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Student Housing Search Tips During the Pandemic

Ianni Le


As your student starts their search for off-campus housing, there are many things to consider. If this is their first time moving off campus and navigating the housing market, make sure they’re familiar with these leasing terms — it’s important to understand the terminology so the process isn't unnecessarily confusing.

As you guide your student during this exciting journey, CollegiateParent has compiled a number of resources to help, including roommate agreements, property viewing checklists and general housing tips.

Of course, looking for off-campus housing right now is going to be a little different than usual. But there’s no need to stress yourselves out preemptively! Most leasing companies have been quick to implement virtual tours and diligent about providing prospective tenants with as many resources as possible.

My roommate and I have always made it a point to tour apartments in person, finding that we get a better feel for the space when we’re actually there. So we were particularly disappointed when we realized that, because of coronavirus closures, there was no way we could do that this year as we search for our first post-college place.

Instead, we are using everything we've learned about housing in the past four years to find the best fit. Here's how we're tackling the virtual housing search along with some important off-campus housing lessons!

First, Talk to Your Student About What They're Looking For

What definitely needs to be included for their home to feel comfortable and what is your student willing to compromise on? Are they okay with a shared laundry facility or would they prefer to have a washer/dryer in their unit? Do they want an apartment or a house? Is your student willing to share a bathroom or do they need/want their own?

How much outdoor space or natural light are they accustomed to and what makes them happiest? My roommate and I found ourselves really missing natural light in our current home, especially since we’ve been stuck in our apartment for quarantine, so we’re looking for a south-facing unit for next year.

It's hard to think of everything, and your student is sure to appreciate your help figuring it all out!

Start by Using a Housing Website

Websites such as Apartments, Zillow and Trulia are a great way for renters to look at a bunch of different properties within a certain area using the sites' map feature (perfect for making sure your student is close enough to campus to get easily to their classes!).

These sites also feature a variety of filters to help you narrow down your results. Use the filters to check off the amenities your student wants and tailor the search results to exclude options outside of their budget. Apartments even has a filter to show you housing options specifically for students.

Check Out Property Management Companies, Too

Some companies can be difficult to work with, especially as a student. Have your student read reviews to get an idea of a company's management style. Make sure you check on how management deals with issues tenants bring up.

Will your student be in charge of maintenance or can they reach out to the landlord or leasing company to take care of things like light bulb changes, appliance maintenance or breakdowns, pest control, etc.?

After a year in our apartment, my roommate and I discovered a wasps' nest growing within our bathroom window. We were terrified and had no idea what we were supposed to do. Luckily, we were able to submit an urgent maintenance request through our online tenant portal. Someone came two days later to spray down the nest and we were then able to remove it from the window.

Your student may be totally comfortable handling these types of issues themselves, and that's awesome! In that case, management style and maintenance help may be something your student can be flexible about, allowing them to focus on other factors that are important to them. In my household, we feel more at ease knowing we can rely on our rental company to help us out with maintenance issues. It can be super helpful to have a bit of a safety net!

Include Utilities in Your Budget Calculations!

As you help your student compare options, find out in each case if rent will include water, electric/gas and Wi-Fi. You should also consider trash collection fees, sewage, and parking if your student has a car.

Most places require a pet deposit and pet fee monthly if your student will be bringing along a pet. All of these things should be factored into the budget as the fees can really add up.

Be sure to double check what your student will be responsible for taking care of, and consider whether or not they are ready to handle those responsibilities.

How Easy is the Unit to Access?

Does your student need a furnished place or do you have furniture for them? If you’re planning to move the furniture in yourselves, make sure that they’ll be able to navigate everything into their new accommodations.

Our neighbors were unable to fit their favorite couch into their space, since our top floor apartments are only accessible via two rather spindly staircases and narrow hallways. They tried for hours before admitting defeat.

Most housing companies are using a combination of Zoom walk-throughs, prerecorded videos, or Matterport tours to give prospective tenants a feel for the units.

You may already have experienced Matterport on a housing website. Matterports are 3D cameras that use a series of photos to create a 3D rendition of the floor plan, allowing you to navigate through the space and make accurate measurements of rooms, hallways and more.

My roommate’s parents luckily had two bed frames that we could use in our space, but none of the other furniture would realistically fit into our tiny apartment. We took to Facebook Marketplace and spent a lot of time looking for secondhand furniture in good condition (we spent our first two weeks without any furniture, sleeping on the floor and piling all our blankets into the living room to watch TV until we found furniture we really loved — and it was actually kind of fun!).

Don't Forget the Impact and Needs of Roommates

If your student will have one or more roommates, will there be enough storage space for everyone’s things that need to be stored in the common areas? Is there enough fridge and freezer space? If your student has lived with them before, did they run into any problems then that should be considered when moving into a new place?

Our household has grown accustomed to things like a good dishwasher and washer/dryer in unit and we’ve struggled with inadequate storage in the past, so we’re taking all of that into account as we compare options. My roommate also enjoys taking super long showers, so we're taking extra care to check water fees in prospective apartments to avoid any unnecessary fights or tension over this issue.

Be Proactive!

Encourage your student to call the leasing companies and schedule virtual tours. This doubles as a good opportunity to see what management is like.

My roommate and I find that, even over the phone, we can get a really good feel for a company’s management style. The difference between a leasing office that will make a note to follow up with you after an initial conversation and one that doesn’t even answer the phone can translate into whether or not you’ll feel supported in your new home.

We’ve already been lucky enough to virtually meet some super friendly leasing agents who happen to live on site and they gave us a rundown of how they like living in their space and community.

Finally, Start Early — But Take Your Time

Housing searches can be frustrating, and your student may find themselves feeling discouraged. It's important they learn about their rental rights and options throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While it can be tempting to settle for something easy, this is likely to be at least a year-long commitment. Don’t try to do it all in one day or week! If your student views some places that aren't right, take some time to recharge and reflect before jumping back into the search. And remember that, though it's key to be flexible, it’s also important not to compromise on things your student needs to thrive in their future off-campus home.

Ianni Le is a writer and content creator for CollegiateParent. She attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, graduating with a degree in Media Design and English Literature. She grew up in Shanghai, China and enjoys her dogs, books and food equally.
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