Contributor Johanna Cano has lived off campus for three years. Here are her tips for finding the perfect off-campus place at UNC.
Above, photo courtesy of Mike Moz via Creative Commons.
I have lived lived off-campus every year I have been in college. I wanted to be able to have my own place that was quiet and private, but that was close enough to campus to still feel like I was in college. Throughout those three years, I have learned many things that are important to look at before deciding on a place. If you have decided or are still deciding on whether to live off-campus, these are some tips that should make your search easy and organized.
Before you start looking at places you should make a list of requirements and preferences for your new off-campus place. These are some things you should consider.
Look at your budget and what you can comfortably spend per month. Surprisingly, it’s often more expensive to live on-campus than off-campus. Look at your monthly income and subtract your living expenses such as food and bills. Give yourself some room for emergencies and fun spending. Look at what you have left over and decide how much of that you can spend on rent.
When looking at rent prices and what you can afford, make sure to factor in fees and expenses. This includes application fees, security deposit and whether they require a month payment in advance. Rent often goes up when your lease is up, so keep that in mind.
Because this is a college town, many places have student packages or discounts that would make rent more affordable. Ask to see what they can offer you as a student.
Consider whether you prefer walking, riding the bus, driving a car or riding a bike to campus. Because parking on campus is very expensive, many off-campus students want to live on bus routes or close enough to bike or walk. If you prefer to live farther from campus, the free Chapel Hill Transit is a great option. If you prefer to be closer and want a fast commute, then you can walk or bike.
Are you willing to share a bathroom? Or do you prefer your own? Do you need a lot of closet space? Will you need your own furniture? There are many features you need to decide on. This includes laundry facilities, parking spaces, kitchen appliances, accessibility and pet policies.
Once you have an idea of what you want, you can start the search. When beginning to look for off-campus places to live, using online tools to sort through all your options will make your hunt easier.
Use online resources
One website that was helpful for me was ApartmentRatings.com. This website lets you look at apartment prices, photos and reviews from residents. This makes it easier to look at all your options without having to go to each individual apartment website. Another great option more catered for UNC students is heelshousing.com. Here, you can also view apartment options close to campus. This website is great for those who want to live off-campus and don’t have a roommate. You can make a post looking for a roommate, or you can look through other people’s posts and contact them. Often, many people looking for roommates already have a place, so you can find a roommate and housing all at once. Craigslist’s housing is another resource, but you need to be more cautious when using this website.
Once you have narrowed down your options, you will be ready to look at the housing in person. There are some important things you should examine when doing so.
Look at the unit offered to you
Many apartments have a showcase room that is kept up to date and decorated. These are what they usually use for pictures on their website. Although these can give you a good idea of what your apartment can look like, you should ask to see the actual apartment they would offer you on the lease. This gives you a better sense of the size and maintenance of the unit and whether there are any damages that need attention.
Noise and lighting
Some people might not mind noises or bright lights, but for those who need a good atmosphere in order to sleep, this is important. Go to the apartment unit and listen to the noises, then go at night and do the same. This way, you can get a good impression of the noise levels throughout the day. Also, look to see if there are any street lights or floodlights that shine into your bedroom.
Check for bugs, pests and other problems
Most apartments are treated for bugs and pests regularly. But, to prevent any problems, you should check for any traces of bugs or pests in the apartment. Look in drawers and behind kitchen appliances for poop. (Yep, it happens.) This is also a good time to check for mold. You also want to check wall corners and where the wall and ceiling meet for red or black stains that could signal bed bugs.
Lastly, when you have found the perfect place and are ready to sign the lease, you should use Carolina Student Legal Services. You already paid the fee if you are a full-time student, so use it! If you have any questions regarding your lease, they can give you advice. If you already signed a lease and are having problems with your landlord or roommate, you can also make an appointment and discuss it with them. Generally avoid signing a lease that allows the landlord to enter without notice or that makes you responsible for all repairs.