Living on campus may be convenient, but it’s rarely the cheapest, most comfortable, or quietest option. That’s why every student looking to save money should at least consider moving off campus. Apartments, duplexes, and even houses can be more affordable, especially if you’re splitting rent with roommates. Plus, when you heed Stitch’s sage advice, moving off campus doesn’t have to be intimidating!
Location, location, location
Your first task is to figure out where you want to live. “Where” really means “how far from campus.” Choose your location wisely, as you’ll have to commute to class by foot, car, bike, bus, or subway. Before signing a lease, do a test run to campus to see how long it takes. Also, remember that commutes are affected by weather! What feels like a short walk in summer might feel much longer (even unbearable) in winter. Housing options close to public transportation get bonus points.
Finding the right roommates
Another big decision you’ll have to make is whether or not you’ll have roommates. Flying solo generally means paying more, while having roommates means sharing spaces and adapting to other lifestyles. There are pros and cons to both sides of the question, of course. Note, however, that most “roommate issues”—paying bills on time, cleanliness, noise, frequent guests, etc.—can be largely avoided by choosing your roommates wisely. In other words, meet potential roommates before living with them. Have a frank conversation, too, about lifestyles. That way you can know in advance what you’re getting into.
Consider the costs
The cost of living off campus is rarely as predictable as the cost of living on campus, though it’s usually less. Rent, for example, will vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even building to building. Even then, rent isn’t normally the only cost you’ll pay. As a tenant, you may be responsible for any number of utilities, including water, electricity, gas, and internet. When calculating your budget, keep that in mind. Be sure to ask the landlord (or managing real estate company) what utilities are included in rent, if any. You can also ask for past tenants’ utility costs to get a sense of how much they paid—which indicates, of course, how much you will. Also note that utility costs change with the seasons.
Choosing the property
Never choose a property without seeing it! Pictures don’t count. Always tour in person. Don’t rush, either. Pay attention to the details, like the water pressure, how much natural light there is, and whether you can hear traffic driving by. The details matter! Then ask the following questions:
- Is there parking?
- Is there parking for guests?
- What appliances are included?
- Is there a laundry machine? Is it free or coin-op?
- Is there storage space?
- Is the unit wired for cable/internet?
- Can you hang things on the walls?
- What are the neighbors like?
- How are repairs handled?
- Can I sublet?
- Can I paint the walls?
- Are pets allowed?
- Are the windows insulated?
- Who is responsible for lawn care and snow removal?
Last, but certainly not least, always read your lease before signing it!