Where do I begin in my search for off campus housing?

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Answered by: Jamilla, An Expert in the Life Off Campus Category
Finding off campus housing can seem daunting to any first time renter. But add a full-time semester course load, no car, and limited funds and you may think that you're attempting the impossible. And while this may require a bit more patience and time, it can actually be quite fun! Just follow these steps, stay organized and this will be the smoothest move you've ever made:

1. Figure out your budget. Are you working? Are you using student loans for room and board? Are your parents helping you out? Will you be moving with roommates? Don't forget, you won't just be paying for rent, you will also have utility bills - electricity, gas in some cases, water, sewer, and trash. Renter's insurance is a good idea in most cases and doesn't usually cost that much (find out if the apartment company recommends one or just call/email any company that offers homeowners insurance. If you're going to be living with roommates, then split all of these by two or three and these numbers get much smaller and less scary.

Additionally, your first move is going to incur some extra costs - first and foremost, you will more than likely need to pay a deposit on the rental unit. But remember, you need to be able to cook, clean, sleep, and use the bathroom. That means you will need pots and pans, utensils and plates, bowls, or Tupperware to eat out of. You're definitely going to want to clean your apartment before really using any of the facilities or appliances - apartment companies or owners will usually clean, but the only way that you'll know it's cleaned to your standards, is if you get down and dirty and clean it yourself.

So go ahead and add cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, shower curtains, soap, and all the little things that you've probably never thought much of before. You may not really know what you're going to need until you've actually moved in. If you're not going to take your bed from your parents house, then you're probably going to need a new bed frame and mattress or at least a futon. I slept on the floor with a bunch of piled up sheets the first night in my apartment, but I promise you, the former idea is much better and more comfortable than the latter.

2. Do you want to live in an apartment complex or rent a house? Apartments offer more amenities - an office where you can go and speak with managers regarding any concerns or maintenance issues, possibly, a gym, a pool, even an area to eat outside furnished with grills. Houses will give you more space and more of a neighborhood feel, but you may incur more costs regarding maintenance, it may take longer for any of your maintenance concerns to be resolved, and you may not have the security of a gated community that many apartment complexes offer.

3. Decide which amenities you absolutely cannot live without. Do you need a dishwasher or are you much more comfortable with a sponge? Do you need central air or are ceiling fans and a window unit good enough for you? Are you bringing a pet? See if they're allowed and if so, how much will it cost to keep your pet in your rental.

4. How far from campus do you want to be? The further from campus you are, the cheaper the rentals may be. If you're working, how far from your job do you want to be? If you don't have a vehicle or a reliable form of transportation, being closer to campus may be worth the extra money it costs to stay closer to campus. Weigh the cost of the higher rent against the cost of monthly transportation plus rent and decide what's more cost effective for you. Staying in a higher cost rental unit with roommates may make more sense than being in a cheap apartment that's far and more difficult to reach.

5. Once you've decided on the location, it's time to actually search for your off campus housing keeping in mind your budget and your needs in terms of amenities. There are three ways to search for rental listings - internet rental listings, apartment listing books, and in person. If you know some people living in apartments, pick their brains and find out what apartments they recommend, what they wish they knew before hand what they like and what they dislike about their rental. There are also apartment review sites that give you an idea of what the renters think of the apartment company that you're interested in.

Once you've done your research, compile a list of apartments and go! Take your time and look. Go to the apartment complexes or houses armed with your lists of must haves and questions for the salesperson taking you on the tour. Look for the dishwasher in the unit if that's what you prefer. Make sure there's central air if that's what you need. Ask if there's a pet fee, parking, storage space, do they include any utilities in the rent. You don't want any surprises when you move into your off campus housing. Bring a friend or parent for another set of eyes, take pictures to remember what you liked or disliked about the housing. Take notes on what the salesperson said and compare them to your notes about other apartments.

When you find your off campus housing, sign your lease, and pay your deposit, you are an official renter! Since you're moving from a dorm, you probably won't need a moving truck. Try to find a friend with a car, if you don't have one and move. Just remember, give yourself enough time so that you're not couch surfing because you signed a lease that won't start until a month after you checked out of your dorm. So with time and an organized plan, you've just completed your first move!

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