Last year, three of my friends and I decided to get our first off-campus apartment. We were super excited to have a place of our own. No more communal bathrooms or dining hall food and way more space.
Living off-campus comes with many benefits: a new sense of freedom, independence and lifestyle among them. But, with all these new advantages, there are some important things that you should know before deciding to live on your own.
Starting your search:
First, it’s important that you plan out who you’re living with. Find people you enjoy being around and more importantly, people who respect you. You need to be comfortable enough around these people to express any concerns you have and set boundaries. They don’t need to be your best friends, just people you can live comfortably with.
After you’ve found the people you want to live with, figure out a price range. For example, the budget for my roommates and I was between $500-600. Utilities aren’t always included in the rent, so make sure you factor those costs in as well.
Third, after you’ve found your roommates and set your budget, you can start looking for a place to live. Figure out whether you would prefer to live in a house or an apartment, how many rooms you will need and how close to campus you would like to live.
Google is your best friend while house hunting! Websites like Zillow or College Pads can help you find apartments that fit your criteria.
It’s never too early to start looking, especially in a big college town where leasing gets competitive. If you end up starting your search later in the year, don’t get discouraged. There are always options but they become limited over time.
Finally and most importantly, read your lease. Be aware of what services you need to pay for and how your landlords expect them to be paid.
It’s also necessary that you know what services are offered and what your rights as a tenant are. If you’re living in an apartment, each rental will have specific rules and regulations to abide by. Make sure you know them to ensure that you will get your full security deposit back at the end of your stay.
What to expect after you buy:
After you’ve signed the lease for your house/apartment, you may need furniture. Using resources like Facebook Marketplace and Goodwill can drastically reduce the price you pay for furniture. If you can get in touch with the current occupants, ask if they’re looking to sell off their furniture; everyone will save money on moving expenses that way.
Groceries are also a big part of living off-campus. You’ll want to set an allowance for your grocery budget; for example, mine is $200 per month. This includes groceries from the store as well as money for eating out. Finding the most affordable fresh food will also be important. Places like Acme and Newark Natural Foods are far more expensive than stores like Aldi and the Asian supermarket, both located on Kirkwood Highway.
Advice for when things go wrong:
Expect to have some issues with your rental unit. These issues can range from a clogged toilet to a broken heating system.
In my own apartment, my roommates and I experienced a leaking sink, broken toilet, leaking roof/vents and the biggest issue of all, a broken heater for two months in the middle of winter. It’s important to prepare for the worst.
If any issues do happen to arise, you’ll need to get in contact with your landlords and maintenance immediately. Keep evidence of complaints in writing — this will prevent you from getting blamed/charged for any damage caused to the apartment due to unresolved issues. Bother your landlords until they listen.
Although this may seem like a lot, keep in mind that this is all customizable to you and your roommates! This will be a new home full of new opportunities! Have fun creating an enjoyable space with people you love and focus on enjoying your college experience.