I know my freshman year the one thing that I could not wait for was being able to get my own apartment. Choosing an apartment would be my first real adult decision, and I thought that I was ready. However, two years later, here I am in the same shoes I was then.
Learning from my mistakes, here are some do's and don'ts for apartment shopping your freshman (or any) year.
Do: Go to the housing fair
Whether it is on campus or off, attend the annual housing fair. Collect all the swag they give out and check out all the places that are there. Get as much information as you can about each place, too, whether it be physical or verbal.
Don't: Limit yourself to the few apartment complexes that showed up to the fair
To every apartment complex represented at the housing fair, there are probably at least two more that are in the area that did not attend. Do not just limit yourself to checking out only the ones that were there. There may be several more that you might fall in love with that would be a better fit for you than any of the ones that showed up to the fair.
Do: Create a budget
Before going out and touring apartments, sit down and create a budget. Figure out how much you can and are willing to spend on rent, how much you would be willing to pay for utilities and furniture, and prioritize the things you value most. Create a budget and a list in order to maximize your tours. If you want a place closer to campus and are willing to pay more, if you want all utilities and amenities included, if you want your house furnished or not, etc., are all good things to figure out before embarking on your house hunt.
Don't: Overextend your budget
You are a college kid. You are supposed to be broke. You do not have to live boujee yet. Don't set an unrealistic budget that you might struggle with in order to please your fancy needs. No one cares if you live at the party place or scholarship complex. The only person who has to be pleased with your living arrangements is you.
Do: Do some research
It never hurts preparing before you walk in the door. Go online and google apartments near you. You might find a bigger list than you expected. There are several apartments/houses that are for rent that might not be advertised as much on campus. Doing research will help you better understand your options and what you want from them.
Don't: Decide before touring
While some places can look super sketchy online, don't discredit them just yet. Sometimes apartments don't set up as much as an online profile in order to not seem as easily available. They do so in order to control how many and what type of residents they have. Going and touring a place can definitely determine whether or not a place is a fit.
Do: Read online reviews
One of the easiest and often overlooked things is reading reviews online. Most of the time people will go online to review a place and give their honest opinion/experience. Reading these reviews can give you an inside look of what you could expect living there.
Don't: Only read the reviews on their website
Don't only rely on the reviews posted on their website. A lot of time they will require their front desk assistants to post a good review in order to work there. Dig around on Google or apartments.com and read all the good, bad, and in between reviews. Don't always believe the websites and social media because they get people to pose for those. Reading the good, neutral, and bad reviews can tell you how the apartment actually treats its residents.
Do: Ask around
Ask your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, pretty much anyone you can find. Ask them where they live and if they like it. But don't creep them out. Let them know that you are apartment searching and you are considering said apartment. They will understand and most of the time tell you about their personal experience. Your experience may not be the same, but it's a better understanding than just seeing flyers and reading reviews from strangers.
Don't: Just ask office personnel
While it is important to ask the staff and your tour guide their personal experiences at the apartment, don't just rely on their experience. They get paid to sell this apartment to you. They will tell you all the best parts of it, but they won't tell the rest. They aren't lying; they are just marketing. Take what they say seriously, but don't rely on it wholly.
Do: Take lots of tours
Don't be afraid to tour all the apartments in your town. Until you find the right one for you, don't settle. Also, don't be afraid to take multiple tours of the same apartment complex. Getting to see it several times, even with different people, can show you new things you didn't realize you missed. Going on a tour is already like getting word vomited with information. In order to better understand and absorb all a place has to offer, taking multiple tours allows you to view something different each time.
Don't: Sign on a tour
However much you love a place, don't sign on the spot. Take a day or two to think it over, and if you still feel the same way about it as you did after touring, then sign. Once you sign a lease, it is a pain trying to get out of it. It's better to take too much time deciding than not enough.
Do: Spend at least half a semester checking out places
Don't rush the process. I know that searching for a new home can be stressful, but don't sign after the first week. Take some time to sleep on it and weigh all the pros and cons of each place. If you take your time to decide and thoroughly make a decision, you will be more likely to enjoy it more than if you rushed to a decision.
Don't: Sign a lease in the fall semester
No matter what you do, say, or see, follow this one rule: NEVER sign a lease in the fall semester. So many times freshmen get caught up in signing a lease that they sign one after the first tour they take in the fall. Then, when spring rolls around, everyone who signed a lease is trying to sublease or get out of it because they decided too quickly and regret it. No matter how sure you are, wait until after Christmas break. That apartment isn't going to grow legs and run away. Also, signing bonuses, lower rental rates, and even gifts are given away during the prime signing season: March-May. That will be the best time to sign a lease, when you can win a prize with it too. The only risk is that you might not get the exact room or place you wanted at first, but I've never met someone who regretted signing their lease in the spring.
Do: Drive around town looking for places
Sometimes places are privately owned, so they are not rented out through these huge companies. This could still be a nice place to live because it might be more private and affordable. The best way to see if there are any more places for rent besides the common ones online is to drive around town in neighborhoods looking for for sale/for rent/for lease signs. Calling the number, touring, and meeting with the owners could result in a better place than all the apartment complexes. Plus, you have the potential to negotiate rent prices and even get yours lowered.
Don't: Drive only where your friends live
While it is good to decide in what area you want to live, don't limit yourself because you want to be near your friends. Decide on what works best for you, not your friend group.
Do: Sign a lease if you love a place
If you absolutely love this one place, you have your heart set on it, and it fits all of your needs, go for it. Signing a lease is supposed to be a good, celebrated thing, not super stressful. Finding your new home, while scary, is so exciting. So don't let that fear keep you from your new home.
Don't: Sign a lease because your friend wants you to
Don't feel pressured to sign a lease because you potential roommate has already signed theirs. The only person that has to be happy at your place is you. If you don't want to live at the same place they do, then don't. You don't have to live them them in order to be friends.
Do: Have an idea of who you want as roommate/what type of roommates
It is always nice to have an idea of who you want to live with. And if you can't think of anyone or you don't know anyone at the place you signed, having an idea of what kind of person you want to live with is just as important. If you are a clean freak and you want someone who is very tidy as well, you need to be sure you make that known. Roommate compatibility is so important for a happy home. You don't have to be best friends, but you should be able to co-inhabit.
Don't: Limit yourself to rooming with someone because they are your friend
Don't feel like you have to live with your friend because you both like a certain apartment. Sometimes friends can be roommates and everything works out fine. However, other times being roommates can destroy friendships. It is all about balance. Don't get upset or worry that someone else will get upset if you two don't room together. Most of the time it is not personal, but it is what is best for the friendship. Not all friendships are meant to be roommates.
Picking out an apartment for the first time can be a very scary and challenging thing. Balancing bills on top of rent and everything else is a huge load. However, doing your research, determining what is best for you, and having patience are the best keys to success. Never rush into it, but always remain optimistic.