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Apartment Hunting Tips for College Students

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Whether you are moving out of your parents' home for the first time or leaving the dorms in favor of off-campus housing, getting your first apartment is an exciting milestone. However, it is imperative not to be distracted by the allure of your new independence --don't forget the importance of practicality when apartment hunting. Everyone wants a nice place, but make sure you choose one that is not only attractive, but affordable and convenient for your studies. The following guide will aid you in your search with helpful tips and info on how to find the perfect apartment as a college student.

Start Your Search Early

Begin researching apartments near your school as soon as possible. Hordes of other students will be seeking residence as well, so you will have plentiful competition. You want to give yourself a sufficient amount of time to check out various apartments, compare prices, and decide which one will be best for you. Begin your search several months in advance by checking listings online and driving around campus to look for rental signs.

Plan Your Budget

It's a good idea to sit down and calculate your expected living costs and decide how much money you can actually afford for rent. This way, you won't make the mistake of signing a lease on costlier digs, only to realize on the first of the month you can't afford to pay your rent. If you are taking out a loan, this will also help you decide how much you will need. Planning your budget in advance is also an effective way to figure out where you can cut costs so you have more money for rent, and whether or not you will need to have a roommate.

Shop Around

It may be tempting to stop your search when you fall in love with a place, but it's best to always have a back-up. Even if you've filled out an application for your dream apartment, keep looking for alternatives in case it gets snatched up by someone else. While any apartment you apply for will likely charge you an application and credit-check fee, you are only required to pay a "good faith" deposit if you want the landlord to take the apartment off the market until your application is processed. If you are declined, the money will be returned. If you are approved and choose not to move in, you may not be reimbursed. Make sure you only put a deposit down on an apartment you plan to accept, but apply for as many others as you choose.

Skip the Unnecessary Amenities

While it may be tempting to rent in a building with a gym or swimming pool, or to snag the luxurious top-floor pad with the beautiful view, sacrifices are essential for college living. It is unlikely as a student you can afford extravagant lodgings, so just make sure your place has the basic essentials--you don't want an apartment with leaky ceilings and a toilet that doesn't flush. Be certain that it is safe, functioning and affordable before considering spending any extra money on luxuries.

Look for Deals

Some landlords offer a discount on the first month's rent or other special deals for college students if you move in by a certain date. Contact your school's financial aid or student life departments to find out if any nearby apartment complexes offer any bargains. Make sure you inquire at least three or four months before the start of the semester so you beat the rush and have plenty of options.

Live Close Enough to Walk

If you can find a place within walking distance from your classes, a convenience or grocery store, and anything else you will need, you can cut a great deal of cost from your everyday living. Leaving your car at home may seem unthinkable, but its fiscally practical if you can go wherever you need by foot or the occasional bus. Without the added cost of fuel or car insurance, you will have more money for rent, utilities and other expenses. However, living closer to campus could also result in higher rent, so compare expenses accordingly to determine the most practical and convenient solution.

Get Roommates

Another great way to save money is to share rent with one or more roommates. However, living with others can be tricky, and you will want to choose roommates you will be compatible with. Make a list of desirable qualities for a cohabitant and make sure any potential roommate fits the description. Will it bother you to reside with a smoker? How important is cleanliness and organization? Do you relish the silence, or do you want the freedom to blast music throughout the day? Do you want pets? Deciding what you need and want in a roommate will ensure that the dwelling is a happy one. It is also a good idea to be aware of your roommate's financial habits and their ability to pay their share of the rent promptly and in its entirety.

Get Your Roommates on the Lease

If you are sharing your apartment with anyone, make sure they sign the lease to hold them responsible for their share of rent. If your roommates aren't on the lease, they can move out at any time and leave you accountable for the entire monthly amount.

Have a Co-Signer

Many landlords will require you to have a co-signer on the lease if have not established credit or have a poor credit history. A co-signer is someone that takes full responsibility for your apartment and rent should you be unable to pay. Usually your parents will be willing to sign a lease with you, but if not, ask a close relative or trusted friend with good credit.

Go See the Place

Some landlords will try to get you to sign a lease without even showing you the apartment. You don’t want to live anywhere without seeing it for yourself, so make an appointment for a tour of any potential place. Ask the landlord to see the actual apartment for rent and not just a similar unit. Check that the windows open easily and close securely. Check the plumbing and water pressure, and look for leaky faucets and poorly functioning toilets. Check the walls and ceilings for severe cracks that could result in leaks. Ensure that all appliances work sufficiently, such as the refrigerator, oven, air conditioner and dishwasher. Listen for noise levels, look for emergency exits and smoke detectors, and verify that the apartment is well-maintained with clean carpets and freshly painted walls. It may be helpful to bring a camera to take pictures, especially if the landlord promises to make any repairs before you move in.

Ask Questions

Have a list of questions prepared for the landlord when you go to view the apartment. Some important things to know include: the day your rent is due, inclusion of utilities in rent, possible late fees for rent, inclusion of any hidden fees, the length of the lease, the pet regulations, your parking options, the redecorating policies, who is in charge of maintenance, the safety of the neighborhood and the penalties for breaking a lease.

Read the Lease Carefully

Before you sign anything, make sure that you read it thoroughly. Make sure everything you discussed with the landlord when you viewed the apartment is illustrated in the lease, including agreed upon rent and utilities, maintenance responsibilities, any planned repairs to be made before you move in, the amount of the security deposit and the conditions for its return, and the length of the lease. If you have any questions about the contents of the agreement or notice that there are discrepancies, speak up before you sign the dotted line.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on February 20, 2013

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