By Emmy Medders
Students living in Athens are only here for a short time. As a result, most of them participant in the local real estate market as renters instead of buyers.
For the past five years, apartment complexes have popped up throughout the community, especially downtown. With so many options for students, what is the most important element to look for in a home away from home?
“That’s easy. Location, location, location,” said Kathryn Kostovetsky, a 21-year-old fourth-year journalism major at the University of Georgia.
Kim Skobba, an associate professor in financial planning, housing and consumer economics at UGA, echoed this point.
“The number one factor to look for in a rental is definitely location. Pick a location that is convenient for you,” said Skobba. However, she said the overall rental experience goes beyond simply where the property is located, adding that renters should look for a good property management company.
Skobba said a way to avoid bad rental experiences is by working with a property management company that is invested in providing good customer service before the lease is even signed.
“They are going to fix things when they break, they will be responsive when you have concerns. There are indicators of that when you go to visit, and in how responsive they are on the phone when you call,” she said.
Skobba also said working on the leasing contract can tell a lot about the property management company.
“A good management company is going to have a lease that is legal and straight forward. I always recommend that students actually read the whole entire lease,” she said. “Watch out for things that are not legal. If something doesn’t seem right, ask a lot of questions about it. You are signing up to pay for [a rental for] a year, that’s a big commitment.”
Skobba said a recurring issue for students is wanting to break a lease, but not being able to do so legally.
“That information is spelled out in the lease. When you read that ahead of time, you at least have some general understanding of what the expectations are for situations like that,” she said. “It is going to vary based on who you are renting from, but either way you are going to have to pay to get out. It’s usually a good chunk of money.”
Kostovetsky, who used to work as a community assistant at an apartment complex in downtown Athens, said leases at that location were only broken under rare, extreme circumstances.
Both Skobba and Kostovetsky also pointed out that Athens has an early market, meaning that apartments are leased quickly in the fall for the upcoming semester. To maximize options, students should start planning before Christmas break.
“Where I worked, we tried to have our renewals locked down by October. If a resident didn’t resign by a certain date around then, then their unit was fair game for the next year. The apartment complex I live in now is the same way,” said Kostovetsky.
Skobba said the more affordable options are usually gone by mid-spring for the following school year.
“Here in Athens, you have to start early. Pretty early in the spring the places that are a little more reasonable get snatched up,” she said.
Kostovetsky said her “hypothetical triad” view of the college housing market explains how it works.
“In an ideal world, you’ll have a decent price, a convenient location, and a nice place. In most cases, you pick two. The nicer rentals in great locations are on the pricier side, whereas some of the more cost-efficient options are either far-away or known for reoccurring problems such as bugs,” she said. “It ultimately comes down to your budget, but the earlier you start planning the more options you’ll have.”
Emmy Medders is a student at the University of Georgia.