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Moving out on a student’s budget

By Cynthia Marts


Published: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010

Along with maturation comes the terror of moving out of your parent’s house or your dorm. If you don’t have your own apartment right now, it can pretty much be assumed that in a short amount of time you’re going to have to start looking for your own place to live.

What has to be known is that not only is this an exciting, fascinating, fulfilling occurrence, but it is also a pain in the ass. From the initial search, applications, fees, and the grunt work of moving in, getting your own place can be a hassle-not to mention expensive. Even if the rent itself is pretty low, the first month’s expenses can really stack up with fees, charges, and deposits that you have to go through for the landlord, building, and utilities.

But please, don’t let me put you off of the idea. Having your own place is fantastic! Even though you’ve probably been living more or less on your own for the last few years thanks to dormlife, having your own place is an entirely different feeling. However, before you jump into the whole idea, there are a couple things you have to make sure to do when you plan on getting an apartment…especially if you want to keep yourself from going bankrupt before you’ve even moved in.

-Know what you want. It’s very easy to go out and expect to find something perfect and end up spending weeks wasting time on lots of possibilities instead of looking specifically for what you want, and getting some real ideas.

-Make a list of exactly what you’re looking for. Start off with the things that are the most important to you, like the number of bedrooms, the size of the living room or kitchen, or even how safe the neighborhood should be. Then go on to the things you would prefer, like washer/dryer connections, closet space, a dishwasher, or the number of parking spaces. Lastly, list the things you’d like to have but aren’t necessary, like a patio, fireplace, or a pool.

At the top of your list, make sure to include how much you’re willing to spend on your rent, the absolute maximum along with your preferred price. Having this list will help you prioritize your expectations and weed out the places that don’t fit your needs.

Prowl your neighborhoods. If you know where it is you want to live-a certain city, district, or near a certain school-take a walk or drive around the neighborhoods in that area. Make sure to bring a pen and paper, and take note of all the “For Rent” signs in the area. Write down the phone number, the street the building is on, and your visual reaction to the place. Is it brand new or run down? Is it next to a school or a garbage dump? These notes will help you remember the area later on and help you when you’re considering whether or not you’d like to move in.

Soon after your adventure, sit down and call all the numbers you wrote down. Ask about the apartment for rent and start off asking some preliminary questions. How much is the rent? When is it available? How many bedrooms does it have? Write all this down with the original notes from your walk, and then go back over them when you’ve called them all.

If it doesn’t fit your guidelines previously listed, forget about it. If nothing looks promising, don’t give up. Wait a week and try again, or extend your search. Try the other side of the school, or a block or two in the other direction. Senior Enid Rodriguez has had quite a few apartments, and recommends looking just a little further away to save a little money.

“Some of these apartments around campus can be pretty run down and ugly, but still expensive because they’re so close to school,” explains Rodriguez. “If you’re willing to walk a little further, or maybe ride a bike, I’d find something a little further away so it costs a little less, sometimes for a better place.”

Once you’ve got a good list of possibilities, make some more phone calls. This time, ask to view the place. Like it? Write it down. Hate it? Scratch it off the list. For the ones you do like, make sure to ask more important questions, stemming off of your already made list of what you want. If you want, you can type up your list and print out one copy for each apartment you like. Check off each thing on the list that the apartment satisfies. This will help you compare your options.

-Make sure to have the money when you start. The biggest problem I ran into when getting an apartment was how much I had to pay before I’d even moved in. Here I was thinking how affordable my apartment was going to be, and then the fees rolled in.

First there was the application fee, a semi-slim fee about $35-$50. Then there were the background fees; varying from criminal background checks, past rentals, and credit checks, each with variously small prices. Then there was the deposit fee. Most places will have a safety deposit of about half your rent, sometimes more or less. Mine was an entire month’s rent and I was completely unprepared.

Now add those fees onto your startup fees for your utilities, your first big grocery trip, your basic necessities, and the beginnings of your decorations/furnishings, and you’ve got a hefty debt on your hands. To avoid this, make sure you’ll have enough to cover all the fees before you start your search. The last thing you need is to owe your parents money because you couldn’t cover your startup costs.

-Don’t get dragged in by the little things. There are tons of things apartment complexes can attract potential renters with. Shiney new buildings, swimming pools, and community gates can be extremely appealing, but can add lots of extra cost onto an apartment that really isn’t worth it. Nia Sisomphone, a junior who is currently looking for an apartment, recommends really thinking about those extras before deciding on an apartment just because they’re there.

“It seems like new apartments are a lot more expensive that slightly older ones,” says Sisomphone. “Plus they have all the amenities that make the price go up. And there are those gated communities that are supposed to be safer, but the gate is never even closed. It’s just important to keep ruling out unnecessary stuff like that.”

-Read your lease! This is important for lots of reasons. Mostly, this lets you know your rights when it comes to your new home. Knowing your lease also keeps your landlord from scamming you out of any money. Your lease should state exactly what you are required to take care of in your apartment and what you’re landlord is supposed to take care of. This way if he or she tries to tell you to fix something yourself and doesn’t offer to do it for you, you’ll know whether or not it’s your responsibility. This can save you lots of money if you’re ever stuck with a landlord who doesn’t do anything they’re supposed to.

Along with reading over your lease comes your initial status list. Before you move your stuff in, take a quick tour of the whole apartment. Take note (and even better, pictures) of any cracks in the walls, carpet tears, water stains, cracked windows, whatever. Anything that’s wrong with the place before you move in, write it down. Make a list and have your landlord sign it and keep it in their files. Make sure you have a copy as well to attach to your lease and keep in a safe place. This is important unless you’re willing to pay for damages you did not inflict on the apartment.

-Once you’ve got your place, have a party. Not a kegger, but a small group of (mostly) family members and good friends. Why? Well, this may sound greedy, but one of the best ways to furnish your new home is a House Warming Party. Show your guests around, give them some snacks, and say how great the place is. Ahead of time, drop a couple hints about things you need for your living room, kitchen, or bathroom. Don’t expect everyone to walk in with a brand new toaster for you, but if done right it’s very likely that you can get quite a few new appliances, decorations, or interesting trinkets for your new pad.

Other ways to furnish your place on a small budget is to spend a few Saturday mornings out and about. It may be inconvenient, but early morning on the weekends is the best time to find a yard sale, and yard sales can be your key to comfort. You obviously don’t want dishware, mattresses, or bathroom equipment, but handy furniture pieces like chairs, coffee tables, and desks can be found for really low prices.

Don’t be too shy to argue a price you think is unfair. If they’re trying to charge 20 dollars for a coffee table that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the 60s, but still looks like it’d work in your den, don’t hesitate to offer a lower price. If they really want to sell it and make their money, they’ll work with you. If yards and haggling aren’t your things, try consignment or thrift shops for pieces in better condition but still with pretty low prices.

Once you get moved in, life usually runs much steadier. You get used to the range of prices for the utility bills, along with adapting your income to run smoothly with your rent. It may take a while, but you’ll probably get used to it, and you’ll probably love it.

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