Curiosity Delivers.

A first-year student exasperated with house-hunting season in Montreal. (Elli Slavitch / The McGill Tribune)

The Viewpoint: Learning not to settle

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Although “Rez life” had its perks, I longed for a completely separate, individual space for most of first semester. The outrageous cost of living in Carrefour Sherbrooke was a frustrating experience; paying a ridiculous amount every month made me feel entitled to be treated like an honoured guest. I felt cheated and annoyed at the restrictions imposed on me, such as not being able to have more than two guests over and needing to sign them in. I needed the buffer experience of being quasi-independent for a year, but I was itching to fully take control of my life.

My roommates and I wanted to dabble in apartment hunting as early as possible and started looking online during the winter break. It was pointless. There were no ads for leases that started in September 2015, and therefore no prospect of even considering any of the options. However, it offered us the opportunity to discuss our tastes and agree on the general aesthetics and location of the home we wanted.

When January rolled around, new ads for housing options appeared. We discovered a small company called Werkliv, where we found the listings of  a McGill graduate who renovated duplexes, marketing them towards students. We set a date and visited several of their units all at once. While we were not too keen on the first apartment we visited, the second apartment we visited was an eclectic and modern space that included a vintage lamp and a cozy kitchen with the pots and pans all hung up on the wall. It was perfect. We even chose our rooms; I wanted the one with the fire escape because I watched too many films growing up where fascinating conversations were carried out in that setting—I completely romanticized the idea. The landlord was surprisingly easy-going and helpful—all the pieces looked like they were falling into place. That night I called my parents and told them we found the one. I thought it was a done deal.

But it turned out that one of our roommates did not want the apartment after further consideration. Her parents were not comfortable with the unit being on the ground floor for security reasons, and she realized she could not compromise with her windowless room. I was devastated. I was so stuck on the idea of finally having a home that it felt like an incomprehensibly huge loss.

In retrospect, that duplex was not  really the idealistic space I had initially perceived it to be. I did not have much to compare it to, having only visited one other rental prior. The apartment was tiny and barely had any common space. Although it was beautifully decorated, this only served to mask how narrow the floor plan was. It was not cheap, did not include any amenities, and did not even fall within our ideal location. So many aspects of the place did not comply with my expectations, but the thrill and excitement of the experience made me blind to the imperfections.

A couple weeks later, one of my roommates and I were talking late at night and decided to peruse Craigslist, where we stumbled across another student start-up that manages different apartment units and leases apartments. The company, Flatbook, was unique in that during the summer, it takes care of subletting the apartment. It also included heat, electricity, and wifi in the rent, and furnished all of the apartments. We found two apartments that appeared to suit us. Stylistically, the photographs online did not reveal much, but we could tell that this was a good deal.

When we got around to visiting, the location really caught us off guard. The second duplex was situated in a beautiful old neighbourhood on the edge of the Plateau, complete with wild spindly trees. The interior of the home had a mixture of wood floors, high ceilings, and intricate walls. We had two balconies, lots of room for storage, and an impressive collection of wine bottles. We signed the lease shortly after. 

Throughout the entire apartment hunting experience, I realized that it really is rare to hit the jackpot on the first try, but it is worth it not to settle. Montreal is a huge city; in the end, taking the effort to spend more time seeking out what’s available will lead to a huge payoff. 

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