5 Tips for Finding Your First Off-Campus Apartment

Will you go the roommate route—or go it alone?

So you’re ready to make the leap—to off-campus housing.

This is a big move.

It’s even bigger than when you first moved into your college dorm, although this probably won’t make your parents cry.

Transitioning to off-campus housing is even more intense if you decide to do it with roommates. Gone will be the days of sharing bathrooms and kitchens with entire floors of people that are kept spotless by campus cleaning crews. Now you’ll likely live with less than a handful of your peers, and every single one of you will be responsible for maintaining some portion of the apartment and keeping it clean and tidy. Have fun with that!

That said, while divvying up the chores can make for awkward conversation (“Who wants the bathroom?”), finding the right off-campus apartment doesn’t need to be a headache. It all boils down to basics such as knowing your budget, prioritizing the amenities you want and, of course, finding the right roommates. You usually can’t choose your dorm roommate, but you can choose your off-campus housing roommate.

Here are five tips for off-campus apartment nirvana. And just think: Once you’ve found your dream spot, you can go ahead and plan a real party!

Set a budget

Simply put: How much money do you have to shell out for these new digs? Also, are you going it alone or will you be splitting the cost with roommates?

Either way, decide how much you’re willing to spend on rent and go from there. If you’re going the roommate route, make sure all roomies are in sync about how much each person is willing to pay. This must happen before anyone even begins looking at available apartments. Also consider costs such as electricity, cable and internet.

Read the lease—and watch out for red flags!

Future lawyers might get an especially big kick out of this. Chances are, the lease will be pretty standard, but it ALWAYS pays to read it thoroughly and check for any red flags related to, for example, security deposits and late fees. (Hint: NEVER be late on a rental payment! This is especially important if you’ll be living with roommates. Everyone needs to pay on time. Period.)

Want to live with a pet? Not every apartment building or complex will allow for that. If they do, they might have breed or size restrictions, so make sure you confirm such matters before bringing Fido.

Bottom line: Read the lease.

Will there be parking?

Whether you already have a car or plan on acquiring one, you’ll need to park that car, and while many apartment complexes offer their residents a parking spot, not all of them do. If they don’t offer a parking spot, check out parking options in your neighborhood.

Is there street parking aplenty or are there signs for miles warning you about the dangers of being towed if you so much as breathe in the wrong direction? If it’s the latter, parking-related apps such as Parkopedia, ParkWhiz and SpotHero can possibly help guide you in the right direction.

Bring a friend

It’s often helpful to have a second set of eyes, so if you’re going the solo route and moving into your own place, consider taking a friend along to your apartment-viewing appointments.

And when we say “friend.” we mean someone who will actually be helpful and make useful observations. They might notice things that you don’t and even ask questions you’d never thought to ask.

Prioritize

Ultimately, what do you want? What are some non-negotiable items?

Is the ability to walk to campus a must, or are you willing to drive or use public transportation to get to class?

Are you hoping for coffee shops and restaurants galore within walking distance, or would you rather live further away in favor of cheaper rent?

Do you need a backyard?

Also, think about laundry. Do you want to put the days of communal laundry far behind you and get a place with its own washer and dryer?

Whatever it is you want, keep it in mind before you fall in love with any particular apartment. It’s tempting to fall in love with apartment buildings that offer all kinds of fun amenities—here’s looking at you, dear swimming pool and communal happy hours—but if your closet is the size of a suitcase and the local noise literally rattles your brain, you might want to take a step back and reconsider. You want to move up, not down, so prioritize your must-haves and go from there.

You’ll thank yourself for it later.