It’s that time of year again: the weather is getting colder, midterms are stressing you out and Madison’s various apartment companies are flooding your inbox with a barrage of advertisements. The process of finding an apartment can feel extremely stressful if you’ve only lived in the dorms (or if even if you’ve lived in an apartment before). Luckily, it’s very doable if you break it down and look through your options!
- Decide if apartment living is right for you
If you’re a freshman or sophomore coming out of the dorms, the first decision to make is whether you even want to live in an apartment. While many students choose to move into apartments after their freshman year for cost, freedom and space, others choose the dorms for convenience, location and the social atmosphere. Living in an apartment is generally cheaper than living in a dorm, but be sure to include the cost of food, utilities, dishes, furniture (if applicable) and any other additional expenses in your comparisons.
- Decide who you’re going to live with
Once you’ve decided you want to live in an apartment, you’ll need to decide your living situation. Generally, there are three ways to approach this: living with friends, living alone or living with random roommates. If you choose to live alone, you’ll need to consider the additional cost of renting a studio or a one-bedroom apartment. If you want to live with random roommates, be sure to choose an apartment company that offers roommate matching and separate leases as an option. You’ll also need to decide if you want to share a bedroom or not.
- Choose your lease term
A standard lease term runs from the middle of August until around the same time the following year, but some apartments offer a September-to-May academic year lease. While companies usually raise the price per month for academic year leases, it is still cheaper than renting year round. This option can be worth it if you’re positive you won’t be in Madison for the summer. Subletting your apartment to someone else during the summer months is possible, but there is also no guarantee that you will be able to find someone.
- Pick your priorities
Unfortunately, no apartment is perfect. When choosing an apartment, it often comes down to prioritizing which aspects are most important to you: affordability, location, size, quality, furnished vs. unfurnished, etc. Would you sacrifice a large bedroom for a great location on campus? Are you willing to live in an older building if it means shaving $150 per month off of your rent? If you have any specific requirements (such as needing a parking spot or a pet-friendly apartment) or a specific budget, this is the time to take note of it.
- Start hunting!
With all of your priorities and requirements in mind, you can start looking online for apartments. An easy way to start your search is to look through websites like Abodo or UW’s Campus Area Housing. You can filter your search by price and number of bedrooms and then view your options on a map. (Hint: Some apartments list the price per bed, while others list the price for the whole apartment. If you’re looking to sign a lease with multiple other people, you’ll have to set the price higher to include the latter.)
While many apartments are listed on these sites, some are not. If you have a specific area you want to live in, try seeing what’s listed on Google Maps or walking through the area. Make a note of names or addresses that interest you and look them up.
- Make a list or spreadsheet
It might sound like work, but a spreadsheet can help a lot when you’re trying to decide between multiple apartments. It doesn’t have to be anything intense—just set up a basic spreadsheet listing the location, price, rental company and any other notes about each apartment
- Look at the reviews of the apartment AND of the rental company
Once you have a list of potential apartments, harness the power of the Internet and begin looking up ratings. Abodo sometimes lists these, but you’ll often yield better results by Googling the apartment or address. Try Google reviews, Yelp and whatever else comes up in your search to ensure you’re renting a decent apartment. It’s also important to do a quick search for the apartment company or rental agency. While there are many reputable agencies in Madison, there are also plenty that have given students terrible experiences with management, maintenance, cleanliness, etc. You can avoid these companies by putting in the research first.
- Be careful with the costs
The dollar amount listed online means different things for every apartment. Some represent the whole apartment, some are for a bedroom and others may be for a bed in a shared room. (If you plan to share a room, check if your apartment charges a double occupancy fee). Most apartments include heating, water and Internet, but plenty do not include electricity or laundry. Some may add on a monthly fee for utilities, while others include everything in the list price. In addition, some apartments may charge a different amount per month based on whether you are renting for the calendar year or the academic year.
- Tour, tour, tour
When you’ve narrowed your list down to a few of your top choices, contact the company and set up a time to tour. It is never advisable to rent an apartment sight unseen.
When you’re there, take pictures of the place and make a note of anything important you notice or learn from your tour guide. This is also the time to ask any questions you might have. You may want to consider what questions you’ll have before touring and make a list to bring with you.
- Look over your options and decide
So you’ve done your research, found your potential apartments and toured each of them. Now is the time to look back through all of your options using your spreadsheet and any information you learned from your tour. Talk with your potential roommates and discuss the options with your parents if you want to. Consider the pros and cons of each location and how well they fit with the priorities you’ve previously decided upon.
- Apply & Sign
If you’ve settled on an apartment, discussed it with your potential roommates and checked over the fine print, it’s time to fill out an application! This is usually done online and will probably require you to have a parent as a cosigner. If you are accepted for the apartment (you usually will be), all that’s left is to sign the lease! It’ll be long, but make sure to read the entire document before signing.
While there are definitely apartments available throughout the year, I would recommend signing a lease before winter break if you’ve found a place you want to rent. This way you can guarantee the apartment is yours.
There are a lot of apartment options in Madison and choosing the right one is an important decision! However, the search is a lot more manageable if you go into it knowing what you want.