11 Hacks for Finding an Affordable College Apartment

College is expensive and so are apartments. Finding a college apartment that fits into your budget is possible with a few simple tricks.

Your kid doesn’t want to stay in the dorms, so now what? In today’s real estate market, finding a place to live can cost a fortune. From negotiating tactics to gaining a leg up over the competition, real estate experts share 11 ways to save on your kids’ new pad.

How to Get Started

Where is the best place to look for off-campus housing? Sean Conlon, Real Estate mogul and host of CNBC’s The Deed: Chicago, recommends checking with your campus housing office first. “They will have information for nearby landlords that are looking for college students to rent out their units,” he said. He also said that most schools will display postings for apartments for rent and recommendations from past students on the best places to live in the campus housing office.

Use websites to conduct additional research. Paul Morris, realtor and co-author of Wealth Can’t Wait recommends sites like Zillow, Craigslist and Padmapper (a search engine that uses Craigslist data) in addition to local Facebook groups and popular local sites. He said, “It is critical to use the ‘alerts’ function for each of these online resources because most often they provide a text or email whenever there is a new post meeting your criteria.” He added that some of the local sites are private but will usually grant access if you request it.

Location, Location, Location

When determining where to look, Xavier Izquierdo, a real estate investor in the Los Angeles area suggests familiarizing yourself with the market rental rates in specific pockets close the campus, as even a three to four block difference can save you a few hundred dollars per month. He said, “Look at proximity to campus. Is there a campus shuttle, local bus or is it an easy bike ride or walk? Does the campus security patrol the area? Are there free rides from campus to your apartment late at night? Or, if you have a car, ask if a parking space is included.”

Victoria Shtainer, residential real estate expert at Compass, a real estate firm with listings in several cities in the US, suggests considering a new development. “These buildings might offer more incentives – free rent, gift card upon lease execution, etc. than other buildings, as they are looking to pull tenants in,” she said.

Morris suggests doing some local reconnaissance, if logistically possible. “Even though most rentals will be listed on the major services, it’s not true of every rental,” he said. “Stop by grocery stores, community centers, and other places where small landlords post openings. This can be time-intensive, but also can be where most of the ‘deals’ are found. He also suggested that you tell everyone you know that you are looking. “Maybe there is an available apartment next door to a friend and it has not been listed yet.”

Don’t Go at it Alone

Chad Kehoe, Co-Founder and CEO of Leaseful, a leasing platform, advises using a broker to help with your search. “Not only will they be able to show you a plethora of places, but they can also help you negotiate rent with the landlord – they want to lease the apartment just as bad as you do!” he said.

You will pay a fee when using a broker, but sometimes that fee can be negotiated. Allen Brewington, a broker with Triplemint, a real estate brokerage site, said, “When negotiating with a listing broker charging a 15% fee, show them how qualified you are by discussing the financials of your guarantor and then request a reduction in the broker’s fee. If you can assure them a quick, easy deal they may go for it.”

Compare Short Term vs. Long Term Rates

Brewington advised staying away from short-term rentals, as they tend to be more expensive. “Even if you are in school only for the fall and spring semester, it may be cheaper to rent an apartment for a full twelve months,” he said. “If your landlord lets you sublease the months you are not there, all the better.”

Another money-saving trick is to pay upfront — if you can afford it. Shtainer said, “Try to pay for the entire year of rent upfront…this is a very good tactic to give you leverage when negotiating the rent!”

Buy vs. Rent

It may sound a bit extreme, but an alternative to renting is buying. Shtainer said that parents should consider purchasing a unit for the duration of college, and perhaps longer if the student plans to stick around. “The student can pay the mortgage as the monthly ‘rent’ and contribute toward building equity in the property,” she said.

If you do happen to rent for a full year or purchase a property, consider leasing for the months you don’t need the place if it’s allowed.

