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September 10th, 2010


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06:45 am - Pros and Cons of Extended Stay Hotels versus apartments.

Introduction

So, Kat and I have been living in a hotel for a year and a half now. A friend asked me today about my opinions with regard to it, and mentioned he was considering the same thing himself, so I figured I'd make a detailed post about it.

Basic Info

Note that my experiences are with my specific Homestead Studios location. This is one of ExtendedStay America's brands. We are in a "Deluxe" room, which has a king size bed, the European-style bathroom where the sink is outside the room, and a larger "wraparound" kitchen, as well as a foldout couch and a desk. We pay approximately $1500 a month, which is roughly the range we would pay for an apartment. (This is Silicon Valley). It is the closest such facility to my office, and my office is walkable (if a bit long) without having to cross any major highways. If I walk to the train station, which is much closer, there's a shuttle that goes to within 50 feet of my office in the morning and evening.

Everything is included. In a typical apartment, above the base price, you have to factor in water, power, phone, electric, garbage, sewers, cable, and Internet. Some of those may combine or be included, but you need them all in some form or another. Other than the Internet (which costs $5.99 a month), every one of those is included in some way with this room. The phone is only really good for local calls, but my office, where I do hour-long conference calls, is a local call, so this is a savings on minutes.

It's walking distance to many stores, including a 24 hour Walgreen's, a grocery store, a home depot, 2 Starbucks, 2 Chipotles, and more. Also walking distance to the nearest train station. Since Kat doesn't drive, these would be important deciding factors in any other place we looked at. Ironically, this is the very first place I stayed in California. This is the same hotel my job put me up in when I came out to interview.

The staff seem to have no qualms about the length of my stay, and in fact, many other guests have been here for comparable lengths of time.

While I do have an "exit strategy" it's not happening for at least another half-year, and we're in no way bothered by this place. It's home.

I treat my office as the "battle bridge" or the "annex" to this place, and this is unique to the company I work for, so the two facilities compliment each other very well. I might not have these advantages if I worked elsewhere, so some of you considering the same may not have them. I give more details on that below.

Pros (advantages over standard apartments)

  • Typically, apartments in the bay area don't come with air conditioning. It's apparently cool enough here most days out of the year that one can get by with fans. My coworker peter is in this situation, and can be found camped out at the office during the 10-or-so days a year one needs AC. Our place does have AC, and we pay no extra for it. In an apartment, this would likely mean getting a free-standing unit, and paying the extra electric to use it.

  • Apartments around here typically also come with fairly limited parking (one or two reserved spots, with limited parking for guests). While at the moment we only have the one vehicle, this could potentially change, and we have a whole parking lot out there.

  • Moving in was simple. Here's my debit card, sign a form, okay, we're home, let's go food shopping. No application process. No first month, last month, security deposit, cleaning fee. No credit checks. No surprise charges.

  • Towels are included. Which doesn't seem like much, but that also includes hand towels, bathmats, washcloths, bed linens (if we didn't have our own). Which, considering how they soak up water, probably saves us on the washing. We also have the option of housekeeping once a month if we want it, but we don't. We got it once, by surprise, which was kind of neat...they made the bed with all our own blankets. Should we need it, we can also get other sundries like tissues, toilet paper, garbage bags, and the like, which is convenient when one forgets to buy them, although I don't think they're included with the long-term plan, strictly speaking.

  • It's furnished. And after speaking with the staff, I know it's well furnished (as in, the stuff is sturdy and durable). Our mattress alone is over a grand, to replace. We've got a foldout sofa (and we've had guests), it comes with an okay TV (not hi-def). Hell, it comes with dishes, plates, and utensils. While we provided a few "extra" furnishings (a printer table, some bookcases, my own desk chair and ottoman), on the whole it's totally livable without those, unless you're us.

  • Laundry is always open, and inside, $2 wash, $2 dry. I have laundry facilities at my office that I use, but it's nice to know the option is here. Oddly, there's no change machine (although you can use the soda machine's bill acceptor and hit the coin return button). I feel comfortable enough with the facility that we've put stuff in the dryer and gone to sleep, I don't know that I'd do this at a regular apartment, I know I wouldn't do this at a laundromat.

  • It's very secure at night, everything's Card-key access. This is somewhat better than many apartment facilities I've seen.

  • The walls and doors are THICK. I've never heard our neighbors, except on rare occasions above when someone was very heavy-footed (I suspect a child). This is very VERY infrequent however.

  • The staff here are really professional and friendly. Every minor problem I've ever had has been dealt with quickly and efficiently. At one point, when we first moved in, we were finding ticks, and when I mentioned it, they FREAKED OUT, apologetically, concerned the previous guest must have had a dog, insisted on quickly changing our room for us, offered to help us move, and bent over backwards to make sure we could get a room with the exact same layout as before. They blocked out the room we had been staying in, and re-did all the furnishings. Seriously, above and beyond. Another example: When my finances were a little bit screwy due to a rental car double-charging me, they were more than willing to work it out. The manager's got an apartment on-site, and has given me her cell number if there's anything I ever need (to date I've used it only once, when my coworkers were locked out and the phones were down).

