The 7 Key Questions to Ask When You Rent Off-Campus for the First Time
Congratulations, you’re moving off-campus and out of the dorm. No more tiny room, tiny bed, and–let’s face it–tiny mindedness of certain campus rules you had to endure.
But beware. Now that you’ll be renting off-campus, there’s a new set of parameters to know about.
You already know to check on utility cost, amount of security deposit, and the income you’ll need to qualify for a place. Beyond those basics, here’s a checklist of seven questions you’ll want answered when scouring the apartment website or Facebook page, or when you do the onsite visit.
What’s the lease cycle?
Student apartments normally turn over in August to coincide with the beginning of the school year. You may be able to get in at other times, but you’ll be more likely to take advantage of promotions (money savings) when you move in during August. That said, you’ll want to nail down a place months in advance, because rooms fill up fast–especially nice ones and those close to campus. If you know for a fact that you want to move off-campus next year, it’s worth seeing what’s out there as soon as you can.
How’s the commute to campus?
Ask about public transportation or university shuttle. Look up the schedules for those options to see how the ride will fit with your class schedule, and locate bus or shuttle stops you would use. If it’s just a 20-minute walk to campus, that’s great if it’s nice weather, but consider your options if it’s a deep freeze or raining. If you’ll have a car, you’ll want to look into a parking permit so you have campus access.
Is your lease for the entire apartment or just your bedroom?
It’s common these days for your lease to cover only your bedroom and bathroom, while the kitchen and living areas are shared spaces. This makes it easier to move in and out without having to find roommates. Plus, you’re only responsible for your part of the payment. These rooms also tend to be furnished.
The downside is you tend to pay more for a room-only arrangement. As an example, in Knoxville, Tennessee, site of the University of Tennessee, students pay between $535 and $690 for a room-only set up in a typical three- or four-bedroom apartment. Whereas students who go in on an entire apartment normally pay between $500 and $550 each, and as little as $350 farther away from campus.
What are the buildings and neighborhoods like?
Answering this question requires you to visit the apartment, which is a smart idea regardless. Before you visit, try to determine if you’re looking for a more student-centric, party-friendly place, or a quieter, more family-oriented apartment. The former tend to be closer to campus, whereas quieter neighborhoods tend to be farther away–which gets back to the commuting issue above. If studying and a quiet location are top priorities, look for apartments that enforce quiet hours. For information on apartments and neighborhoods, it’s always useful to ask friends and classmates what they know.
What is the parking situation at the apartment?
A parking spot is normally included in the cost of your lease. However, with many student complexes, the number of parking spots is based on the number of rooms. So if you’re sharing a room, you may have to pay extra or you may not get an extra spot at all. Ask about that. Ask about visitor parking as well, when friends and family visit. Will they need a guest permit? Are there assigned spots for visitors? You don’t want mom and dad’s car getting towed when they visit you on Parent’s Weekend.
Are you responsible for WiFi and if so, what companies serve the building?
You will likely be setting up your own WiFi account for the first time if the building does not offer a shared plan. Apartment complexes often have service contracts with specific providers, but sometimes you have options. You’ll want to know what your options are regarding budget and speeds. Some companies are known for speedy downloads and streaming, and others are more budget-friendly. Do the research. It’s important to know what you’re getting into now that you no longer have free university WiFi.
Finally, what are the amenities?
If you’re paying a fairly high price to live in a nicer student apartment, expect a few perks. Ask about them upfront. Some may be: coin or credit card operated laundry on-site, a fitness center, a pool, complimentary coffee in the leasing office, game rooms, free printing and computer stations, and scheduled social activities. Generally speaking, when you pay more you’ll get more. If you’re on a tight budget, don’t sweat those extras, just be sure you’re getting the basics in terms of safety, cleanliness, and functionality.
Okay, that’s it! Consider copying and pasting these seven questions into the Notes app on your phone so you have them handy. Then either add answers for each place you visit, or record them in a voice memo. Taking the time for all this may seem like a hassle, but it will help you find the place you deserve.
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