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Micro-Units and Micro-Apartments: What Are They?

April 25, 2022

Forget studio apartments. Micro-apartments are the trend-setting standard for tiny dwellings in city centers.

These small apartments embody the spirit of tiny home living, only in an urban atmosphere with all of the amenities you could hope for.

But is a micro-apartment right for you? Below is everything you need to know before you downsize your way to cozy city living.

What is a Micro-Apartment?

Micro-apartments (AKA micro-units) are smaller-than-average studios with a footprint typically between 200 and 400 square feet.

Micro-apartments are NOT small one-bedrooms. They’re usually an open concept area where a bedroom, living space, and kitchen blend together.

You can also think of a micro-apartment as an efficiency apartment with small amenities complete with a lofted bed to free up precious space.

However, micro-unit renters usually enjoy more upscale amenities and convenient locations for smaller price tags.

Despite the small size, micro-units are designed for maximum efficiency. They often have high ceilings and oversized windows to make them feel larger than they really are. Pick the right city and location, and your small apartment may feature dazzling city views.

What is it Like Living in a Micro-Apartment?

Living in a micro-apartment is challenging but can be a worthwhile endeavor.

You'll likely start your day by waking up in your Murphy bed. You'll handle your morning routine but will probably need to make and store your bed until you need it again at the end of the day.

If you work from home, you'll need a dedicated work desk set up, likely a few feet away from your bed.

You can grab a meal in your kitchen, which will also be a few feet from your desk, bathroom, and bedroom.

Catch the theme yet?

Living in a micro-apartment is exactly like living in a traditional apartment, just scaled down. However, the reduced size means you'll have to get a lot done within a small space.

Unless an activity requires the entire space within an empty room to perform, you'll be able to do it in a small area.

Micro-apartments are popular in densely populated cities and common in large European and Asian cities.

Micro-apartments have begun to spring up in cities like New York, Seattle, and Boston in recent years. However, micro-apartments are still far from common in the US.

Amenities to Look For in Micro-Units

Finding the right amenities and features are key when choosing a micro-apartment. Without the right layout and space-saving features, micro-apartment units can feel positively cramped.

1. Illusion of Space

Look for features that create the illusion of space. Those can include high ceilings, balconies, or decks. They may also feature storage solutions like vertical cabinets to keep your micro-apartment feeling as spacious as possible.

2. Common Areas

An upscale micro-apartment building also features common spaces like spacious lobbies and rooftop decks. Those areas give residents an opportunity to spread out and gather for an evening of socializing. 

2. Additional Storage

Some apartment buildings might even offer limited resident storage in a common basement. Additionally, some may have bike racks that can further maximize your apartment space. 

Pros of Living in a Micro-Unit

Micro-apartment living comes with it's pros and cons. If you are on the fence, make sure you know what they are.

1. Save on Rent

Living in a small space means saving a ton on rent. Depending on your city, micro-units may rent for up to $600 less than studio apartments in the same area or neighborhoods.

2. Less Furniture Means More Savings

The smaller size also means less furniture and decor to buy. It also means less time cleaning up or the need for a regular housekeeping service.

But there's more than just financial savings involved. A micro-unit can also save you tons of time throughout your day. 

3. Live in the Best Locations

Most of these tiny apartments are found in city centers. You may be able to enjoy quick access to work, restaurants, bars, and the best urban amenities.

4. Ditch the Car

Micro-dwellers might even be able to ditch the car altogether. Instead, residents can rely on nearby public transportation, walking, biking, and ride-sharing to further the cost- and time-saving benefits of living small.

5. Help the Environment

Environmentally conscious renters also love that most micro-apartments are eco-friendly. They take up less space and resources and are often LEED-certified. 

Depending on the building, the LEED certification may indicate eco-friendly heating and cooling systems. They may also include light fixtures, appliances, flooring, and robust recycling programs. 

There’s also a trickle-down effect when it comes to eco-friendly living. You typically buy less furniture, less decor, and use less electricity to make yourself at home.

Cons of Living in a Micro-Unit

Despite the financial wins of micro-living, a tiny apartment does have its downsides, depending on your lifestyle preferences.

1. The Location Comes at a Cost

Micro-apartments can still come with a hefty price tag in some cities. A Manhattan micro-apartment may be a few hundred dollars less than a studio, but that still means a $2,000 to $3,000 price tag.

Micro-units may be more affordable than their studio counterparts in most cities. However, they’re not exactly known as a hallmark for affordable housing. 

2. The Lack of Space

The other issue is space. Sure, living in a micro-apartment means less stuff to buy and less time to spark your inner joy by tidying up. 

However, it can also feel too small for some urbanites. If you really love spreading out and having separate spaces for sleeping and lounging, micro-living might be tough.

