that you are more likely to find a place that best suits your needs - we want tenants who are responsible, quiet and don't party. If you like to party, you won't be happy in our places - your neighbors will be unfriendly, we'll be giving you grief or possibly even evicting you and probably not renewing a lease, which would force you into the hassle of moving, even if you didn't wish to move. Some other landlords don't seem to mind the parties and don't have a problem with it, so if you like to party, you would probably be most happy living in one of their units. Carbondale has a wide range of housing options - from people who rent only one or two places, to small landlords like us who have enough units to have a maintenance guy to the big owners and managers who rent hundreds of places a year. Given enough time and an early enough start, you can find your perfect home!
6) If a pet is an integral part of your life, be sure to mention this. The pet policies vary greatly here and if the landlord won't consider your pet and you can't live without your pet, don't waste your time looking at places where you won't be able to lease.
7) This is a wonderful place to live - the school system is great for families, the University provides various cultural and social activities, people smile back at you almost all the time (gotta watch out for those bad Karma days!) and rush hour lasts about 15 minutes. If you have a craving for the advantages of city life (yes, I do need the shopping, zoo, theatre and museums trips every now and then!) St. Louis is not too far away - far away enough so that the problems aren't here, but close enough to enjoy the benefits. If you enjoy nature, this place is great! The City of Carbondale website (www.ci.carbondale.il.us) can provide more information about Carbondale and the surrounding areas.
8) Carbondale has zoning regulations of which you need to be aware. Basically R1 zoning is for families or no more than 2 unrelated people, no matter how large the unit or how many bedrooms. R2 and R3 are the zones for more than 2 unrelated people in one unit. The zoning rules are pretty complex (pages and pages) involving grandfathered places, and lots of subcategories. Just be sure that you know that the place you want to rent can be rented to the number of people who want to rent it legally. Be very suspicious if the landlord doesnít want to sign a lease with everyone who will be living in the unit ñ you may be being set up so that if you are living in violation of the zoning codes, the landlord can claim no knowledge of people not on the lease. That person or persons will have to move out and the people who signed the lease will still be responsible for the full amount of the rent. The City of Carbondale can provide more information. (618-549-5302). Our 1 bedrooms are leased to 1 person or a couple, the 2 bedrooms are leased as R1 properties and our 3 and 4 bedrooms are leased with 1 person per bedroom. This meets the zoning requirements for our units.
9) Weíve had several inquiries about complexes that look like our complexes ñ sort of! The answer is pretty simple ñ we have sold some of the older complexes to others. And, as the old proverb goes, ìImitation is the sincerest form of flattery.î One of the contractors we employ has been building ìvariations on our themeî to suit one of his other clients needs. Itís easy to tell them apart ñ only a true ìAlphaî complex has the Alpha logo over the front door as part of the address of the unit and you will find the info about all of our places on this website. If itís not on this website, it probably is not an Alpha property.
10) We've had several questions about the weather here - there's a true local saying about if you don't like the weather, just wait a few days. It'll change. We do have 4 seasons, with hot humid days in the summer and occasional snow and/or ice in the winter. Rarely does it get over 100 or below 0 for more than a day or two.
Hope you enjoying living here as much as we do!
-Alpha, Chris and Andy
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