Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Apartment Hunting Part 4

Ok so part 4 is a little complicated. I spent Saturday morning and afternoon viewing apartments. I think I viewed 6 or 7 different apartment complexes. I think the only ones really worth pro-ing and con-ing about are the ones that I'd actually consider moving into. Since I already have an ideal candidate from part 3, everything I viewed on Saturday, I compared to the ARK. Out of all the ones I viewed, there were really only two that I could see myself actually going with.

The first was Village Square by Korman. I wasn't suprised that I actually liked it considering it was under the same umbrella company as the ARK. I viewed their 1 with a den and their 2 bedroom and definitely liked the 2 bedroom better. They had an attic similar to the ARK on the second floor but had it bolted so there wasn't much closet or storage space but the two bedroom had a walk in closet in the master bedroom which was awesome and the first floor had the extra pantry space.

Two bedroom had a walk in closet in master bedroom
Pantry space on 1st floor
Fitness center
Dog park
Full size washer and dryer
Central AC
Some utilities included

Semi-private entrance instead of private
$40/month for pet but less expensive initial pet deposit
1 bedroom with den doesn't have much closet space so would want 2 bedroom
Would have to have first floor since second floor doesn't include attic space - not really a con as long as they have one available

So I really liked this place and it has a lot of similarities to the ARK. I think the next logical step would be to compare and contrast the two. Basically we are looking at a 1 bedroom with a den vs. a 2 bedroom. They both have washer and dryer, are both located in Bensalem and are both equipped with a nice fitness center and pool. They also both include some utilities and have central ac. The price difference would be about $100 a month including the pet fee for Village Square. Advantages to Village Square would be the extra bedroom, the pantry space, the dog park and the walk in closet in the master bedroom. The advantages to ARK would be the free week day breakfast, cable included, slightly more affordable and the attic. I look forward to viewing them both again on the same day to compare and contrast some more.

The other apartment complex I would consider was called Shaminy Brook. It doesn't really have any of the extra ammenities that the Korman Community properties have such as fitness center, pool or dog park but it is more affordable than they are. The 1 and 2 bedroom are both in my price range and they include a huge eat-in kitchen which is the big thing I loved about it. The kitchen looked more like one you'd find in a house than in an apartment. I really didn't get to view any of the apartments other than the one the office was in but I'd like to go back and view a 2 bedroom or at least an empty 1 bedroom to get a better idea since the one I viewed was set up like an office and not an apartment. I am not even going to do pros and cons on this one until I see it again because it was a quick visit and I didn't really get all the details I'd need.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Bewitching Anniversary Dinner

in photo: anniversary roses from my baby :-)

So I honestly can't remember exactly when and where I found this place but a long time ago I decided that The Witch American Bistro in Philly was where I wanted to go for my 3 year anniversary dinner. Some might think the name sounds a little strange but I assure you the only witch craft involved in the night was magically delicious food. The thing that appealed to me most about this place was their Chef's Tasting Menu on Tuesdays. It consists of 4 courses for $20 which is an amazing deal. I knew my anniversary fell on a Tuesday this year so it seemed perfect. They release a new tasting menu every Tuesday so I wasn't sure what our options would be until the day of but the ones from the week before looked tasty so I had high hopes. For each of the four courses there are about 3 options to choose from, usually 4 options for the main course.

Gary and I actually both looked at the menu during the day and had our options picked out before we even arrived at the bistro. Their website didn't have any mention of wine so we were intersted to see what wine options were available. The wine was actually the only disappointment of the night. They had a wine list by the bottle but since we know the wine business pretty well, we couldn't imagine paying 20 something dollars for a bottle that retailed under $10. Gary ended up choosing a Golden Monkey beer for $5 which was a pretty good deal and I went with a dirty martini that had the name "witch" in it. I thought it was festive since it was a title drink for the place. The martini was only $6.50 which is an excellent price, especially for Philly and it was made with Absolut which is a decent vodka.

