Unless you are planning to go to a school in your hometown and live with your parents, at some point in your college career you’re going to have to sign a lease and rent an apartment. Unless you live in the dorms all four years…but that’s weird. Don’t do that.
I love living in an apartment. I love having my own room, being able to cook my own food, and all the other fun things that come along with not living with your parents, like not having a curfew and being allowed to go get Taco Bell at two in the morning if I want.
This year will be third year renting an apartment. I live with two other roommates who are awesome, and it’s been really fun! I think getting your first apartment is one of the first steps into adulthood, and it can be a really fun experience.
BUT. You need to be careful. There are a lot of meanie heads out there who like to take advantage of the fact that we’re young and don’t have a lot of life experience. They know that we’ve most likely never rented an apartment before, and that this is the first time we are having to make an adult decision on our own. So, I came up with a list of all the questions you need to consider before you sign on the dotted line.
It’s important to ask about the commute to your school from the apartment complex. And don’t just ask the property managers – try to talk to current residents. It might only be a 2 mile drive to campus, but maybe traffic always gets backed up on your road and it takes over thirty minutes to get to your parking garage.
If your complex is within walking distance, ask how safe the walk is. Do you have to cross any major roads? How long does the walk take?
You should also look around and see if there are grocery stores, restaurants or shopping centers nearby. Are you obsessed with Target? Maybe don’t get an apartment that’s a 30 minute drive away from it.
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What services and extras do they offer? Is there a pool? If they have one, what hours are they open and for how many months out of the year? Do they have a gym, or lounge? What about a bus to campus? What hours does the bus run? And, if they do offer these amenities, will you be required to pay an extra “community fee?”
Are you given your own parking space, or can you buy one for an extra fee? If you can buy a parking spot, I would ask around and see if it is needed. I once lived in a complex where there was never any parking near our apartment, and I was really glad I had paid extra for my own spot.
When you go to the complex and ask for a tour, they most likely are going to have a “model” apartment that they take you through. This apartment is going to be spotless, be decorated perfectly and will most likely not look like what you will get if you sign a lease. I would ask around the complex and see if someone who lives there is willing to let you see their apartment. If not, be sure to ask the property managers a BUNCH of questions about the actual apartment you’ll be getting.
Does a washer and dryer come with the space? Will it be cleaned thoroughly before you move in? (Even if they say yes, make sure to specifically ask for it to be done. Some places say they will have it cleaned but don’t actually go through with it unless you make a fuss). Does it come furnished? If that is an option, does that come with an extra fee? Are pets allowed, and is there an extra fee involved with that?
If you do end up signing a lease, you’re going to want to check your apartment thoroughly when moving in. Your complex will give you a sheet of paper, and you’re supposed to walk through your entire place and write down anything that is broken or damaged. It’s really boring, but make sure to take it seriously. If you don’t mark down something as broken, your complex might try to charge you for it when you move out.
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This might not sound like a big deal, but utilities are an important factor when picking an apartment. Ask for specifics about what utilities you will be required to pay for, and what the average rates per month are for them. If utilities are included, ask if there is a cap placed on how much can be used? Don’t just ask the managers; talk to the residents as well. I once lived in an apartment with horrible pipes, and we had to pay so much money for heating and cooling each month because of it. The property claimed there was nothing wrong, but we were paying double and even triple what my friends were paying each month in other apartment complexes.
This is really important. You should read reviews online, check out the area and talk to residents to make sure you will feel safe. If there is a gate, ask if the gate is enforced. Look up the crime rate in the area. Ask if anything has happened in the complex (once I came home and found out my next door neighbor had been robbed at gun point. Yeah). Does the apartment complex pay for an on-site security guard or policeman? What is his contact information and when is he on the clock? Talk to residents and ask about his response rate.
Read reviews online about the management. You might not want to live there if you find a bunch of reviews online saying that it took a month for maintenance to fix something, or that the complex tried to keep their security deposit for no reason. When I went to move into a new apartment once, the complex tried to start charging me 10 dollars more for rent each month for no reason. I went to the office and had them change it back, but it just goes to show that places that do business with young people can be really shady, and it’s important to check up on every little thing.
- What is the security deposit?
- Is subleasing allowed?
- Do I have the option to renew after my lease ends?
- What are the exact dates for move in and move out?
- Are they offering any incentives for signing, like one month free or a reduced security deposit?
- How do the rates compare to other complexes in the same area?
- Is this mainly a student complex, or are there a lot of families?
- What are the hours for the main office? (This comes into play when you need to pay rent or pick up a package).
- Is the area noisy or peaceful?
- How much does the lease application cost?
- Are there any additional fees?
- Will I need a guarantor? (You probably will. This means someone, usually your parents, will sign the lease as well and promise to pay your rent if you aren’t able to).
And of course, it is very important to read your entire contract. You don’t want to lock yourself into something that is going to end up costing you. Have your parents read it over and make sure the complex isn’t trying to sneak anything in there.
If you are planning on signing a lease, make sure to read this over and ask a million questions. Don’t worry about annoying anyone – at the end of the day, you’re the one paying for the space, so you should be informed!