By Emma Veidt
Imagine this scenario: you can live near campus, you can have plenty of living space and you can have cheap rent. Now pick two.
As I began hunting for my very first apartment last spring, I had little idea of what was considered expensive or affordable. My parents taught me how to save money because I grew up on a budget, but I was privileged in the sense that they never revealed to me the severity of our struggle. I never knew how much we owed on any expenses. However, because of this, I had no idea how much to expect for monthly rent. $100? $500? $1,000? Everything seemed reasonable because I was so inexperienced.
College students are like adults-in-training. Some of us enter college as expert adults, and some of us enter college with adulting training wheels. Even though I was well-versed in some aspects of responsibility and adulthood, I needed help becoming financially literate. Last spring, my roommate and I toured about a half-dozen apartment buildings, and I just nodded blankly when each representative revealed the cost of rent. Luckily, throughout this past year, I have made several mistakes and also learned from my friends’ mistakes. Here are my top tips for financially inexperienced students in their first apartment search:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions: It doesn’t matter whom you’re asking. It is better to feel embarrassed for 10 seconds as opposed to blindly following a plan and literally paying for it.
- Consider apartments that include utilities in rent: It makes a huge difference in the middle of a February snowstorm knowing that you can go back to your apartment and take a hot shower without being billed on it. Those showers got me through weeks of freezing snow and rain.
- Sometimes the fancy amenities are not worth it: Apartments offer free pizza, free t-shirts, free outdoor grills, etc. These things seem appealing at first, but you are not likely to take advantage of those amenities throughout the year. You will get into your routine and soon forget about the free donuts offered in the leasing office. But, your rent funds this. When you are looking for housing, a cheaper apartment that does not offer as many free snacks or prizes may be better in the long run if you do not anticipate attending all of the free events.
- Don’t forget about parking: Parking is hot commodity for college students. Because of that, some apartments can hike up the price without losing customers. Parking spaces can span from as cheap as $30 per month to more than $70 per month. Keep this in consideration because even if rent is cheap, parking can make or break your decision.
- Once you’re outside of walking distance from campus, distance is irrelevant: Apartment complexes just a few miles from campus offer shuttle services. So, there is a way to get to campus if you do not have a car. If you want to branch outside of campus, focus on the price and what each apartment offers.
- Sublease: It is much more profitable to buy a 12-month lease, instead of a 10-month lease, and sublease during the months you would not be in your apartment. This works if you are studying abroad, going home for the summer or planning on leaving during your lease. You would be paying less each month and you could earn extra money from your subleaser. But, sometimes apartments ban subleasing, so check before you leap.
- Rates are negotiable: This might be the most important tip I have learned so far. Often, rent prices are overestimated and an apartment can offer a unit for even $50 cheaper per month than asking price. It might be awkward telling your landlord that you want to pay less money, but they prefer cheaper customers over no customers.
Emma Veidt is a junior studying journalism at the University of Missouri.