Below is the menu we had to choose from for the night with reviews on our choices:

Chef's Tasting Menu for Tuesday 1/18/11

4 courses for $20

First Course (choose one)
*Classic Caesar
*Field greens with almonds, gorgonzola and a winterberry vinaigrette
*Loaded baked potato soup

For the first course, Gary and I both ended up choosing the loaded baked potato soup. It was excellent, creamy and delicious. Since we both ordered the same thing, we didn't bother trying eachothers and considered round 1 a tie!

Second Course (choose one)
*Mussels in a coconut broth with toasted almonds
*Sausage and goat cheese stuffed mushrooms
*Artichoke and roasted red pepper bruschetta

For the second course, I ordered the artichoke and roasted red pepper bruschetta and Gary ordered the sausage and goat cheese stuffed mushrooms. My bruschetta was tasty, the bread was crisp and toasted and the atrichokes were plump and delicious. It probably would have even been tastier if Gary's sausage and goat cheese stuffed mushrooms weren't to die for! He was sweet and let me try them and then gave me a second taste after I begged for more! He only got two mushrooms so it was very nice of him to share. Gary definitely won round 2!

Entree (choose one)
*Grilled chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans. and roasted shallot cream sauce
*Grilled pork loin with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and a bourbon barbeque sauce
*Vegetable lasagna
*Pan seared salmon with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and a orange-grilled scallion salad

For the main course, Gary chose the grilled pork loin and I went with the pan seared salmon. Gary's pork was moist and succulent and the bourbon barbeque sauce was excellent. On the other end, my salmon was perfectly pink, flaky and delicious! Our sides were the same except I also had the orange-grilled scallion salad on top. Both entrees came stacked on the plate, with the green beans on bottom, with the mashed potatoes on top of them and the meat on top of that. People who like to keep their food separate would not have been a fan but that's exactly how I like to eat my meals, a little bit of everything in every bite! Gary thinks he won round 3 but I think we tied. My salmon was excellent, but I feel like salmon is often excellent, I think it's hard to do salmon wrong. I'll give Gary's pork props that it was definitely some of the best pork I've had in my entire life, but since they were both great, I'm going to stick with it being a tie for round 3. So with the ties, it's 3-2, Gary's edge.

Desserts (choose one)
*Cheesecake with a mint syrup
*Choice of ice cream or gelato
*Banana bread pudding

Mmmm dessert. Cheesecake is always a favorite of mine but it has to be done right. Everyone knows that pizza is pizza, good pizza is great but bad pizza is still pretty good. That is not the case with cheesecake. Good cheesecake is fantastic but bad cheesecake can be terrible. Usually the bad cheesecake comes from diners or cafeterias though so I had high hopes for a bistro in the city. I went with my gut and ordered the cheesecake with a mint syrup even though I wasn't quite sure about the mint syrup part. Gary chose the banana bread pudding which didn't interest me but he's a big fan. My cheesecake did not dissappoint. It was rich and creamy and the mint syrup was just a hint of mint like when you put mint sprigs in a mojito. My only issue with my dessert was that it was so good and I was so full that I had trouble finishing it. Gary liked his banana bread pudding as well. I tried it but was not a fan. That isn't saying anything bad about his choice, I'm just not a fan of bread puddings. It could have been excellent but it just wasn't my taste. He did admit that my cheesecake was better though so ding ding, round 4 goes to me!

So ultimately our dining experience at The Witch was wonderful. It was delicious, affordable and fun to try all the different courses. Gary and I ended up tying with our choices, a final score of 2-2. The portions may seem tiny to some but they are perfect for four courses. We were full about halfway through dessert so we were more than satisfied. The courses were also well spaced apart, usually you got the next course right after finishing the one before. The only course that took slightly longer was the main entree but it was nice to have some time to let the first two courses settle in your stomach before the main event. They were also very good about keeping your water re-filled so our other drinks lasted us the whole meal. We definitely agree that this is a place we'd love to try again on a Tuesday to see what else the chef whips up. They also have a BYOB Wednesdays and a brunch with make your own bloody marys on Saturday and Sunday. No matter which night or day we choose, I look forward to visiting again sometime soon!

The Pros and Cons of Apartment Hunting Part 3

So did you ever read a description of something and think, that is too good to be true? Well that's how I felt about the third apartment complex I had on tap to visit. So initial positives were that it includes everything except electric, that's even including cable, fitness center, pool, central ac, free breakfast? All of that in my price range? Are you starting to wonder what hidden fees lie beneath this one, because I sure was! I figured I just needed to visit and see it for myself and go from there.

