How to Find Safe and Affordable Off Campus Housing

If you’ve decided that you can’t handle living in the dorms for another semester and are ready to move off campus with some friends, the toughest part – besides figuring out who to live with – is probably figuring out where to live. You want to be close to campus, and you want a place that’s big enough for you and all your roommates. You also probably have other things in mind that you want out of off-campus housing, but you can’t afford the nicest place on the block. Before you jump into an off-campus house or apartment, spend some time looking, and use these easy steps to find the perfect place for you.

1. Get together with your roommates and figure out what you want in a house or apartment. How many bedrooms do you need? Is it important that you have a big living space or a big kitchen? Do you want to get a dog or a cat? Do you need a laundry room in your apartment or house? How far away from campus would you be willing to be? How many cars do you need to be able to park conveniently? Once you’ve answered all these questions, it’s time to start searching.

2. Look around in ads, classifieds, campus websites and newspapers, and for-rent flyers to see what’s available in your area. Find at least three or four apartment complexes or houses to look at, and then start touring. Before you go on a tour, grab a camera and a notepad. Take pictures of each apartment or house’s good and bad points, and jot down a few notes. You don’t need to document every detail, but you do need to be able to remember which apartment had the amazing kitchen or which house had the largest bedrooms.

3. When you’re looking at apartments and houses, be sure to ask about things like rent, average cost of utilities, and rules for tenants. Now would be a good time to ask if you can have a pet if you want to, if you can paint the walls, or if you can hang things up with nails.

4. Deliberate. Get together and look through your notes and pictures before you decide. If you have to, rank which things are most important to each roommate, whether that’s low rent, being able to have a pet, or everyone having his or her own bedroom. No place that you find is going to be perfect, so you’ll have to eliminate some of the things off your original list. When you find the house or apartment upon which everyone feels they can compromise, lease it. Don’t waste too much time at this stage, though, especially if you’re talking about a house, which may be off the market within just a couple of days.

5. Sign the paperwork. One problem with this is that the lease will probably be primarily in one person’s name. If none of your roommates has good credit, you may have to have one of your parents sign the lease for you, which means they’re taking on the risk of you missing your rent payments. Also, you might have to prove that you’ll be able to pay the rent by offering employer references.

6. Before you move in, find out about things like utilities and cable. You may luck out and find a place where the water and electric bill are rolled in with your rent, which is convenient, but otherwise, you’ll have to call and switch those things into your names so that you can start paying them.