When it comes to being a college student, it can often feel like you’re suddenly forced to face a thousand adult choices that you weren’t ready for. Rest assured, you’re not the first one who feels this way, and you certainly won’t be the last. You might have felt like you accomplished a huge goal when you picked your schedule and chose the classes you’d take, but what happens when it’s time to find somewhere to live? That’s a whole different problem that doesn’t come with a syllabus.
Fortunately, we’ve got a few tips to help you navigate the situation if you’re considering off-campus housing.
1. Plan for Your Budget
“Budget” is a funny word when you’re first starting out. It’s often hard to get a handle on what monthly money means until you start paying the bills. Naturally, you’ll want to find a place that’s affordable in terms of rent, but what else should you consider?
- Renters’ Insurance. Some landlords require renter’s insurance, and some don’t. That shouldn’t deter you from protecting your own best interests. Be sure to budget for renters’ insurance—which is relatively affordable, even on a student’s salary—so you’ll be protected against unforeseen circumstances.
- Internet & Entertainment. Sure, you can go to the library to write your assignments, but will you want to do that every single night? It’ll probably get old pretty quickly. Not to mention, you’ll likely have shows on Netflix or Hulu you’ll want to watch during those decompression stages after school and work have come to an end. Don’t forget to factor these bills into your monthly budget.
- Parking. If you have a car, don’t forget to ask your landlord about parking. Some rental units offer parking for an additional cost. Others may include it. If neither of these options are available, be prepared to search for street parking as part of your normal regimen.
- Utilities. Are utilities included? This is something you need to understand upfront. Heating and cooling can get very expensive, depending on the setup of the rental unit. You can usually call the utility company to ask for 12- or 24-months’ worth of history so you can understand what your bills may look like before you sign a lease.
- Security Deposits. Security deposits can be a make-or-break for some students because they usually amount to substantial fees. Make sure you understand what the deposit is for and what you need to do to ensure you get it back when your lease is up.
2. Research Rental Agencies and Landlords
Go with a reputable landlord or rental agency that’s known to have the renters’ best interests at heart. This will save you a ton of frustration if your heater stops working during winter finals or if your fridge decides to go on the fritz when temperatures start heating up.
- Read Reviews. Remember that some people only leave reviews when they have bad things to say, so take these with a grain of salt, but do your homework. Find companies that are known in the area and ask friends for recommendations if they’re happy with their apartments.
- Call Places. It’s especially important that you pick up the phone and call a few places. If you get a bad vibe from the get-go, it’s not the right company for you. You can get so much information (even if it’s just intuitive) from a single phone call!
3. Balance Your Budget Against Convenience
If you live closer to campus, maybe you won’t need a car, so you won’t need to pay for parking. If you live farther away, rent might be cheaper, so you might be able to afford a parking permit more easily. Convenience often comes at a cost. If you’re able to live a little farther from campus, you might find that you can afford a bigger apartment or have more amenities than you would if you were right by campus.
4. Save Money by Living at Home in the Summer
Many landlords who offer off-campus housing give tenants several options: full-year rentals, school-term rentals, and sublease possibilities. If you’re able to live at home during the summer, you’ll save a lot of money. A 12-month lease is great if you know you’ll be there all year long or will be able to sublet your place when school’s not in session. If you know ahead of time that you won’t be there in the summer, and your lease won’t allow you to sublet, it’s best to keep looking until you find an apartment that meets your needs.
5. Read the Lease!!
Always know what you’re signing on for. Are leases boring? Absolutely! They’re also incredibly important. Read each page, and don’t skim over the fine print. Ask questions if you’re not sure about something before you sign on the dotted line. Your lease is your protection against problems in the future!