Off-Campus Housing: 10 Must-Have Things to Consider Before You Leave Campus
Off-campus housing can be tempting if you’re tired of the rules and regulations of on-campus living. We get it. Curfews and sharing rooms or floors with people who aren’t really there to get an education can be taxing. But just getting away from where you are is a big decision that you shouldn’t enter into lightly.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the 10 major considerations that you should make before deciding to say yes to off-campus housing. Have you covered all of the bases?
1. Calls for Service
“Calls for service” is a term that police use. It means how many times have the responded to a certain address. If you plan on moving off-campus, the first thing you need to do is get a feel for how often that happens.
That goes for your residence, yes. But it also goes for any surrounding residences. Take a moment to walk a few blocks. Submit a Freedom of Information Act request to get the number of calls to the homes in your area.
You can go as in-depth with this as you’d like. The main thing is that you know whether there are any shady characters or goings-on in your area before you sign a lease. You don’t want to be moving into danger. Searching for calls for service with your local Police Department will decrease the odds that you are.
Be leery of rent payments that seem too good to be true. You want to avoid moving into a slum. At the same time, you’ve got to make sure you’re able to handle the payments for the full term of the lease.
That means taking a look at the money you’ll have left from your scholarships and loan that would otherwise be paying for a dorm room or on-campus apartment. Factor in whatever other forms of income you have as well.
If the cost difference is significant, you may want to rethink your decision. But if you can move into the off-campus housing for a comparable price, then go for it.
Seeking out a roommate could be a good solution to the challenge of affordability. In the next section, we’ll discuss the roommate factor more in-depth.
3. Roommate Potential
What are the odds of getting a roommate for the place that you’ve selected? You’ll need to take a serious look at this question because you’re going to need someone who will commit to the same length of time that you’re committing to.
Without it, you could be left holding the bag for more time than you can afford. It’s not impossible to live in a decent area for an affordable rent, but it often is contingent on finding the right roommate — and in some cases, roommates — to get the job done.
Additionally, it’s important to make sure the people you choose are people who will fit your lifestyle. They mustn’t impede on your beliefs, your obligations, or your sense of right and wrong. Otherwise, you’ll end up dealing with more headaches than you would have had you just stayed on campus.
4. Lease Terms
The most common lease arrangements are for six months or a year. As a student, it’s best to go for the six-month term unless you plan on staying in your college community year-round and holding a job during the summer months.
Lease agreements are legally binding contracts. If you can’t afford to maintain the lease, then you may be forced to pay a penalty or buy out the entire terms of the agreement. It depends on the fine print.
That said, it’s entirely possible that a landlord wouldn’t try to take you to court for breaking the agreement. That’s because the potential reward from a judgment might not be worth the legal expense. You can’t take that risk, though. You’re legally liable, and this is their business. People tend to fight for their businesses.
5. Proximity to Campus
You may not live on campus anymore, but it’s still important that you live close to it. That’s because many of your classes will be in-person and on campus. Living too far away just adds one more layer of stress to a full-time course load.
Check it out before moving to off-campus housing. Go to the place you’re thinking about. Time the drive from there to the location where you would be parking on a given day. If it’s a relatively short wait — 15-30 minutes, we’d say — then it can be worth it.
Otherwise, the commute is liable to leave you feeling burned out. And feeling burned out makes it easier to not show up for class or to quit altogether.
6. Utility Costs and Inclusions
The first thing to sort out after rent are your utilities costs. Paying these is something you can’t get out of whether you’re on campus or not. After all, the school prices all that into what they charge for your room. So, as you do a cost analysis, make sure that you’re keeping the utilities in mind.
Additionally, you’ll want to look at whatever inclusions the off-campus housing has for you. By “inclusions,” we mean those items that are built into the rent price. Some apartments may pay your electric and/or water while others will have you handle it separately. Get everything down on paper to do a true apples-to-apples comparison. Otherwise, you could end up missing out on a key calculation.
7. Landlord Responsiveness
The responsiveness of your landlord will go a long way in telling you what kind of a place you’re staying in. Landlords that jump right on safety issues, building improvements, and any other concerns that you may have, are gold. They’re the type of people who don’t have to respond as much because their buildings are so well-run. Yet, they do anyway.
Landlords that neglect their properties welcome safety issues, building issues, and other problems. They don’t pay the price for that as much as you do. Therefore, make sure that you have your landlord’s ear. After all, paying for your rent on time every month affords you some skin in the game and a right to be heard.
Do neighbors largely keep to themselves or look out for one another? You may not want to live in an area where everyone is up in your business. But a little bit of that “looking out for one another” can go a long way in helping you protect your possessions and steer clear of trouble.
After all, criminals tend to gravitate towards places that make getting away with it easy. If your neighborhood is plugged into what’s going on around it, it simply isn’t worth the risk to disturb the peace. The key is to find that balance between nosiness and vigilance.
9. Proximity to Work
Just like you want to live close to campus, it’s a good idea to get off-campus housing that’s also close to your workplace. Any time that you can cut back on your daily commute is more time that you can spend on your studies, projects, and assignments.
How far is too far? We’d say that when searching for a place to stay, you should keep approximately the same distance from work as you do from school. No more than 15-30 minutes. And if you can get a job close to campus and somehow time your work schedule around your class schedule, that’s a win-win!
10. Unforeseen Expenses
The last thing you’ll need to be mindful of are those unforeseen expenses that can make a big impact on your budget. This could be anything from healthcare and car insurance to repairs and other bills. That’s why it is so important to assess your financial situation on a weekly, or even daily, basis.
Doing so gives you the knowledge you need to plan for these expenses and build up an emergency fund. These are the types of decisions that will keep you from falling into the trap of credit cards you don’t need and poor financial decision-making.
Your Next Moves
By now, you know what factors you need to keep under consideration. Go over them one more time before you decide to proceed with moving to off-campus housing.
Still sure you want to do it? If so, there are three more things that you can do to smooth the transition and have the decision work to your advantage. Let’s examine further!
Plan a Budget
A budget may seem very “grown-up,” but it’s actually quite a simple document to create. All you have to do is get a sense for how much money you’re going to have to live on every month and your recurring bills and expenses.
As long as the money to live on outpaces the expenses, you’ll be able to save money so you always have cash on-hand for those unforeseen expenses that could otherwise knock you off track. So, take some time to list out every dollar that will be entering your bank account. Every cent that will be free to use after you’ve cleared the semester’s tuition and fees.
Break it down by month, even if that means you get paid irregularly. The key is to annualize the total, divide it by 12, and use that number to pay for your life as it happens.
Time Your Commute
Again, take the time to get comfortable with the drives that you have to make from your off-campus housing to all the regular destinations where you must go. That means from your apartment to campus; your apartment to work; your campus to work; and all other relevant routes that will come into play. You want to be as comfortable with the logistics as you are the finances.
Finally, you need to be aware of all the ways that your financial situation might change as a result of off-campus housing. Will some expenses you’re paying for on campus go away, or will there be more than enough new ones to replace those expenses?
What bills will you have to pick up? Which ones will you get to set down? Figure out all the ways your life will be different. Then, decide if you can live with those things before proceeding!
Take Care of Business on the Front End to Make the Most Out of Off-Campus Housing
Hopefully, this look at the considerations you must make before moving forward with off-campus housing will help you make the best decision. Remember that your comfort is influenced by cost, environment, and logistics. If you’re okay with the way your world will be changing, start putting together a plan that will make your transition successful. Good luck as you figure it out!
[Featured Image by Wikimedia Commons]