For a large number of college students across the country, moving off campus is a much awaited rite of passage. More than that, it’s an opportunity for a student to finally get a taste of the real world and independent living that leaves them to their own devices. Everyone remembers the first place they rent, and for good reason: it’s a big deal. It’s also a huge responsibility, and it’s up to you to make sure it goes smoothly. Here’s how you can help ensure your first experience is a good one, and not a tale of terror you share at the campfire for years to come.
Crunch the Numbers
First time renters have a lot of questions, but here’s the most important one you should ask: is it feasible? Living off campus could be a great decision, but you have to make sure it’s the right one for you and your specific circumstance. Be honest with yourself. Are you parents going to be helping you? Are you on your own? In many instances, living off campus can actually be cheaper than on campus housing once you ditch expensive meal plans and dorm fees. You might even be able to use part of a leftover loan refund to pay for it. But, again, you have to do the research and make sure. As a golden rule: your monthly rent should ideally be less than 30% of your monthly income. Before you make the decision to move, map everything out on paper, come up with a budget and a plan, and run it by someone with experience who can check your work.
Take Advantage of Resources
One nice thing about college is that most schools provide resource centers and faculty members to assist with the trials and tribulations of student life. Ask around and check to see if there are any resources that can help you transition into a move off campus. Talk about it with an advisers or a professor you trust. Discuss it with students who have already gone through it. You can even ask your parents if you’re feeling bold. The point is that there’s no reason to go into it blind, and there are plenty of people who can help.
As a bonus, lots of realtors and property managers offer special deals and promotions to college students. Your school might have partnerships and programs set up with some of them, and you’re going to want to make sure to take advantage of that if they do.
Search with Scrutiny
Once you actually get your search off the ground, it can feel pretty overwhelming because you likely won’t have a shortage of options to choose from. Still, make sure you select the best choice and don’t quickly park the moving truck in front of your first offer. After dorm life, everything is probably going to look pretty appealing. The ability to have your own bedroom alone will make you want to leap into the first property, but don’t do it.
Take your time. Watch out for slum lords. A lot of landlords rent out crappy properties to students because they know students have lower standards. You don’t have to. Do basic inspections on the home as you walk around. Watch out for things like rodent droppings, water damage, bugs, broken or cracked windows, or mold. Make sure the appliances are in good working order and that the doors lock properly. Ask lots of questions, and if anything feels amiss, move on to the next one. If you have the opportunity, ask the current tenants what their experience is. They’re your best bet for an honest answer.
Choose the Right Roommates
You probably already have experience living with roommates and know what to look for, and how to get along with people. Those experiences will be important to lean on, but, when renting an apartment, having the right roommates is more than a matter of convenience and being able to get along. When you’re living off campus, being annoying isn’t the worst consequence of a bad roommate. Off campus, the wrong person could truly mess up your life by skipping out on rent or getting you into compromising situations with far reaching legal consequences or financial implications.
Cover You Back Legally
You’ve likely heard horror stories about tenants who got the shaft from their landlord or roommate, so make sure it doesn’t happen to you. Carefully read your lease agreement before you sign anything. Better yet, have someone look over it with experience if it’s your first time. Make sure your name isn’t the only one on the lease because, if something goes wrong, you want to make sure you’re not the only one with legal responsibility. Be careful when setting up utilities. If your name is on the bills, you’re the one who is ultimately going to take the hit if it doesn’t get paid. If you can, try to split up the bills evenly with your roommate so you both share the burden.
Build a Relationship with Your Landlord or Property Manager
You know how people tell you that you should take the time to introduce yourself and get to know your professors? Do the same thing with your landlord. Your landlord should have a good feel for who you are, and believe you’re a friendly, competent individual. The more they like you, the easier it’ll be to get them to fix something if something goes wrong, or be willing to work with you if you’re struggling with rent for a month.
Set boundaries and Standards with Roommates
Living with people can be tough, so make sure you work everything out before you move in. Figure out the gritty day to day stuff. What’s your policy on food? Are you going to expect peace and quiet during certain hours? What needs do you need met? Try to work out a cleaning schedule. Your home is going to get real gross real quick if no one’s cleaning it, and you should make sure you’re not going to be the only one stuck with the chores.
Learn Your Way Around the Kitchen
Now that you’re off campus you’re going to have to plan your own meals. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s definitely less convenient, but it gives you more freedom and is cheaper if you do it right. Learn some simple, quick meals you can cook yourself and get comfortable cooking items that go beyond the microwave!
Be a Good Neighbor
Get to know your neighbors if you can. Make conversation when you see them. Invite them over if they seem nice. If your neighbors get to know you and like you it’ll make things that much easier. They’ll certainly be less likely to call in noise complaints for that house warming party you have planned.