Even before I was handed my diploma at ONU, I was obsessing about where I would be living after. In general, I knew I needed to find a place in California, specifically in the Orange area since I had been accepted to Chapman University. And I’d seen enough HGTV shows to understand that having a wish list in rental properties helps with the apartment hunt.
Here’s what I was looking for…
- AC/ heating
- Safe neighborhood
- Near public transportation [super key considering I am car-less]
- Laundry on site or in the compound
Now there were other things that went onto my wishlist that were more negotiable like access to a fitness center, a dishwasher, and the potential for pets. I pulled my opportunities mostly from a recommended list on Chapman’s website. All the places I planned to see were gated communities, which is why I had amenities such as a fitness center on my potential wishlist. I tried to go into the whole apartment hunt with the knowledge that I likely wouldn’t get everything on my list, but was shooting for the main five attributes listed above.
This past week, I was in California staying with family (a huge plus for me to know I have family in the area too) to begin the search in person. My grandparents and Aunt Monica went with me, and I’m incredibly glad they did because I probably would not have found the perfect place without their help.
First, we went to one of the gated communities suggested by Chapman, the Arbors at Santa Ana. The apartment itself was decent. A second floor, one bedroom with a balcony. It was spacious for a one bedroom apartment, and the kitchen appliances were modern. Everything was white: cabinets, carpet, walls. It sounds pristine but it felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was because the woman who was giving the tour struggled to answer questions…crucial questions. What is the crime rate in the area? Within the community? What kind of people live in the community? Families? College students? Her answers were vague, and in several cases she didn’t answer at all. That made my discomfort spike.
On top of that, the hallway was narrow and ill-lit. The landscaping throughout the community was large and full of shadows. Safety for me is an issue I cannot stress enough. I’m moving to a new place with few contacts so feeling safe in my living space is beyond crucial. The balcony was also connected by a low wall to my neighbor’s balcony, easily hopped over and lacking in privacy. Additionally, the property backed up against a freight train line.
I had really built up the whole gated community experience in my head. The Arbors technically checked off several of the things on my list including the pets, fitness center, dishwasher, and laundry, but it just didn’t feel right. And while the place was within walking distance of public transport, the street was grimy and could barely be qualified as safe. Part of my frustration was that I’ve spent my entire life being able to walk to school, restaurants, or the rec center, and I quickly realized that may not be my new reality. I walked away unimpressed.
Now, I don’t believe in coincidences, so the hours following the unfortunate Arbors tour was fate honking her horn and frantically waving her hands in my direction. We decided to drive to Chapman to poke around. Part of our going was pure pride. Right in front of the university, there is an amazing bronze sculpture of Charles C. Chapman sitting in front of a wall inscribed with his inspirational words to his grandson. The sculptor is Raymond Persinger, my grand uncle, and Grandma and Aunt Monica’s brother. He’s not a braggart, but the rest of the family doesn’t have that problem. We’re incredibly proud and wanted to see the piece for ourselves.
We took quite a few pictures with our phones and cameras, the photo above is simply an excuse to link you to Uncle Ray’s site. After thoroughly admiring the sculpture, we explored the plaza and found a kiosk littered with postings for apartments and events. I am not ever the kind of person to call a number on a flyer due to cumulative irrational feasr from years of watching CSI, Criminal Minds, and various horror films. But with family at my back, I tentatively called the number on the flyer for a guest house in Orange.
The woman who answered the phone had a lilting, lightly accented voice. She was kind and patient in the face of my nervous stutter and flurry of questions. We set up a time to meet at the house at five o’clock. I hung up that phone feeling elated. I may sound like a hippy here, but I think vibes and instincts are so massively important. Talking to my potential landlord just felt right.
With hours to kill, we went to a local restaurant in Orange Circle and then walked by the address given to me. My mind was blown. I could walk to school, to restaurants, to banks, and parks. I was beginning to think that wouldn’t exist here. We passed by the civic center and the library. The area just felt safe and connected to real community pulse. Banners advertised for summer concerts and police sponsored events. The house itself was in a historic district that felt like the communities I grew up in. I hadn’t even seen the guest house, but I was in love with the idea of the place.
When we came back later that evening, we got lost. I panicked. Afraid that lateness would equal loosing the space. But I called the landlady and she was very understanding. The guest house lived up to my expectations. It was a small, two bedroom space behind one of those pretty, historic houses. The petite kitchen had modern appliances and included a mini dishwasher. Grandma labeled it a dollhouse and the name stuck. Two people were currently living in the little guest house, but I was planning to make it mine.
Outside was a patio with a fire pit and deck chairs, as well as a garden full of fruits and flowers surrounded by a high stucco wall. To top it all off, the landlady’s son, Brian, already had two dogs. A border collie named Remi and a poodle mix by the name of Madison. Adorable, well trained, and ready for adoration. Check. I also got to meet Brian, who would continue to live in the main house with another roommate. Talking to Brian furthered the idea that this little guest house could be a home. I’m a big believer in being friends with the people you live with. When Brian offered me the opportunity to plant something in the garden, I knew the place and the people were perfect for me.
I signed the lease the next day. In about twenty-four hours I had found an apartment. I never expected to have such quick results or find a place that so well suited my personality and preferences. The only thing missing from my list was a fitness center, and with a daily ten to fifteen minute walk I think I can manage without it.
I never would have imagined finding a place so wonderful from a kiosk after all my expectations about gated communities. But as I get to know my future roommates, though I’m not sure if that’s the right word to use, I feel more and more confident about moving to California. I’m headed towards a home and a community I can be a part of. I can certainly live with that.