How much time and effort should a university or college student, put into finding a place to rent? If you’re looking for a memorable time at school, think of it as studying enough to do well on a final exam. Without some snooping around before you sign a lease, you might end up battling bed bugs, bad roommates, or a landlord who doesn’t have the time to take your calls when the fridge quits working. And, worse, you might have to go through the search process again mid-year with another move and another deposit.
So what’s a busy student to do to create a great campus experience in finding a perfect place to study, relax, and have a bit of fun?
Here are a few tips for students to end up in a great place to create your school memories.
1. Start your search a month earlier than the university recommends
Why? Because you get a head start on anyone not reading these tips and can secure a place while others are starting their search.
Go online, check reviews of buildings, off-campus neighbourhoods, landlords and property managers. Also, reviews tend to tell you some of the good, more of the bad, but mostly the ugly. You can eliminate some buildings, places and neighbourhoods early.
Check out sites offering apartments, basement rentals, townhouses, row houses and houses for rent. Rentals.ca is a good place to start; it’s safe, easy to use and frequently updated. For example, you can easily browse off-campus apartments for rent in Montreal if you’re attending one of the 12 schools there, or find a house or apartment rental in Vancouver if you’re attending the University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser University.
Check out city sites for crime statistics (for example, here’s Toronto) to determine safety. Some city sites also have maps showing everything from traffic to road conditions to bikeways and walkways to parks and historic sites (for example, here’s Calgary).
And, of course, your university or college will have a housing office with most all the information you need. Check the Western Off-Campus Housing Services in London or the University of Toronto’s Off-Campus Housing Service, or the helpful site for the University of British Columbia with information on the best neighbourhoods, a map of the transit routes, and tips on finding the best places to live. Here’s a basic guide for student housing from EduCanada.ca.
2. Leverage your family, friends and social media
Be careful with that last one; scammers are looking for you. Just be smart, don’t sign anything or especially don’t pay anyone upfront until you have reviewed and signed the lease, checked out the unit, the neighbourhood and talked to neighbours. Here’s a few tips on avoiding scams from the Vancouver Police Department.
Remember: you are scoping out the landlord and property manager as much as they are investigating you.
But your network is a good place to start your search. Someone you know might know someone who is leaving town, or needs a roommate, or maybe one of your friends saw a for rent sign up the street. Chat it up with family and friends. You can also set up Google Alerts with rental keywords relevant to your prospective neighbourhoods.
3. Do the math: Put together a budget, know your credit score
Yes, envision the perfect place in a great neighbourhood. But you’ll need to live within your or your parents’ means.
You might not have built up much credit yet, but it’s good to know your credit score. You can get free monthly credit monitoring, learn how to improve your score, and get personalized recommendations for the best financial products, like credit cards. Knowing your credit score is also helpful since your new potential landlord could ask for it.
Get your free credit score from Borrowell in less than 3 minutes!
4. Narrow down your search and start walking and talking
Now it’s time to walk to a few neighbourhoods to determine how many minutes to campus, transit stations, restaurants, clubs and coffee shops. Make a list prioritizing your needs and desires. You’ll also get a feel for the ‘hood, whether it’s historic, trendy or a little seedy.
Walk or drive it at night depending on your comfort level to get a sense of safety, lighting, noise level, parking and traffic. It might be great to have a nearby hospital if you have health issues, but you may not enjoy the late night sirens from ambulances whizzing by. Talk to some folks who live in the neighbourhood to get their take on what it’s like.
5. Learn all about leases
Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation is a good start to learn about a lease before you’re handed one and asked to sign. Do not sign until you understand all the details or they are explained to you by a third party -- a lawyer or Realtor, or your university housing department. Here’s more information on leases.
Here are a few resources to understand your legal rights:
6. Now, make a few calls and visit some places
Do a walkthrough with the landlord or property manager, take photos of anything that needs repair or requires a coat of fresh paint or has scratches, or doesn’t work. Make sure the water turns on, flush the toilets, plug in appliances, check all the outlets, windows and locks. Make a few calls from different rooms on your cellphone to see how strong the service is.
7. Figure out all the costs; you might have to re-do your budget
Here are most all the added costs that might be included in the lease or if not, then extra costs for you, according to the student housing site at the University of British Columbia.
Security deposit (one-time cost)
Pet deposit (one-time cost)
8. Be prepared to sign a lease, but not too quickly
What if you walk into your dream place and you have done your due diligence -- and the landlord has others ready to sign the lease?
You need to stand out: Be friendly, polite, look nice. Be sure to take your shoes off in the apartment; it shows respect and is an indication that you will take care of the place.
Have a check and be ready to sign the lease, but ask for some time to read it first. To prepare, know what a good lease says. If a landlord tells you it’s all basic stuff and doesn’t give you time to read the lease, walk away.
9. A few extras
Other considerations are choosing great roommates, making sure transportation will be easy and fast, especially in a driving snow or pouring rain and not being too far from your recreation, exercise, and relaxation needs -- trails, parks, lakes. If you need to walk to classes, to work out, or to play, check out WalkScore. And, the commute time is a great resource for all modes of transportation including mass transit.
Get the app Waze to get around traffic if you have a long commute or drive in and around a big city.
You might think this is a lot of work. But think of it this way: You want to live in the best place possible for studying, hanging out with friends and having some fun. Remember: You are making memories.
And, more than likely, you will be renting much longer in your life than your parents did and will need these skills to find great places to call home long after graduation.
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