3. Difficult to Have Guests Over

It’s also not ideal if you want to regularly entertain friends and enjoy having roommates around. Someone entering a serious relationship with a promising future may also find their micro-apartment is unrealistically small to house a couple. 

4. Less Flexibility

There’s also less flexibility in a micro-unit. That can be good or bad depending on who you ask. 

If you enjoy re-decorating, trying out new furniture, and repurposing space, a small apartment won’t necessarily accommodate those ideals. When it comes to micro-living, your space and options are more rigid and limited.

Who Lives in Micro-Apartments?

Micro-apartments can house a wide variety of ages and demographics. However, they are targeted towards single twenty-somethings and millennials with city jobs. 

Their income levels are often higher than most. Also, people in that demographic are looking for everything urban living has to offer, from pubs and restaurants to museums and parks.

Micro-living is all about lifestyle and convenience. It simply isn’t ideal for everyone. These cozy apartments usually aren’t right for families or anyone struggling to make ends meet.

And due to their small size, micro-apartments aren’t suitable for roommates and long-term visitors who want to crash on your couch indefinitely.

How to Find Micro-Apartments

Your best bet for finding micro-apartments is to look in Downtown or adjacent neighborhoods. Trendy areas full of nightlife and amenities are also hotspots for micro-apartments and complexes. Although not impossible, you’re less likely to find micro rentals in the suburbs or neighborhoods known for cheap rent and spacious dwellings.

Start your Search Early

If you have your heart set on a micro-apartment, start looking as early as possible. Apartment hunting in competitive cities like New York and Boston can take time to come up with the rental you want. Take notes of buildings and complexes that have micro-units and check back with the landlord or property managers frequently.

Know What You Are Looking For

Most micro-units are between 200 and 400 square feet. They're not small one-bedroom apartments. Instead, they're usually an open concept area where your living room, bedroom, and kitchen all blend. They're more like a tiny loft than a studio apartment.

Here’s where you need to come prepared. Micro apartments are usually a trade-off. You typically get to live in a fantastic city for less rent than you would in a larger space. But, if you decide you need a decent-sized sleeping area, then you need to have an idea of your ideal layout.

You may want more separation of space or enough room to add some screen dividers. You may also be fine with a tiny micro apartment as long as there’s an on-site gym, rooftop terrace, and swimming pool.

Know what you’re looking for in your micro apartment before you start your search to score the place you want.

Search for Listings Online

Online listings are also an ideal place to find your micro-unit. Checking online listings like Apartment List are also good source for a wide range of rentals, including micro-apartments. We offer over 5 million listings for apartments across the US. Whatever online listings you use to find your rental, plug in a search for similar keywords, including: Micro condos Micro rentals Tiny apartments Small studio apartments

Set Up Apartment Tours

With the rise of online tours, it’s important to have a clear understanding of your micro apartment layout and space. Whenever possible, see the space in person or ask for lots of photos and a live video walk-through. A tour gives you a better feeling of just how small a micro-apartment is and how comfortable you are in the space.

For a successful tour, come prepared with these questions to ask about micro-apartments and other units.

Apply and Sign Your Lease

Once you’ve found your perfect, cozy micro-apartment, it’s time to apply and sign your lease. Come with cash on hand for your application fees, credit cards, and a few checks just in case one payment is preferred over another. You’ll also need identification, proof of employment like a pay stub, and possible references.

You can save yourself time and resources by calling ahead before your next tour. Inquire about what documents are required to sign a lease on a micro-apartment and come over-prepared.

8 Tips on Making Micro-apartments Feel Bigger

  • Fill the space. While it may seem counterintuitive, cozy spaces tend to feel more welcoming. Making your face feel welcoming can open the space up.
  • Don't block your windows! Light can make small spaces appear and feel bigger than they are. Invest in blinds rather than curtains.
  • Stay away from darker colors which can make your place feel smaller. Stick to lighter colors and vibrant jewel tones for a pop of color that doesn't diminish your unit's apparent size.
  • Skip the couch in favor of a loveseat and oversized armchair. Grab a tray to repurpose the footrest into a coffee table. 
  • Murphy beds that fold out from the wall can be great space-savers. Some units may even come with them.
  • Consider ditching the dining room table in favor of a kitchen bar area.
  • Micro-living may also require a smaller fridge and stove to create a pint-sized, full-service kitchen. Some units will come with kitchenettes rather than full kitchens.
  • Focus on dual-purpose functionality for your furniture and appliances. That’ll keep your home feeling as efficient and spacious as possible.

Is a Micro-Apartment For You?

Micro-apartments are a fantastic opportunity for anyone looking to live in the heart of a thriving city center. If your dream city is calling your name, but the rent prices for a one-bedroom are out of reach? Search for some micro-units. They're also perfect if you want more privacy and are ready to leave your roommate days behind you!

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Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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