All utilities included except electric (including cable)
1 bedroom with den available
5% off rent because of where I work
Central AC
Linen closet
Large Attic space if second floor apartment or large kitchen pantry space if 1st floor
Fitness center and pool - no extra charge
Free weekday breakfast available with starbucks coffee and tazo tea
No extra monthly rent for dogs
No application fee

Not a great deal of closet space but with the attic space on the second floor, it doesn't matter much
Cable included is Comcast, not sure details on what's included with that
Bensalem isn't my ideal location but could get used to it
Semi-private entrance, similar to what i have now
High pet deposit, but no extra monthly fee

So ultimately this place seems like a great option. The pros definitely outweigh the cons. I would love the extra kitchen pantry space on a 1st floor apartment but without much other closet space, I think I would really need the attic space on a second floor. She said the attic space pretty much stretches across the whole apartment so that is a lot of space! Also the fitness center, pool, huge jacuzzi and free breakfast on weekdays are huge perks to living in the complex. There is no extra charges or hidden fees associated which is really nice. Other than that, I really just would need to find out the details of what's included with the comcast cable and go from there. I'm also currently with Fios and would need to find out if there were any penalties for leaving and if so, how severe. I really like having Fios but having cable included in the rent is huge. Everything else is pretty perfect. It is defiintely the best option out of the three places I've checked out so far but I am checking out more this weekend so who knows. I look forward to seeing what else is out there and comparing some more.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Apartment Hunting Part 2

So my second apartment complex I checked out was Middletown Trace Apartments. A couple of initial positives about this complex was that it included some utilities and didn't cost extra monthly for a pet. It still had the non-refundable pet deposit, but any complex is going to have that. So looking at their layouts and price ranges, I was interested in their one bedroom with a den which they have named a 2 bedroom junior. The price was slightly over what I was looking for but not by much so it was definitely do-able with utilities being included. I showed up and she basically handed over a key and pointed me in the right direction of where the model apartment was. It was interesting because normally they take you over there but it was nice to take my time and look around without feeling like I was holding her up. So here are the pros and cons:

Utilities included (except electric and cable/internet)
Very spacious
Linen closet
Full size washer/dryer
Walk in closet in the bedroom
Spacious kitchen
FIOS available
First floor has extra storage space
Decent location
Like the extra space with the den
No monthly rent for pet
Low security deposit with renter experience
Private entrance

Slightly over price range but only by $20
After really liking the den, found out there was a waiting list for 1 bedroom with den
High pet deposit but ends up being a better deal due to no monthly rent
Kitchen appliances are not updated
Ugly cabinets in kitchen and bathroom

Ok so I definitely think the pros outweigh the cons on this one. The biggest problem is that I'd really like the one bedroom with a den but found out after viewing the model that there is a wait list for that. In order to get on the waitlist you'd have to fill out all the paperwork and application fees, etc. I wasn't ready to make that kind of comittment plus you still wouldn't be guaranteed one. The other cons are pretty minor; the higher price would be cancelled out with the one bedroom and the high pet deposit is cancelled out by not having an extra monthly fee. Then of course the ugly cabinets are not a make or break deal. I definitely liked this place enough to consider their 1 bedroom even without the den. It would be more affordable and the apartment still seemed pretty spacious. I will definitely keep them on my list of maybes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Apartment Hunting

Lately I have been considering moving. When I first moved here, I came from Virginia and had two weeks to move after finding out I had gotten the job I was interviewing for. This didn't really give me much time to choose a place and I think all together I only looked at 3 or 4 places. Also, since I work in Jersey but wanted to live in PA, I really didn't know the area that well or even know where to look. I was given a couple options from someone from work and I ended up just picking my favorite out of the three places I looked at. Along with a first month free deal, my decision was set. Now I am currently in my second lease with this place and the main reason I even stayed a second year was because I didn't have time to seriously look elsewhere. That mixed with the thought of how much trouble moving would be, I just decided it was easier to sign a new lease. Of course the lease ended up going up $25 in the second year so who knows, it will probably go up again. This year I am definitely motivated to see what else is out there. Since my lease isn't up until April, I have a couple months to explore my options and see if something is a better fit.