  • I have heard several horror stories in dealing with apartment management agencies from some of you -- which is a shame. It's really nice to have a place that treats you like a valued customer, as opposed to some poor jerk who's stuck with another eight months in their lease.

Cons (over a standard apartment)

  • While there is a phone for incoming calls, you have to go through the switchboard and know our extension, which is not our room number. We both have cell phones and use them for this, generally only family and work have the hotel number, and I've configured a "secret" extension at work that steps through the switchboard, in effect creating a hot-line to the room.

  • The kitchen is somewhat sparse: a two-burner cook-top, a microwave, a full-size fridge, a coffeemaker, and a toaster. What's missing there is an oven. It would be better if the microwave were a convection/microwave combo. We've alleviated this by buying a small toaster oven. While we waited over a year to buy it, we use it frequently now, and can't imagine life without it. Note that if I feel the need to bake, my office has a full-sized oven.

  • The rent is a little weird. They have a 30-day rate, not a month rate, so my "due" date slides back and forth a few days. It would be nice if I could just have it coincide with my payday, every month, and be done with it.

  • The Internet is wireless only. While I find the speed usable to me, it's still somewhat slow. Too slow for Netflix streaming or for Youtube (Youtube works, you just have to let it prebuffer a lot). Also, I periodically need to re-enter the access code. I've called the ISP in the past and simply had them log me in for extended periods of time, but what I really need to do is put up a room-wide wireless LAN, so my laptop, my desktop, and Kat's laptop can all see each other, share files, share the printer, etc. (There's not a single router on the market that does this, for what it's worth). Note that I've backed it up by getting both Kat and myself laptops with 3g cards, and that my office, with a 10G backbone, and 1G to my desk, is 2 miles away and always open to me.

  • Likewise, our TV selection is limited. Cable channels are fairly basic (we have five ESPNs, but no comedy central). We have SyFy and cartoon network. The service is actually Dish Network, which means one has to assume an eastern schedule when planning viewing choices. Of course, shows can be easily retrieved over broadband if there's anything we're truly missing.

  • It's small. I call it a "3/4 bedroom", as while there's kinda a separate bedroom space, there's no real wall -- although an Asian screen might work. We have (by Kat's estimate) 311 square feet, plus a 5*5 storage bin which is walking distance from my office. While we could pay a little more for an apartment and get a bit more space, we would then have to furnish it, likely piece by piece over many months, and most likely with particleboard crap from Ikea.

  • Our options for re-decoration are limited. While we have put up our own content over the stock framed hotel art, we really can't thumbtack or tape the walls. We can't change out the drapes or re-paint. Kat dislikes the look of our couch and likes to drape a sheet over it, and would love slipcovers if I saw the point of buying fitted covers for a couch we don't own.

  • At least one credit union (to open an account) and one bank (for a car loan) has turned me down because my primary address is a hotel. My address looks completely normal: Something like 5 Something Way #444, Some City, CA 94111 (and I even made up an address stamp with that on it). In the end, I decided that if that's a breaking factor on the privilege of paying more money to own a car, I'm happy to buy a used one cash and be done with it. Note that in the case of the credit union, I TOLD THEM OUTRIGHT that this was the case, as I applied online, and they then made me come down and sit there for 45 minutes to tell me "no". My credit cards, existing bank, Netflix, health insurance, car insurance, job, and anyone else I've ever done business with have had zero issue with it. (Note as well that the same credit union and bank would BY LAW have to not discriminate against me if I listed a trailer park as my address. Not that I have anything against my trailer-park resident friends, but they have a certain reputation for Transiency).

  • Mail is a teeny bit annoying -- we pick it up at the front desk, so if I get in late (after 7am-10pm), I don't get it. (I am 100 percent sure if I were waiting for an urgent package, I could wake up the staff if need be).

  • Both our windows are on the same side of the building, so it's hard to get cross-ventilation.

  • This particular place is a bit lacking on facilities, although they have a deal with the very-close-by 24 hour fitness, where guests can use it for $5 (I am sure I could work something better with them, but my office also has a gym). There's a barbecue pit out back, and a couple picnic tables. There's not a pool. I think the nearest usable pool for us is the YMCA.

Hacking

  • I've managed to find the "green" remote that enables the extra functions on the TV, available online. I haven't felt the need to buy it, but it's useful to know of its existence.

  • We've also had them make it so we can use TV channels 3 and 4, and I've tied my PC, DVD player, and Gamecube into the TV.

  • I've discovered that the room has an "occupancy sensor" that the A/C unit basically plugs into. It's easy to bypass (the sensor plugs into the wall, the A/c unit plugs into it, and it basically works by cutting power to the A/C unit, which is not good for the A/C unit, and the sensor is flawed.


