Off-Campus Boot Camp: How to Land Yourself an Apartment By Yourself

Here's how to get an apartment when you have no idea what you're doing actually.

 

As this academic school year slowly draws itself to a close students everywhere are figuring out what they are wanting to do for summer. Some are going home, others are looking for jobs, and others are looking for places to live. If you’re one of those people looking for a place to live this summer and have NO idea where to begin, allow me to help you by telling you to NOT do what I did. I’m the first person in my family to get a place of their own without assistance, so it’s a no brainer as to how I encountered a few wrong turns and a few bumps in the road.

 

STEP ONE: DRIVE/WALK AROUND BEFORE GOING ONLINE

In this digital age it’s easy to resort to Zillow or Craigslist in search of the apartment you’ve been daydreaming about. However, if you’re new to the Bellingham area be weary, because certain distances and places may be conceived incorrectly. For example, living ten minutes from school back at home wasn’t a big deal for me. I had a car, parents, a faithful bus system, and literally EVERYTHING was about ten minutes or more from my old house. However, here in Bellingham, with everything being so close that it’s a ten minute WALK, it’s just not sensible to be living so far out. Moral of the story, drive or walk around, discover the complexes, street names, and neighborhoods in your desired radius before deciding that the fifteen minute drive without traffic would actually be worth it. Chances are you’ll find something decent much closer to school.

 

STEP TWO: GET RELIABLE ROOMMATES-- AND BE RELIABLE YOURSELF

Let’s face it; certain people are more reliable than others. Don’t force people that are less than stoked to move out, to suddenly become financially and mentally sound enough to get a place. Some people like the idea of moving out and others don’t. That being said, try to carefully select those you’ll be living with. After all you’re going to be around them in your most vulnerable times, such as napping on the couch, foraging for food at 3AM, coming home (or getting) drunk, crying, etc. Make sure you like the people enough to actually live with them. Also, make sure they’re financially comfortable as well! Be RESPECTFUL and don’t roll your eyes if they’re a substance free person! I’m all for substances, but it’s just plain rude to judge someone for not actively partaking (or declining altogether) because they are simply not comfortable. Also make sure they are financially sound. Covering two parts of rent for one month could very well turn into many months, then it just gets annoying. That being said, make sure YOU'RE financially sound. Make sure you've all saved up enough for a security deposit, application fees, and at LEAST a couple months' worth of rent.

 

"But wait! I don't have any roommates yet!"

I faced that same dillemma. But never fear! See step three!

 

STEP THREE: INTERNET

Now you have permission to look online for the ideal place. Craigslist works if your looking to sublet or looking to take over someone lease-- these two options are ideal if you are looking for a temporary place or you have a strangely specific move in time. Apartments.com or Zillow also has a nice selection but at this time usually they pre-lease for fall, so pay extra attention to availablities of units. If you’re looking for very specific move-in times (I needed a place by the end of finals, not necessarily a popular end-of-lease-term time), then Craigslist or the Western Housing group on facebook would be your best bet. Also this relatively new website called Roomster is immensely helpful. I got lots of responses in just a few days when I was in search of a roommate. Don’t be afraid to network!

 

STEP FOUR: ACTUALLY LOOK AT THE PLACE

Pictures can lie, they can be old, they can be angled just so spaces look bigger and more pleasing to the eye. Don’t always buy into that. When you can, schedule a viewing of the unit, preferably while furnished so you can get the home-like vibes. Then you can make the finer judgements like space, amenities, etc. I’ve definitely scheduled a viewing for an apartment that LOOKED super nice. So nice that I was about to submit an application before even looking at the place! Thank goodness I couldn’t, because when I actually saw the place it was significantly more aged and dingy than the photos conveyed. So when it doubt, VIEW THE PLACE.

 

STEP FIVE: CONTACT THE LANDLORD

Once you’ve viewed the unit and you really dig it, now’s the time to email or call the landlord for more information. Sometimes landlords like it when eager young students come into the VIEWING with completed applications complete with fees and notarized cosigner agreements, but they would let you know before the viewing itself. Also that’s a little too eager for my taste because it could get awkward if you don’t actually like the place. Anyways, shooting an email to get some name recognition will automatically put you on their good side, and they’ll walk you through the application process. From there you turn in your application, then it’s a waiting game to see if you get accepted (it’s tough to not be, usually places look at criminal records more than anything). Then you sign the lease and the place is all yours! Just remember to CAREFULLY READ the lease as you sign it off. Ask questions, get clarification. This isn't a terms and conditions, you shouldn't just agree and sign. But once that's taken care of, congratulations! You did it!

 

TIPS:

  • When paying fees, don’t pay with cash or card. You can use a money order (can be purchased at any grocery store really), cashiers check (can be grabbed from your local bank teller), or your standard issue written check.

  • Look for details where the complex can wring extra cash out of you. Avoid pre-furnished places, because if you make ONE mistake or stain one thing they may charge you. Also look for places where utilities such as water and garbage are included in the rent! Otherwise you'll have to pay for that seperately.

  • When deciding where to look for places, take my example. I scoured Zillow and Apartments.com for the official fresh-lease units for MONTHS, but found someone needing their lease taken over via Craigslist in about an hour. Consider your situation.

  • If you decide finding a place by yourself isn’t for you, there are SO many people with apartments ready, just needing someone to fill a room. There are also lot’s of people needing someone to sublet their living spaces for a more temporary stay. Doing all this by yourself is optional.

  • Get yourself out there. If you see a post on Craigslist or the Facebook page, do NOT be afraid to shoot out messages! Don’t be afraid to network, chances are the people making these posts are just as nervous about not having someone to fill a room as you are about learning how all this works.