Is Your College-Age Teen Ready to Go Apartment Shopping Alone?
Finding an Apartment off-Campus – Not as Easy as It Seems
I could not help but smile as I read this article in U.S. News & World Report, Money by Geoff Williams about helping your college kid through the apartment rental experience. With two children in college, I have newly earned experience with apartment hunting. This is how the article opens:
You probably thought getting your kid into a college was the hardest thing about college, and, well, it probably was. But as you've likely discovered, your young adult is still young and could use your help at times – like when it's time to look for an apartment.
Your kid is finally entering the real world, and as you know, the real world isn't always as warm and friendly as we'd like it to be. So if you'd like your kid to avoid renting from a con artist or signing a lease that he or she doesn't understand, you have a lot to think about.
We were fortunate enough to avoid the con artists (though I encourage you to read Geoff’s article to learn more about that common scenario). However, my daughter’s first rental experience was a learning adventure that I’d like to help you avoid by sharing our story and some tips to help you get it right the first time.
Finding a Decent Apartment on Campus
My daughter Miya went to UVM (The University of Vermont) for her Bachelor’s degree. At UVM, it is mandatory for students to live in the dormitories for two years before they can live in off-campus housing. In September of her sophomore year, she began looking for an apartment because she knew she would need to secure a place before it was snatched up by another student, even though she would not be able to move in until June of the following year.
September was a busy time for me, so I couldn’t get up to UVM to help her with her apartment search. I figured she was old enough to take on this responsibility so I let her do the vetting. She found the place, visited with the landlord, filled out the application, and sent me the co-sign agreement. She told me the apartment would cost $800/month, all utilities included. The price seemed a little steep to me but it was in a safe, well-lit area and the utilities were, after all, included. So I signed my name on the dotted line.
Some Information We Could Have Used Earlier
Boy do I wish I had asked more questions…
During the first week of Miya’s stay in the apartment, she learned that not ALL of the utilities were included. Electricity, as it turns out, was her responsibility. Never having rented before, she was not aware that she would have to contact the electric company to turn on the juice. As a result, she ended up living in the apartment for five days with no electricity before she got it ironed out.
Miya also discovered that the apartment did not include free parking. Parking was available, of course, but at the price of $50 per month, which some quick number crunching will tell you added another $600 per year to the cost of her housing. We would pay it, of course, but I wish I had known that before we signed the lease.
And then there was the shower. In her rush to get to the apartment, Miya had packed the necessities without putting much thought into the extra amenities one needed to bring to an unfurnished apartment. She found out in a hurry that a shower curtain was pretty important if she wanted to clean up in the morning without flooding the bathroom. She promptly purchased a shower curtain, of course, and returned home to discover that she needed rings to hang it from.
We look back at the experience and laugh but I would hate to go through this experience again. Had I been more available at the time, I may have been able to model good questioning techniques for my daughter as illustrated in Geoff’s example in this excerpt from the article:
Engage your kid in the process. When Henderson and his wife toured their daughter's apartment, they played the role of dutiful parents and asked a lot of questions. Especially, apparently, Henderson, who says he talked to random residents about living at the apartments and even interrogated employees, asking what they enjoyed about working at the property.
But Henderson says that as involved as he was, he made sure his daughter was present when he asked his questions, and he kept asking his daughter how she felt about the visit and what her impressions were of the property, the people they met and the apartment's amenities. Again, he says, it's all about the kid owning, or co-owning, the decision to move into the apartment.
In my case, I simply didn’t have the time to travel to Miya’s school and help her with this, so another technique would have been to talk with her beforehand about the types of questions she should ask.
To help save you some frustration and money, here are some questions your son or daughter can take with them when they are on the search for a new apartment.
Some questions you can ask about the rental:
- What is the rent and do you require a deposit and/or an extra months’ rent up-front?
- When can I move in?
- How long is the lease?
- What happens if I am late on rent?
- Is there a penalty for ending the lease early?
- Do I need a co-signer?
- Do you have a pet policy? (only if you have pets, of course)
- Do you have a guest policy?
- Can I sublet?
- Do you have any noise policies/quiet hours?
- What is included in the rent?
- What is NOT included in the rent?
- Are there any restrictions on how I decorate the place?
- What happens if something breaks down or doesn’t work?
- How safe is the area?
- Where can I park and what does it cost to park there?
- Is there a laundromat in the area?
- What kind of heat is used and how is it controlled
- Does the kitchen include a microwave and/or toaster
- Is there a standing shower or bathtub?
- What kind of shelf space and storage space does the place have?
- Where are the outlets and phone jacks?
- Are there enough mirrors?
Some things you can remind your son or daughter to bring to the new place:
- Shower curtain!
- Silverware, cooking ware, and dishes
- Cutting boards
- Coffee maker
- Sponge, detergent, dish rags
- Oven mitts
- Trash bags and cans
- Plastic containers
- Aluminum foil, baggies, plastic wrap, etc.
- Bed sheets, blankets, pillows, etc.
- Matches and candles
- Toilet paper and paper towels
These are the basics, but I encourage you to add to the list based on the needs of your child and have them brainstorm to think of things that are important for them to have at their new place.
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