Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Holly Welles. Holly is a recent college grad who uses her writing skills to help other young professionals figure out finances and the real estate market. You can find more of her advice on her blog, The Estate Update. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.
Residence halls serve their purpose, but their novelty wears off the longer you stay at a university. As you enter your third or fourth year in college, you'll likely start to look elsewhere for housing, searching for space and privacy. Unfortunately, finding an off-campus apartment isn't always easy.
If you're hoping to quickly secure an affordable off-campus place to live, you're competing with many other students in the same position. The most appealing apartments are in high demand, and it's often tough to find an available unit at a reasonable price. On a tight schedule, it can feel impossible.
Though you're racing against the clock—and your classmates—you can pull ahead as long as you employ the five strategies below. You'll sign the lease on your dream apartment in no time at all with these proven techniques, enjoying the space, privacy, and other benefits that come with off-campus housing.
1. Don't hesitate to start your search.
You'll need to start your search early if you're going to have an advantage over your peers. While it's easy enough to say, "Tomorrow, I'll start looking," or "Later this week will work better with my schedule," this mindset is only distracting you from your goal. Give yourself enough time for the entire apartment-hunting process.
The process involves several different steps, like calculating your budget, looking through listings, evaluating the apartments in your area, and matching rates. You also have to meet with the landlords and tour the properties, asking questions that will inform your final decision.
2. Make a list of relevant questions.
As you tour properties on your search for the best apartment, it's essential to have a checklist of questions. Online listings will only tell you so much, and you don't want to sign anything without knowing exactly what the lease entails. Consider some of the following questions when you meet with landlords:
- Is parking included?
- Does rent include utilities?
- Does the lease forbid pets?
- Are there any late fees or hidden charges?
- What penalties are there for breaking the lease?
Some of these questions may not seem relevant, depending on your circumstances. Others are crucial to your comfort. As you attempt to locate your perfect apartment, ask questions that will help you narrow down your options and lead you in the right direction.
3. Consider living with another person.
You might have left the residence halls because you're no longer interested in living with other people, intent on finding a place where you'll have privacy. Even so, you could have to compromise if you want to secure a comfortable apartment within your price range. If you're uncertain, think of the benefits.
With a roommate, you'll have someone to share your housing costs, which expands your options as you search. You'll also have assistance with furnishing the space, dividing the responsibility of collecting chairs, tables, and couches. It's one of the factors to consider when you're renting.
4. Don't neglect your personal safety.
Students don't operate on the same schedule as the average person. You've likely found yourself leaving the library in the early hours of the morning or walking back to your dorm late at night after a get-together with friends. While you can count on some degree of safety on campus, that changes when you leave.
As you search for an off-campus apartment, make sure you look in areas with low crime rates. You should question the landlord about the neighborhood's safety, as well as the security features of the building. You'll feel far better if you take this small, but important, precaution.
5. Review the rental agreement.
As mentioned earlier, you don't want to sign anything without knowing what the lease entails. You're eager and ready to rent an apartment, of course, but it's critical to take things slow. Set aside time to review the rental agreement and assess its details, whether by yourself or with someone else.
Everything you discussed with the landlord during your tour should appear on the lease. If not, you need to bring it to their attention before you proceed. An apartment might seem perfect, but until you look over the contents of the contract, you shouldn't make any commitments you don't fully understand.
The takeaway: In your rush to secure off-campus housing, make sure to follow the advice above. You'll be sure find an excellent apartment at an affordable price and make the move without any difficulties. As long as you take the process one step at a time, you can feel confident as you continue.