Ask the Right Questions

When you meet with the broker or landlord, arm yourself with a list of questions that will help you find the place that is right for you. Ask whether it’s furnished, if Wi-Fi, trash collection and utilities are included, etc. Izquierdo said, “Finding a furnished apartment and having utilities included may be a little more on a monthly basis, but comparing this to buying furniture and putting deposits with utility companies to establish service needs to be considered when comparing total move-in and monthly costs.”

Make a Good Impression

Because competition can be stiff and apartments can go quickly, Morris suggests making sure you stand out as a solid candidate. Also, be prepared to commit on the spot if you find the place that’s right for you. “You should have a way to put the deposit down immediately-whether by check, or popular cash-substitutes like Paypal and Venmo,” he said. “Additionally, you should pull your own credit report and have a copy available. Great credit will open doors. If your credit is not perfect, be prepared to offer more in terms of a security deposit.” (Before apartment hunting, see where your credit stands with a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com). He also recommended writing a short statement about why you would make a great tenant, highlighting your strengths and even including references from former landlords, coaches or professors.

Refer a Friend

If you are looking at an apartment in a large housing complex, inquire about referral bonuses for bringing in tenants for the following school year. Kehoe said, “Big student apartment complexes usually have some sort of promotion to bring in new tenants. For example, the apartment buildings will sometimes offer the first month’s rent free as a signing bonus, or might have a referral program you could join where you and a friend can get discounts off of rent for signing a lease.”

Timing Is Everything

Most college students are looking for apartments towards the end of summer for the fall semester. If you happen to be looking mid-year or well in advance of the school year, this could be to your advantage. Brewington said, “For those looking to increase negotiating power, try to get off the summer search cycle. Look for an apartment in late September or October, after living somewhere temporarily for the first couple of months.”

Time to Move

When you’re working out your budget, don’t forget to factor in moving costs. Real estate expert, Ken Snee, said, “Many people underestimate the cost to move and the sticker shock can be overwhelming. It could be thousands of dollars with the moving truck handling and travel fees, packing services, and mover’s insurance.” Using sites like Unpakt, that let you compare the cost of movers and even book your move online can save you time and money.

Plan Ahead for Next Year

As soon as you get the sense that your student may want to live elsewhere next year, Izquierdo suggests looking now. He said, “Many locations are pre-leasing up to one year in advance. This will save time and money and it will give you the best chance at your desired locations.”

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19 Mistakes College Grads Make When Finding Their First Apartments

You aren't being graded on your apartment hunt, but you still want to get it right.

Finding your first apartment after college is a big undertaking — it can be hard to know where to start when you’re staring at a stack of listings and the money from your new job is burning a hole in your pocket. And you’re new to all this, so you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way.

But we can help. Take a look at some of these common slip-ups so you can do your best to avoid them as you search for a new place to hang your cap (and gown … see what we did there?).

1. Starting Your Search Too Early

“Generally, the best time to start looking for an apartment is no more than three weeks before your move-in date,” said Margaret Fanney, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint in New York City. But once it’s time to start your search, you want to make you aren’t …

2. … Underestimating How Much Everything Costs

Whether you lived in student housing and paid on a semester basis, or you are moving to a different state (or even different city) post-graduation, getting your first apartment can be a big financial adjustment. (Still deciding if you want to move somewhere new? Check out these 15 best cities for college graduates.)

You can use the time before graduation to research how much apartments are in the areas you’re considering and what costs you might pay for additional amenities.

3. Not Planning for Expenses Beyond Rent

Most people think about the monthly rent check (or charge, if your landlord lets you pay rent by credit card), but that’s not the only expense you’ll face living on your own. Think about other necessities like laundry detergent, toilet paper and groceries. And remember, there are ways to save on your daily expenses — like making this delicious 16-cent breakfast.

4. Leaving Student Loan Payments Out of Your Budget

“Monthly payments for student loans are often overlooked … because student loans come with a six-month grace period before you have to start making payments,” said Brandon Yahn, founder of Student Loans Guy.

