It is time. Time to emerge from the chrysalis. Time to hop out of the nest. Time to leave the dorms, spread your wings, and fly to an off campus pad. It’s a scary prospect. But don’t worry, Every College Girl has your back. Here’s a step by step guide to finding off campus housing:
1. Figure out a budget
Most likely, your parents are footing the bills, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to put you up at the Ritz. Sit down and talk to them, ask them what your monthly allowance is going to be for rent, utilities, transportation, food, toiletries, and hopefully a little extra for going out and having fun every once in a while. If you’re already paying your own way, you should still sit down and work out a budget. There are tons of tools online to help, and they’ll keep you from forgetting about anything really important. But there are also going to be one time costs to moving out of the dorms. You’ll need furniture, dishware, bedding, money for a security deposit, and most likely you’ll need to pay a realtor fee. Take it all into account, and then add a little extra because it is almost guaranteed that something unexpected is going to come up.
2. Find some roommates
You can also find your dream apartment first and then look for people to fill it. However, if you don’t already have people in mind, finding roommates can be a tricky process and you may want to start early. The people who you most enjoy hanging out with may not be the people you want to live with. Give it some thought before moving in with your bestie, because if your bestie is a total slob and you’re a neat freak the friendship might not come out the other end. You might even prefer to live with someone you don’t know that well because then you won’t feel obliged to talk with them every night and can get some alone time. You can find roommates through friends and friends of friends, which is always comforting because at least you know someone who will vouch for their sanity. Your college may also have a roommate matching service or Facebook group. Finally, if you prefer rooming with a stranger or you just haven’t found anyone you clicked with through your college, you can use online roommate services. These sites often work like online dating sites and will match you with someone whose habits mesh well with your own.
3. Figure out what you want in an apartment
What are your absolute requirements? Are you willing to share a room with someone or do you need your privacy? Think about number of rooms, number of roommates (usually the more roommates the cheaper it will work out for each person), the neighborhood, the number of bathrooms, whether pets are allowed, sit down and try to think of everything you want to make absolutely sure your apartment has. Location is also very important. Keep in mind that extra curriculars are an important part of college life and living a two hour commute away might mean you don’t participate in clubs. Finally, think about what kind of hours you’ll be keeping during the year. If you’re a 24 hour party person and will be staggering home at 3am, you might want to see how you feel in the neighborhood at that hour. Living somewhere cheap and big but that feels unsafe is usually not worth it.
4. Start researching apartments
This is why you needed to work out a budget first. There are plenty of websites that will help you find a place to live, but in order to make the best use of them you need to know how much you can afford to pay in rent per month. Don’t go straight for the biggest place you can afford either. You’re a student and you will appreciate not going right up to the wire when it comes to your monthly budget. If you give yourself some wiggle room, it’s almost guaranteed you will appreciate it later when something comes up and you have to shell out big to fix it. This is also a time to be careful. There are a lot of scam artists out there, and especially if you’re finding your apartment through an unregulated site like craigslist, be careful and don’t pay anyone anything until you’ve seen the apartment and preferably the lease too. If you want to avoid this (or at least make it less likely) try seeing if your college has its own off campus housing database, or if there’s a housing Facebook group associated with your university. Your final option is to use a realtor. This will be surprisingly easy to do because once a realtor has your contact info they will follow you around offering to show you houses until you both drop dead of exhaustion. If you find a listing you like online and you trust the person who posted it, you can contact them and use them to search the housing market for you. Realtors usually charge a fee, so take this into account, but they also often have access to postings you won’t be able to find yourself, and if your needs are really specific it can be nice to have someone else do the legwork for you.
5. Visit apartments
Always visit an apartment before you agree to live there. No matter how wonderful the pictures on the listing look, show up and make absolutely sure the apartment exists and is what they said it was. I cannot count the number of times I’ve shown up to see a place expecting a cavernous cathedral space and finding a box in which you can touch opposite walls of the room by stretching out your hands. When you get to the apartment, look carefully to make sure there are no signs of infestation or mold. Flush the toilets and turn on the shower. Don’t be afraid to knock on the neighbor’s door and ask them how they like living there. Basically do everything you can to check under the hood before you rent. Make sure everyone in your roommate group has seen the apartment and approves it. Often landlords won’t let a deal move forward until everyone living there is on board.
6. Work out a roommate agreement
This isn’t just a chore roster and agreeing not to touch each other’s things, this is how much rent each person is going to be paying every month and how utilities are getting paid. If your parents are acting as guarantors, they will often want a roommate agreement signed before they put their money and credit score at risk. If one person is stuck in a tiny room under a staircase and someone else has a whole floor to themselves, paying unequal amounts of rent makes sense. If you really want to make things fair, you can calculate rent by square footage of private bedrooms.
7. Get your paperwork together
It’s time to fill out a rental application. This will include a lot of paperwork and bank details, and may even include personal references. Landlords will also usually want proof of good credit scores on your part or the part of your guarantors, proof of employment and a yearly salary from you or your guarantor that equals out to a certain number times the rent, like 40x greater than the rent, or 80x greater. In fact, if the landlord says they don’t need to check these things, get suspicious. If they own the building, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll want proof you can afford to live there before they let you move in. It can be a painful and difficult legal process to kick someone out of an apartment, so they really want to make sure you’re the kind of person they want in their building.
8. Read the lease
When you think you’ve found the perfect place for you and your buds to live, it’s time to slow down and be careful. Even if the landlord is completely honest, they might think differently than you about when you can move in, or how long the lease lasts, or even when and how you pay the rent. It’s very important that you understand the terms under which you are living, and what your rights as a tenant are. If the sink breaks, who fixes it? Are you allowed to paint your room? What happens if you need to terminate the lease early? Are you allowed to sublet? Ask any questions you have and make sure to get contact details for anything that comes up in the future. If your parents are acting as guarantors, they’ll probably want to read the lease too, since it’s their credit on the line. Finally, make sure you have enough money to cover the fee and the security deposit, and what terms you have to follow to get your security deposit back.
9. Sign the lease
Get everyone living in the apartment to sign the lease. If someone doesn’t pay their share of rent, whoever is on the lease will be responsible for making those payments or risk taking a big hit to their credit score. A simple way to prevent this is just having everyone living in the apartment sign the lease. At least that way if someone stops paying rent, they will also take the hit. The true best way to prevent this, though, is to make sure you’re living with people you trust to be responsible and honest.
10. Move in!
Pack your stuff and move to your grown up apartment, baby! It’s time to take the next step into adulthood!
We Would Love To Hear From You!
Do you live off campus or on campus? Got any tips for people moving off campus this year?