By: Heidi Jensen ’14
Start early. We heard this phrase every time we asked for advice. Kristen Biernat ’14 told us about her experience starting the search too late.
“For my first apartment, I started my search only a couple of weeks before I needed to move.” Biernat ’14 told us, “I would recommend starting at least a month beforehand so you have more options to choose from.”
Budgeting is your next step. Be sure to set parameters on any website you’re using to make sure you’re not looking outside your range.
“If you find a place you love you’ll be tempted to go outside your budget,” Ana Olevska ’14 told us. “Set a price range and don’t look outside it, even just for fun.”
Once you budget for your new place, go into research-mode. Making a wish-list of items you want is a good place to start (e.g. pet-friendly, washer/dryer, gym, pool, etc). Darrah Hewlett ’16 gave us a few tips on what to look for.
“Look vigorously into the safety of each neighborhood, and find as many sources as possible about the apartments you’re looking into. Ask neighbors who live in, or close to, the apartment about their living experiences. And, lastly, focusing on your absolute needs will help you keep prices low, especially when you’re looking into your first apartment,” Hewlett said.
Specifically for graduate students, check to see if your school has a housing forum available for students. Biernat, who attended the University of North Carolina, told us, “My school had Heels Housing, where only students could post. I’ve had better luck with this type of site compared to Craigslist.”
Common Mistakes & Red Flags
Something to watch out for on your search is response time with landlords and roommates.
“If a potential roommate does not get back to you within a reasonable amount of time or ghosts you, they are probably not someone you would want as a roommate,” Biernat said.
On the other hand, a landlord responding too quickly may be a sign of a disrespectful management style,” Olevska told us.
“If they ‘ok’ an afternoon showing the same morning (unless it’s a pre-planned open house or something), they’ve given the tenant basically no notice that someone is coming to see the place,” Olevska said. “It may be nice when you’re apartment hunting, but awful when you’re that tenant.”
Other things to keep an eye out for are mold, mouse droppings and signs of other unwanted guests. You want to be sure you’ve seen all parts of an apartment, good or bad, before signing the lease. Equally as important is asking about how these issues are taken care of when they pop up during your stay and if there is a cost associated with the maintenance.
While it’s important to ask your landlord questions about the apartment and surrounding neighborhood, it’s also a good idea to not rely solely on the information you are receiving from them and talk to other people who live or work in the neighborhood.
“One red flag I’ve encountered was after leaving a tour of a (very nice) rental, we took an Uber ride from a man who was much more familiar with the area, and he told us there was a lot of petty crime there,” Hewlett told us. “Even if you ask the landlord or property manager the hard questions, it’s best to ask for insight from an outside source. This is especially true if you just moved to a new city or state.”
Live and Learn
The GOLDs we spoke with reflected on their past renting experiences. Olevska warned us to be cautious about living in an area with a high student population.
“In my experience, those landlords know they can get away with more because what student is going to have the time/money to sue or break a lease? Obviously this is not a hard and fast rule, but just something to keep in mind.”
Biernat told us about her experience renting in an apartment complex versus rooms in houses.
“From my experience, renting a room in a house is cheaper, but the landlords are more unreliable. One of my landlords was not going to clean the house after the previous tenants moved out before we moved in if we did not say anything to them,” she said, “Renting an apartment in an apartment complex is more expensive, but maintenance and apartment staff are more reliable.”
TL;DR Start early, set a budget, and ask a lot of questions. Good luck finding your next apartment, GOLDs!