5. Forgetting About Credit

Most landlords look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process. Things like credit cards or loans (ahem … student loans) are impacting your credit. (You can read more about what factors influence your credit scores here.) Depending on how far into the world of credit you’ve ventured, your credit file may be pretty thin. Not sure? Now’s the time to find out — take a look at a free summary of your credit report on Credit.com.

6. Not Gathering What You’ll Need

“Graduates usually rush to find an apartment without contemplating on the requirements for renting an apartment,” Kobi Lahav, managing director of Mdrn. Residential in New York City, said. “They don’t have any offer letters ready, pay stubs or bank statements.”

7. Not Talking With Your Guarantors About Their Essential Paperwork

Once you’ve gathered all your paperwork, it’s important to also remind any guarantors of what they’ll need, as “springing it all on [them] at the last minute is guaranteed to cause delays and frustrations,” Fanney said.

8. Not Brushing Up on Terminology

“[Recent graduates] don’t typically know the difference in rental versus condo versus co-op building,” Greg Moers, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint, said. “They tend to just shop for what looks awesome and do not take into consideration the process involved with putting together a board package and the cost.”

To get you started, check out this guide that deciphers 16 confusing mortgage terms.

9. Choosing the Wrong Roommates

Fanney suggests comparing schedules and lifestyles to see if living with a particular person is really a good idea.

“You should already be thinking about things like each person’s tolerance for mess and budget, but now that you have your first full-time jobs, you’ll have to make sure the lifestyles can coexist peacefully.”

10. Not Getting Roommate Agreements in Writing

Even if you’re living with your best friend, it’s important to write out responsibilities and agreements you’ve made about the living situation. You’ll also want to outline how bills will be paid and who is responsible for what. Hopefully you’ll never need to reference this for any reason, but you’ll be glad to have it all in writing if things go bad.

11. Not Considering Apartments With Fees

We know, all those fees are the worst. But some of these upfront costs, while painful at the time you see the money coming out of your account, may mean paying less over time.

According to Chelsea Werner, a Bold New York real estate expert, many of the no-fee apartments just add fees to your monthly rent. And, if that’s the case, “although you will pay less upfront, over time it will even out, as you will be paying more per month.”

12. Forgetting to Meet Potential Neighbors

“In college, your neighbors were probably other college students, but that probably won’t be the case now,” Fanney said. “Don’t let that stop you from getting to know your neighbors and finding ones you can trust.”

13. Not Factoring in the Landlord

“It’s sometimes better to pay a premium to be with a better landlord than to pay less and be with a bad landlord that doesn’t fix anything and is hard to reach,” Lahav said.

14. Skimming Over the Lease

In a time when we all just click “next” anytime we install an update on one of our devices, it’s easy to flip to the end of the agreement and sign on the dotted line. But it’s essential you know what you’re agreeing to and negotiate things that you’re not quite on board with.

15. Not Knowing Your Tenant Rights

Tenants (and even applicants) have federal laws protecting them. And, in many cases, there are state laws that help protect you too, so you’ll want to do your research and find out what legal rights you have ahead of time.

16. Passing on Renters Insurance

Renters insurance may seem like one more expense, but just like car insurance, having it may ultimately save you money in the event of a problem. You can read about the little-known ways renters insurance could save you money here.

17. Only Looking at the Bottom Line

“Graduates are very price-sensitive, so they will usually go with the cheaper apartment as their rule of thumb,” Lahav said. “However … they don’t realize that sometimes a cheap deal is not the best deal for them.”

18. Holding Out for Perfection

Apartment hunting can be a lot like a relationship — you start out with a list of ideal qualities, but the odds of finding someone (or some place) that meets all these may not be realistic.

“Regardless of your budget, there is no perfect apartment,” Werner said. “Renting is all about tradeoffs.”

19. Forgetting About What Comes Next

“When looking for an apartment, people have a tendency to not think about a rental as more than a one-year commitment,” Werner said. But, unless you have reason to move, you probably won’t want to go through the hassle. So, that’s why Werner said it’s a good idea to “think about how that unit will fit your life in the next few years.”

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10 Places Where You Can Buy a Condo for Under $100K

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