Currently I live at Hidden Forest Apartments and it is a nice place. I like the layout of the apartment and it has most of the ammenities that one would need. It is a one bedroom with decent closet space but I still feel like it is crowded. Following in the footsteps of the great Rory Gilmore, I hope that some pros and cons lists will ultimately help me make my decision. I'll start with where I live now.

Good Location
Already live there so wouldn't have to worry about security deposit/pet deposit
Wouldn't have to worry about the trouble and costs of moving

Unbearably hot in the summer due to being on the second floor and only 2 window AC units
No utilities are included in the rent
No fitness center
Small pool/the hot tub has been broken since I lived there
Difficult neighbor
Sharing an entrance with difficult neighbor
Small washer/dryer (not full sized)
Feels crowded

So aside from the list of cons, I am also just ready for a change. Sometimes you just reach that point. I guess 2 years is the maximum I've lived somewhere other than the home I grew up in so maybe that's just me. In college I lived in a dorm for a year, then a 3 bedroom apartment for a year, then a 4 bedroom apartment for 2 years.

Recently I've been doing online research for housing options around the area. I definitely want to stay within 30 minutes of my work, but aside from that, I'm open to exploring new areas. As much information as there is out there online, I still think you really can't get a feel for a place without visiting it and seeing it in person. Last night I visited my first new option: Village of Pennbrook. The thing I liked most about this place was their multiple floor plan options and it seemed like many of the options were potentially in my price range. Each model did have a range of prices which I guess depends on what ammenities are included which makes sense. Basically it had potential, so I needed to visit and check it out. I made an appointment and when I arrived the woman I met with was very friendly. First she took me through their very nice fitness center and showed me the pool area even though it's obviously covered in snow right now. Then she showed me a one bedroom with a den model and a two bedroom model. Both were great. They were very spacious, had nice kitchens, decent closet space, etc. After viewing the apartments, we went and sat down to discuss numbers. I was shocked by a few "hidden fees" that she mentioned. I will include those in my pro/con list.

Nice location
Fitness center
Very spacious apartments
Washer/Dryer option
Either den or extra bedroom for more space
Linen closet
Spacious Kitchen
Private Entrance
Personal Mailbox
Central AC
No utilities included
About $100 more a month for washer/dryer
$5/month per car for parking
$250 recreation fee for first year, $50 after that
High pet deposit/high monthly pet fee

Ok so when looking at this pro con list, it seems that the pros might outweigh the cons, except for the fact that the cons are BIG cons. Let me explain further. The price all together including the pet fee is within my price range, but the price range I'm looking at would include at least some utilities. Since no utilities being included is a big con at my current place, I don't see why I would want to find another place with the same issue. I mean the apartments seemed great, but ultimately probably a little out of my price range when all is said and done. But aside from all of that, even if I could handle the price, the "hidden fees" I mentioned above are a little ridiculous. While unfortunate, a washer and dryer being so much more a month makes sense. The other fees though are unacceptable just based on principal alone not to mention cost. To have to pay for parking is absurd for an apartment complex that has plenty of parking. I could understand in the city to pay for garage parking or something but while a minimum fee, it's unacceptable to have to pay extra for parking in a complex in the suburbs. Along those same lines but not so minimal, the $250 recreational fee for use of the fitness center in pool is also unacceptable. Those things should be included in the rent, no ifs, ands or buts about it! So ultimately I don't think I'd even consider this place just based on principal alone. Who knows maybe all the places will be like this and I will end up going back here but either way, it was great for a first stop on my housing journey and I look forward to visiting my next stop tonight. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On the Tweltfh Day of Christmas...

On the twelfth day of Christmas...spend time with family and friends because that's what I did instead of writing this last blog entry :-) I hope everyone had an amazing holiday season and received some great gifts as well. I have been busy spending time with family over the holidays and then went on an amazing trip to Hawaii with my parents for 10 days. Now I'm just trying to get caught back up at work and in life! Stay tuned for a Hawaiian style blog soon!