Back to School Renter's Checklist
School is starting up again. Welcome back! So, you’ve decided to not live in the dorms this year – you’re gonna find a place off campus. Congrats! I commend you. You thought getting into your program was rough...it’s gonna be a little stressful, but as with online dating, if you give it some time and have an open mind, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Here are some tips that helped me find a place for college. Some of them may seem like no-brainers, but it’s good to review:
Step one: budget.
Whether you're paying with student loans, from Mom and Dad’s pocket, or with a day job, it’s important to know how much you can afford to spend each month on an apartment. Make sure to include parking, utilities, and move-in fees in your budget. Don't forget to factor in food (beer) and other personal bills you might have, such as credit cards. Most places will ask for first month, last month, and deposit upon moving in. This amount of money can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to buy books and a new zip-up hoodie so you can fit in. Oftentimes, you can work with the property manager or landlord to pay the last month’s rent over time. That said, I wouldn’t bring this up until your background check has gone through and you’ve been accepted.
Step Two: study up on the market.
Now that you know how much you want to spend, it’s important to have a realistic idea of what you can get for your money. Apartment prices are all over the place without much structure. Sure, everyone wants hardwood floors, a Space Needle view and stainless appliances. Be honest with yourself: are you going to spend that much time in your place? You’re a student on the go; focus on what is most important to you.
Step Three: looking for houses.
Search every website you can. Watch out for scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Go to every opening you can. You might not apply to all of them, but you should see as much as you can. Pictures rarely do a space justice. How will you know you’re getting a good deal if you haven’t seen anything else? You’ll know the right one when you see it. The first few open houses will feel like a mad house. Once you get the feel, you’ll be able to navigate your way like a seasoned boat captain in port.
Step Four: look smart.
I’m not saying intelligence-wise. Dress like you’re important. Treat this as if it were a job interview. You don’t need to wear a tie, but make sure you’re well dressed and showered. Make the person showing the apartment feel like this is the most important appointment you have today.
Step Five: be on time.
This really means: BE EARLY. If it’s a one-on-one showing, be at least 5 minutes early. If it’s an open house, be no less than fifteen minutes early. Maybe more. This may seem ridiculous, but you would be surprised by how many apartments are rented right before the listed open house time. I’m sure you have some summer reading to finish up. Bring your book and a snack. You’ll be ahead of the pack.
Step Six: have all of your info ready.
You’re going to have to fill out an application, and almost every application is going to ask where you’ve worked and lived over the past three years. You'll need your social security or green card number. You might need to provide banking information. It’s also going to ask for contact info of your past employers and landlords, and you might want to consider having these people write you a reference letter stating what a great employee/tenant you were – it goes a long way. Make a bunch of copies. Flaunt your awesomeness. You might want to consider applying to more than one apartment. This way, you’ll have choices. It will cost you a little money, but it’s good insurance that you won’t be apartmentless.
Step Seven: ask the right questions.
Asking questions about the landlord is important. Informed renters are better renters. It makes you look like you care. “Where are you from?” "Do you live nearby?” “How did you get into owning/managing apartments/houses?” are all good places to start. Make sure you ask about utilities and parking, even if you don’t have a car. NEVER ask questions that will put doubt in the landlord’s mind, (e.g., “Where will my beer pong table fit?” "Is this wired for a second refrigerator?”). Don’t do it. If it’s that important (it’s not), make friends with someone in the electrical engineering program at your school.
If you are renting with roommates, make sure everyone is following these steps. Your whole team should be there, freshly pressed and ready to rock. You want to look like the simplest, most easy-going option for the landlord. It will make the difference between renting an apartment and being second place.
There are different types of rental options. Which of these sounds like the best fit for
Living alone - This could be in a one-bedroom or studio situation. Studios and one-bedrooms are readily available throughout town. These are the bulk of the listings you will find. Consider whether your budget allows for this.
Room share - If your budget won’t afford living alone, you can look into living with others. People will often post a room for rent within their apartment or house. They will often already have a lease, and you will sublease from them. These tend to be better for short-term renting, but some people find this fruitful for many years. Another room share option is through a company like Apodments or Footprint. They offer single rooms that share a common kitchen. Another added benefit is these rooms are often furnished.
Renting with friends – This could be a two-bedroom apartment or a multi-bedroom house. This is sometimes less expensive than renting alone. The nice thing about renting with friends is that you automatically have someone else to help out with housework.
No matter what style of rental you pick, if you use these tips, you will instantly be moved to the top of the heap.
Do you have any tips or tricks to effectively rent here in Seattle? Feel free to share in the comments below.