By Matthew Welsh

Since leaving her freshman year dorm in 2020, Maggie Martin has lived in three different locations including in a sorority house, an apartment and a five-person house. 

Martin, a junior at the University of Georgia, said her frequent relocations exposed the financial realities of off-campus living.

“I was very much unaware,” Martin said of her financial literacy skills while living on campus, but she said renting off campus “has improved my ability and skills to manage my own money.”

She said transitioning away from meal plans and implementing general budgeting strategies allowed her to grow her financial knowledge. 

“Money-wise, working to make a budget that actually works is big,” Martin said. “Instead of in freshman and even sophomore year to an extent, where I was working for pocket change and spending money, now it’s for rent money and paying for groceries.”

Living on a college campus is an influential time in any undergrad’s life, but choosing when to move away from campus can be equally as significant, said Hillory Bingham, leasing manager at Athens Real Estate Group.

She said the students’ annual decisions to stray from their on-campus confines in search of off-campus residences has created apartments that cater to a majority student market. As a result, Bingham indicated most housing agencies in the area implement a fundamental yet expedited renting system. Leasing processes vary between landlords, but most follow a streamlined system with set guidelines, she said.

“A lot of getting through the leasing process is on the prospects themselves,” said Bingham, who described a step-by-step process designed to guide prospective tenants through securing an off-campus lease.

Bingham said the rental period typically begins in the fall and extends through the spring. Students tour properties and then submit rental agreements and application fees along with renters’ insurance and proof of income documentation, she said. 

Because many students require a co-signer in the absence of any formal salary, parental guarantor forms are the typical substitute, she explained, adding that only after all required documents are returned to the leasing group, can the lease be finalized. 

In her experience, Bingham said the closing process ideally takes one week but depends on the size of the applicant group. 

Bingham said many students fail to consider the intricacies of the signing process, which requires a one-time security deposit equal to one month’s rent. That deposit is returned barring significant property damage, but still requires a significant financial commitment upfront, she said.

Additionally, most leases are held in a joint 12-month fashion, meaning everyone on the lease is responsible for paying their own monthly amount for the full term of the lease, she said. Bingham also said renters should be prepared for other commonplace fees such as pet deposits and utility supplements.

“We really do try to be as communicative as possible,” Bingham said. “We come into this job knowing that if we are leasing to students, they may not know much about what’s going on.”

Beyond the tedious financial and administrative obligations associated with fulfilling a lease, Martin said signing one taught her and her roommates a series of valuable life lessons. The biggest being how to care for themselves, she said. 

“There’s an argument there for living on campus…but for me, I think it ended up being okay financially,” Martin said. “I could’ve saved a little money by living on campus, but personally in growth and development, I think I made the right decision.”

 Matthew Welsh is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.