(11 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:digoraccoon
Date:September 10th, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
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Wow, with some of those "Pros", I'm wondering why apartment complexes are so much more... ah, complex. Granted you are living in a box (311 sq-ft?), but you do have some nice amenities that all the apartments I've ever lived in never even thought of.

I wonder if there is a way to create a combination of the two?
At least something that's not a retirement home anyway XD
[User Picture]
From:crssafox
Date:September 10th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
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You know what is interesting, over here we think of 300 square feet as being "incredibly small" for an apartment, but in some areas that's actually quite substantial. In fact, were I not married and if I didn't have a ton of pets, I think I could find myself quite content in a similar living situation!

I definitely agree that it's a bit silly that long-term apartment complexes are much more difficult. The best I've ever found was living in a townhouse owned by my old bosses, who knew where I worked (because I worked for them at the time!) and didn't charge us a security deposit. Sadly, I know that a lot of the hoops to jump through were put in place because so many people can't be trustworthy. :(
[User Picture]
From:digoraccoon
Date:September 13th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
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That's a good point. My brother lived in Japan for a month in a "apartment" with about 200sq-ft of space and that was considered fairly standard for that part of town he was living in.
[User Picture]
From:mortonfox
Date:September 10th, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
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If it were not for the limited space, I'd live like that too. Even in northern New Jersey, apartment rents were creeping up towards $1500/month.
[User Picture]
From:lunabird
Date:September 10th, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC)
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A note on furnishing -- you can actually get quality furniture for 1/3rd-1/10th it's normal price by going to estate sales. As long as you aren't trying to buy antiques, or four post beds, or grandfather clocks you can furnish an apartment in lovely, durable, furniture for next to nothing. And if you do have a slightly larger budget you can start picking up the really nice big ticket items for an absolute steal.

It's how my apartment got furnished. I own something like one piece of furniture that is not, at least, second hand (Most are like third of fourth hand). Even my dishes came from a sale where a guy was moving to a smaller place and wanted to ditch them. It's how my parents redecorated their house on a really tight budget -- and it's not like they got crappy stuff. For example, they got a 1200$ couch for the tune of 300$ because they bought at estate sales.

The only catch to them is that you have to get there as soon as the sale starts -- they can be very quickly picked over (though big ticket items can take a while to move). This often involves getting up very early on Saturday mornings. You also have to be prepared to sift through a lot of crap, and be willing to wait for the exact item you want to show up.

Not that this matters to you now, but should you be moving into an apartment at some point, I'd say estate sales, moving sales, and garage sales are the way to go.
[User Picture]
From:gushi
Date:September 11th, 2010 02:08 am (UTC)
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Estate sales, maybe...I have kinda my own ideas about furniture. I'm big, so there's some special factors that go into it. For things like bookshelves and shelving, however, I really want to get into making my own.
[User Picture]
From:crssafox
Date:September 11th, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
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Is it sad that about 3/4 of our furnishings are from the curb (folks throwing stuff away) and includes a Drexel dresser, a Drexel cabinet, a Broyhill headboard with two side wardrobes and overhead lights plus mirrors, several nice like-new rugs - all things that people were throwing away due to minor defects (the dresser had crayon scrawl on one part) or simply not wanting to haul it around any more.

Of the remaining 1/4 of what was not free from someone just getting rid of it, probably half of that came from thrift stores. Some items were given to us either as gifts (hubby's parents gave us our bed as a wedding gift) or because we needed them & someone happened to be getting rid of exactly what we needed - our couch, for example, was given to us by friends that were getting rid of it right when we needed one - and the ONE piece of furniture we ever bought brand new was a bed for our roommate, which was paid for by her rent money.

While estate sales and the like are fantastic for finding furnishings, it can be fun to see what is available for free on trash day. D: It's gotten to the point where my husband is picky about the furniture he brings home, it has to match what we have. :D It's just amazing what people will throw out because they don't want it any more, and it is in perfect or near-perfect condition, especially in more up-scale neighborhoods. O_o
[User Picture]
From:aakin
Date:September 11th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
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Thanks. That's pretty useful information.
[User Picture]
From:cubbi
Date:September 11th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
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Heh, that reminds me how I lived in an extended stay in San Jose for a couple months (in the south corner of it, on San Ignacio), back in the end of the dot-com heaven, when my company suddenly became too cheap to keep me in a real apartment and pay for my car. Wasn't bad at all, looking back now.
From:handlebar605
Date:September 11th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
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just for comparison, there are apartments in NYC that average around 100 sq ft. the residents are very good at packing stuff away, or they do without. They will also use many items that allow stacking & varying height spaces (loft bed/desk sets)
From:tinceiri
Date:September 12th, 2010 01:40 am (UTC)
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I've been trying to convince my roommate to look at hotels in the Chicago area. We're renting an apartment, and for what we're paying I just think that we could get a better deal with a hotel.

Plus there's the added sense of mobility, should it be needed for a job switch or something else.

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