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Your Guide to Apartment Hunting

Take a walk down nearly any busy street in Madison and you’ll find yourself surrounded by signs for open houses, leasing deals and flyers inviting you to check out one of the many high rises with all the amenities you could possibly want. 

That’s right: it’s leasing season in Madison. This can be an especially stressful time for anyone, so it’s important to keep these five guidelines in mind while hunting for apartments.

Set your price point beforehand

Knowing what you can/are willing to spend on your housing before you begin your search with quickly narrow down the options, inevitably making the choice easier.  You won’t waste time at apartment buildings that are way over your budget or be tempted by unnecessary amenities.

When reading list prices, remember to check whether electric, heat, laundry and water are included or not.  These kinds of costs can really add up and it is important to remember if you’ll have that extra $50 a month readily available or not. 

That being said, keep in mind the amenities different complexes offer.  If Wi-Fi is included, you’re saving around $30 a month, so account for savings due to amenities during your search. 

Get on the same page with your roommates

This is probably the most important advice someone can get when she begins looking for housing.  Confirm whom you are living with and make sure they all agree on important things like price point, location, room sharing and other necessities. 

Make sure communication is open and clear, and take the time to sit down in person to decide on everyone’s needs and wants.  Be open to compromise and be 100 percent in agreement before signing ANYTHING. 

The worst thing that could happen is if one person signs a lease (which is a legally binding contract and a b*tch to get out of) without everyone’s consent, leaving you all in angst-y apartment limbo. 

Haggling never hurts, but there’s a chance it won’t work

Unfortunately, apartments in Madison fill up pretty fast.  Even so, with new buildings popping up yearly, competition among complexes is growing, so use this to your advantage. 

Try discussing cost flexibility or ask if any leasing specials have just passed or are coming up with your leasing agent.  A lot of the time, they’ll offer gift cards, lease discounts or add upgrades to your unit (like adding a TV and paying your cable, for instance). 

However, several high rises in Madison are owned by companies that aren’t based in Wisconsin, and the local management has been given strict guidelines.  Don’t get frustrated if your agent can’t offer much, because, more often than not, it’s out of their control.  Still, there’s no harm in asking.

Read the contract

This may seem incredibly obvious, but shocking amounts of people don’t read their lease before signing it.  Make sure there aren’t any hidden bylines or costs that you don’t agree to. 

If you do manage to get any additions from your expert negotiation skills, make sure the management writes it into the lease.  That way, when move-in day comes around, you’ll actually get what you’re promised. 

Most reputable apartment management will go through the lease with you and answer any questions, but its technically not really their job and this can get you in trouble.  Unfortunately, it’s your responsibility to read the lease, so just do it!

Don’t rush!

It’s pretty common to feel pressured to rush into a lease in fear that you won’t find nice housing past December.  Truthfully, there is tons of housing in Madison and you may even find a hidden gem, if you take your time to search for what you really want.

In Spring, a lot of apartment buildings are more willing to drop prices and offer specials, because they’re trying to get their buildings full before the end of the school year. 

By waiting, you’ll have a bit more leverage when negotiating your lease, so keep this in mind when you begin looking. 


Finding a home can be stressful, but it doesn’t always have to be.  Try to find management that’s helpful and kind.  That’s generally a good sign that your living experience will be easier, even after move-in.

Keep your options open and be willing to put time into your search.  Most often, it will definitely pay off!


Olivia is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with big aspirations in PR and advertising. With a love for writing, beauty and confidence, she’s making it through college one step at a time.
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