Whether you spent your summer break lounging around by the poolside at your local country club or building houses for grateful families in Central America, your return to school is sure to be bittersweet. On the one hand, you’ll have plenty of warm evenings to catch up with the college friends with whom you parted in May before classes begin in earnest. On the other, you’ll have to work hard to set yourself up for a successful school year during the even warmer days in between.
Of all the tasks that you’ll need to complete before you can focus on your studies, finding housing may be the most frustrating and time-consuming. If you’re like most returning college students, you probably lined up some form of housing for the fall semester prior to skipping town in the spring. Whether you found a roommate willing to share an on-campus dorm suite or signed a September lease on an off-campus house or apartment, you may have looked to have your fall housing situation all sewn up.
When Housing Plans Fall Through
Like many aspects of college life, student housing offers few guarantees. Every year, hundreds of thousands of college upperclassmen return to school to find their housing plans in shambles. If it looks to be your turn this fall, don’t blame the flaky roommate who backed out at the last second or the shady landlord who reneged on an offer of shelter after receiving a higher offer from another potential tenant. Instead, shake off your housing blues and join the last-minute housing rush.
Always Use Trusted Resources
You may be tempted to start your scramble on a national housing-finder site like Craigslist or Zillow. While these sites may be useful for the general population, college students have several good reasons to treat them with skepticism.
First, Craigslist’s notoriously loose listing policy and low barriers to entry ensure tremendous coverage at the “affordable” end of the housing spectrum. In fact, small college towns are its historical wheelhouse: With its cheap listing policy and simple first-in, first-out ranking scheme, it tends to attract small-time landlords who own relatively few properties and lack major marketing budgets.
Craigslist’s affordability and convenience are also its Achilles’ heels. With no fact-checking infrastructure and only a rudimentary forum-based peer-review mechanism, it offers few guarantees that its listings are accurate or even honest. As such, the process of vetting potential landlords and living spaces found via Craigslist can be exhausting. If you’re scrambling to find last-minute housing before school starts, you may not have time to complete such thorough due diligence.
Consider Your Budget When Using Resources
Meanwhile, Zillow offers relatively little value for bargain-hungry college students. Although it has broadened its appeal dramatically since going public, the site still caters to upmarket home-buyers and professional real estate investors. Its rental-finder feature provides excellent insight into the statistical state of local rental markets but offers little practical support for students looking to find cheap, immediately-available housing in a crunch.
Try Sites Geared Toward Students
Fortunately, your college or university probably offers an attractive alternative to listing sites like Craigslist or Zillow. For instance, Northwestern University provides its undergraduates with access to off-campus property and rental listings across the Chicago area and can even broker connections between students and landlords. Meanwhile, the University of Miami offers a searchable dedicated-listing service exclusively for students in search of off-campus housing. It’s closed to non-students, eliminating competition from the general public and adding a security feature that’s absent from Craigslist.
Talk to Other Students
Depending upon where you go to school, your off-campus rental market may be dominated by a handful of big property-management companies. This is especially popular in areas near major research universities. If possible, talk to peers who have found housing through one of these management companies and determine whether they’re generally pleased with their experiences.
Since they own so many individual units, these management companies rarely operate at full capacity and may have apartments available throughout the school year. They may also offer move-in specials and teaser rates to fill unoccupied units. If you renew your lease after it expires, keep in mind that your rent may “readjust” to a higher rate.
Look for Space in a Dorm
On campus dorms typically have deadlines for housing, but are prepared to deal with students who apply late. It is not uncommon for dorms to set up lobbies as “temporary housing” for the first couple weeks of the semester. While living in the lobby of the dorm may not be appealing, remember that rooms typically open up quickly as students move back home, drop out, or move into off-campus houses after joining a fraternity or sorority.
Check out Your School’s Paper
Most college newspapers will have a classifieds section. Students who are studying abroad may be looking to sublet their room to another student for the semester. You may also find students in a similar situation as you, who are looking to find a replacement roommate after another has bailed. If you would rather try to find another roommate before searching for a new place, place an add in your student paper or on a campus housing site as soon as possible.
Backing out of a Lease
With so many last-minute housing options at your disposal, you may well find multiple units that suit your needs. If you’ve agreed in principal to a lease without actually signing it, you can typically back out of your commitment with ease. You may lose your lease-application fee, which can range between $25 and $50, but your not-to-be landlord won’t be able to keep your security deposit or any advance rent that you paid. If you are unsure about a new prospect, you can negotiate with the landlord to secure a shorter lease, giving you the opportunity in the meantime to search for a place that is better suited for you.
Today’s guest article is provided by Jackson Hathorn. He points out that finding housing at the last minute doesn’t mean you have to live without. Internet and Cable Services from Comcast can help turn a bare-bones studio into a fully wired, and highly functional, domicile.