Each month, we make a mortgage payment on our house. And, each month, we pay rent. No, we don’t live in two places. Instead, my husband and I live in a home and our 19-year-old son lives in a college apartment in the city where he attends school.
When my son decided to live in an apartment and not stay on campus, I knew things were about to get interesting. I had no idea what the cost of renting and running an apartment was. I also had no idea that my son believed sharing a bedroom was the worst idea I’d ever had. My son and his roommate negotiated a six-month lease. Then, the hunt for furnishings and decor began.
Tips for a college apartment
His roommate’s mother and I shared a list of needed items which included: beds (mattresses and box springs), a sofa, TV stands (yes, plural because how can you just have one TV?), desks, bar stools, a coffee table, lamps, rugs, throw blankets, pillows, artwork and bathroom supplies. We also provided kitchen supplies and filled their pantry. We wanted our boys to have a wonderful place. Without spending a lot we found plenty to fill that two-bedroom, two-car garage apartment. Stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors and granite counter-tops all came included.
Now that the semester is almost over and the time has come to find next year’s college apartment, those boys found a four-bedroom, four-bathroom, furnished apartment with a 65-inch television complete with four roommates. The new place is in a dream apartment complex that has a swimming pool, sand volleyball courts, a top-notch fitness facility, basketball courts, a clubhouse and many units occupied by fellow students. My son described it to his grandparents as a resort.
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So, what have I learned about college apartment hunting? I learned to read and negotiate the lease. I learned to ask for fees to be waived and for the rent to be lowered. Ask and ask again.
Checklist for Finding a Great College Apartment
1. Proximity to Campus
Without a car, my son needed to have a school bus stop near the apartment. Buses can save you travel time and money when it comes to parking on campus. If your campus is large enough, you should research bus routes. Also, check parking fees. Some schools charge up to $500 a semester for parking. A bike is also a possibility, but know the weather at your child’s school. My son is in West Texas where if it isn’t snowing, it’s a dust storm.
It’s important to know what the landlord means by “utilities.” Do utilities include water, electricity, trash collection and/or internet? Don’t assume that, “including utilities” means all of that, none of that or some of that. Ask. The first apartment required us to set up an account with the local power company and put down a deposit. At the new apartment, there was an option to pay an extra amount each month to ‘cover’ utilities which did not make financial sense for us.
Call the local power company and find out an average price for the complex units to determine how much you may be paying for utilities. If there are multiple roommates, you’ll have to find out from the power company or the apartment management how the bill is handled. No one person should be stuck with the bill each month. With the internet, it’s important to find out if ‘all included’ covers four laptops, a couple of gaming consoles and some iPhones or if you need to supplement the coverage.
3. Furnished or Unfurnished
If you have extra furniture or access to low-cost furniture, go with unfurnished as the monthly rent drops. If you don’t, it’s not worth it to buy new furniture for a temporary apartment. There are local trading sites on Facebook and Instagram where you can find inexpensive pieces for the apartment. Later you can sell those pieces on those same sites. Some complexes have arrangements with furniture rental services, but you may end up ultimately paying more than the furniture is worth.
My son’s first place didn’t have amenities. The rent was less, but he did miss out on some of that college experience (according to him). The lure of amenities you might not use, draws you in. I hope my son takes advantage of the pool, courts and gym as we will when we visit for Parents’ Weekend. (We don’t pay for a hotel because we are already paying rent. He can find another place to stay for the weekend).
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Both apartments use electronic keys which means there is no key to lose, just a code to remember. The parking lot is well-lit and he can park close to his unit. Find out if there are security patrols and how emergencies are handled.
6. Seek an Expert’s Help
These kids are working hard, but they are young. They probably are getting a deal on rent and really don’t get the real estate, rental, apartment living legal part of things. Fortunately for us, my son’s roommate’s mother is a broker and real estate agent. She knows the law. She knows the rules. She can ask all the right questions.
If it’s low, you can negotiate. Competitive market? Again, negotiate. Don’t expect the rental agents to be able to explain all the details, but get their contact information because they can be your best friend or absolute enemy . . . remember, you want the best deal.
8. Lease Term
My son had a six-month lease for his first college apartment and it was easy to negotiate because for the landlord some rent is always better than none. If you have a student who is considering studying abroad, be upfront with the apartment management and ask about releasing from the lease. There are times they have a few slots in which to do that, or they know of people interested in subletting or taking over the lease. Talking about it is always wise. Find out what the term of the lease is. A year lease in college speak may go mid-August through end of May, or June. If summer school is something in your future, consider a true year lease and again. . .negotiate.
9. Move-In and Move-Out Inspection
When you move into the apartment write down everything you notice. Scratch on the floor, indicate it. Door a little stuck, mark it. Fogged windows, let them know. We wrote down each and every thing including the lack of insulation between doors and floors. It will pay off in the end. Go through every room, look high and low as you fill out the form. Run the dishwasher, the washer and dryer, garbage disposal and turn on every light. Flush the toilets, turn on the faucets (our hot and cold water taps were reversed) and run the showers. Check it all out. Upon move out, hire a cleaning service. Spend the money to have the apartment professionally cleaned.
10. Lease Violations
Read the lease. Ask questions about it. Read it again. If your kids choose to have friends over, you need to know allowable noise levels and parking rules. Tow trucks make the rounds in my son’s current complex and if you are even one inch on the gravel or in an area for a minute where there is no parking, say goodbye to your car and hello to a hefty fine. Find out if pets are allowed and find out trash rules.
Good luck and enjoy your new space.
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