When it comes to the task of finding where to live during the next school year, many students can become overwhelmed at the prospects. After all, it’s a huge decision, and in many ways can make or break a school year (socially speaking). I’ve known people who lived in pretty awful apartments and houses because they didn’t do the research or take the time to decide what the best course to take was. As a result, their years ended up being significantly less-enjoyable than they had hoped for. However, we here at College and Finance have come up with 10 Commandments for persons looking for housing in an effort to help more students avoid the fate of the terrible living arrangement.
1. Thou shalt do thy research
Research is the most important thing that goes into any housing decision. Simply researching where the place is on campus and what bars are closest is not nearly good enough. You should be investigating how much payments will be, when they will be due, what bills you will be responsible for, and so on. Research multiple places to give yourself an idea of a fair price, and to give yourself back-up plans. Too many people get their heart set on the first place they see and may end up paying a significant amount more than what is generally considered fair.
2. Thou shalt not forget to discuss roommate situations
There are a variety of roommate scenarios one can have. Some people share bedrooms, while other’s just share living spaces. You can have anywhere from one to eight or more roommates/housemates. It’s important to know what the roommate situation will be before you decide on a house or apartment. If nothing else, it is important for determining the price that each person will have to pay monthly. Additionally, it’s good for getting an idea about the situation (will it be a good or bad living situation, what challenges might you face, etc). I’d recommend shying away from living with any person you hate, or any person which could make situations difficult (IE, living with a boyfriend or girlfriend in college is a huge gamble; what if you break up? Trust me, I’ve seen it happen multiple times, it never ends well). Learning who you’re going to be living with is just as important as knowing where it will be.
3. Thou shalt know the difference between renting and leasing
This is a basic thing that many, many people get confused about. The difference between renting and leasing is a huge one. A lease is signed for a set amount of time. For college students, leases generally run a full year (some students may run into issues during holidays and summers, so consider if you want to pay for a place you won’t be living in). There is a fixed monthly amount that must be paid, and it cannot be changed for the duration of the lease. Renting is on a month to month basis. While it provides more flexibility, the amount paid is often subject to change. That being said, the landlord could all of a sudden decide to charge a significant amount more the next month, which could leave some college students in a difficult housing situation. From my experience, many landlords will utilize lease contracts because the student feels more secure, and there is a more guaranteed source of money (from the landlord’s perspective).
4. Thou shalt understand internet and cable bills
Living in the dorms is great because you pay all your money to one source and don’t have to worry about a variety of companies. Alas, with renting a house or apartment, you may not have such luxuries. Landlords may take care of everything from electric to water in the rental fees, but you may still get stuck with an internet and cable bill. Research the companies that are available in the area, and stay on top of the bill itself. Don’t get behind, because there’s nothing worse than a college student without internet.
5. Thou shalt pick a place not too far from class
Location is paramount in many living situations. After all, you have to know how long it will take you to get to class in the morning. Knowing what alternate means of transportation are available is also quite useful. For example, if it is between two places and one is slightly cheaper, but requires a bus ride, while the other is more expensive, but within walking distance from class then you may want to take time to consider the options. If the amount of time it takes to get to class walking from the one place is the same as taking a bus from the other (and it’s a university bus or free for some other reason), then it might be smart to go for the cheaper place.
6. Thou shalt not pay for rent when you are living at home
I mentioned this before, but it is something that too many students overlook. Depending on the terms of your lease, there may be considerable overlap of you owing money to your landlord, while not even being in school. One of the best ways to combat this is to start early looking for someone to sub-lease your apartment/house to over the months you won’t be there (typically the summer months). The worst thing you can do is put it off, because then you’ll be stuck scrambling at the end of the school year trying to find someone to live in your apartment so you aren’t simply wasting money.
7. Thou shalt keep a variety of options open
Research should yield results, which would leave you with a wide variety of options. Having options is always a good thing. You never know when things may change, and a place that was originally a second choice becomes a number one. Options can also provide leverage if negotiating rent is a possibility. If you find two places in very similar condition, and one is just slightly more desirable than another, but the prices have a huge difference, you can use your knowledge to get a better price.
8. Thou shalt start hunting early, instead of late
I touched on this previously, but if you want to get your dream residence, you’d better start early. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of people who have gotten stuck in bad living situations because of laziness or fickleness. Researching and visiting places early can give you quite the edge over persons who aren’t as diligent. By starting early, you get a wider selection, more parity in pricing, and longer to consider the possibilities.
9. Thou shalt not leave the apartment/house dirty or damaged when moving out
College students like to have parties, and generally aren’t the best when it comes to cleaning (well, from my experience, guys are significantly worse about cleaning than girls). Once you move into your house or apartment, do the very best you can to keep it exactly the way you left it. Too many students think they can get away with leaving things damaged or broken. Depending on the landlord (and to a degree how much they like you or despise you), it can become quite costly. The same goes for cleaning up when you move out. Terms of leases differ, but a vast majority require a certain standard of cleanliness in order to move out. I’ve heard stories of people failing to clean their apartments and later getting charged for it. Don’t let yourself become one of those stories.
10. Thou shalt learn from mistakes
Housing hunting is certainly challenging. However, I feel it is a very important part of college life. The whole idea about college is that it’s the last step before getting ready for the “real world.” In the real world, you have to deal with real estate issues. Think of housing hunting as college real estate. It’s not as big a commitment as investing in international real estate, but it’s still a pretty big investment. After all, you’re going to have to live in the place for the next academic year, you might as well like the place, like the people you’re living with (if any), and still have enough money left over that you can eat and maybe even go out once in a while.