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The Joy of Capitalism in Los Angeles Apartment Hunting

Posted on April 16 2010 6:00 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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Some of NRB‘s most loyal readers might have observed that I’ve been absent from the publication’s goings-on this week. Assistant managing editor Michael van der Galien and Nichole Hungerford, our great new intern, have capably handled navigating the ship.

The reason for my absence: my wife April and I have been in Los Angeles finding a new home. We’ll be relocating at the end of the month and I’ll begin running NRB out of the Freedom Center’s office. This change will allow for some exciting new developments for the publication in the coming months. Do stay tuned. We have plenty of surprises planned for you.

The process of finding a new apartment these past few days in a city we’re completely unfamiliar with has been an often stressful ordeal but in many ways it was also exciting. And in particular it was a reminder at just how great capitalism can be.

Tuesday was our major apartment hunting day. We had a total of five different places where we’d made appointments to see available units. Why so few? Exhibit A: our 50-pound Siberian Husky puppy Maura who has severely limited our options. Most LA apartments don’t seem to take pets and those that do are prejudiced against dogs who are more than 25 pounds. We also had to get an apartment comparable to what we have now: a 2 bedroom, 2 bath (so April could have a room for her art studio and would not have to suffer sharing a bathroom with me.) And the closer to the DHFC office the better.

I’m pretty easygoing when it comes to these matters. As long as it had our minimum requirements, allowed Maura, and was not ridiculously expensive then I was game. It was April who was pickier — which I can’t blame her for given that she was going to have to live there.

Apartment #1 which we visited at 10 AM was acceptable but not extraordinary. Its unique amenities included two balconies and a fireplace. Downsides: a small kitchen, no pool, and a rent at the top of our limit. (April, who grew up in the Bahamas and loves to swim, made a pool a necessity.) I would’ve been fine with the place but April quickly crossed it off our list.

Apartment #2 was extraordinary. It was much larger than apartment #1, had a spacious kitchen, and a pool directly underneath the unit. The area that it was located in was filled with plenty of nice little shops in walking distance. It was also the most expensive, $100 more per month than apartment #1, and thus over what we were hoping to spend max. But April was elated. I was overjoyed to see her finally starting to get excited about living in California — and just de-stressed for a moment.

Apartment #3 was a modest bargain. It still had two bedrooms and two baths. Its rent was also $200 cheaper than Apartment #1 (and thus $300 cheaper than Apartment #2.) It had a pool and a small kitchen but in general was fairly unimpressive. The corridors inside were dark and the manager was not particularly personable. Basically the price was the only motivating factor.

At this point I was preparing for a fight. April was going to want to go with Apartment #2 when really it would probably be better for us to do Apartment #3 so we could save money. But there were still units to see so I tabled my concerns.

Apartment #4 was the wild card of the bunch. I’d talked to the manager myself the previous week before we’d left and I immediately liked her warm, energetic personality. She was the most memorable of all the managers we’d encountered. She had explained to me over the phone that she was embarrassed to show us the unit because it was not clean yet — but that we simply had to see it because it was so large. She promised to show us a 2-bedroom, 1-bath unit also so we could get an idea of what a clean unit looked like.

The unit was humongous. The kitchen was a good size, the balcony was large. It had a “wet bar” (guess we’ll have to start drinking again!) The complex itself was a small, modest size — very homey and comfortable with gardens and a pool. It was on a quiet street and was within walking distance of the DHFC.

It’s price was right between Apartment #1 and Apartment #3 — and well below Apartment #2.

We didn’t bother going to Apartment #5 because the guy who was supposed to meet us didn’t answer his phone when we called.

April and I had achieved consensus — and avoided the fight I was predicting — without even talking. As soon as we walked out of Apartment #4 with the application in hand we knew we were going to go with it.

Wednesday we put the deposit down on Apartment #4. We signed the lease yesterday. And on Wednesday we got phone calls from both Apartments #1 and #2 following up on our decision. April had to break the bad news to the friendly manager of Apartment #1 that we were going with a different unit. The manager pressed April for details about what we had found and for how much. April explained that the place we had settled on was both bigger and cheaper than Apartment #1. The manager asked, “So you’d say our apartment is a bit overpriced?” Well, yeah. Apparently we weren’t the first ones to pass on Apartment #1.

Now here’s the question: will Apartment #1 eventually lower its price once it realizes that it’s not worth what it’s asking for? How many more couples will look at Apartment #1 and pass on it before the landlord is forced to more accurately price the unit? That’s capitalism. That’s the invisible hand at work, shuffling this world into place with far more genius than any person could on their own.

Now why can’t solving the health insurance “crisis” be that simple? Why can’t buying health insurance be like buying a new apartment? You’ve got dozens of options laid out in front of you and you find the one that best matches what you personally need and lunge at the most competitive price? The answer seems so easy. Why could so many people not get it? Oh yeah, now I remember.

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