Hello Bear Family!
Is your student looking to move off-campus or to get a new place in Springfield this year? Whether your student has lived off-campus before or not, finding a new place to live can be a stressful and time-consuming process. I know this experience all too well as my partner Amanda and I just completed our apartment search odyssey 2 weeks ago. I want your student to be equipped with all the knowledge they need to successfully find the next place they will call home. Today, I will provide you a step-by-step guide and share what I learned from my own experiences so your student can minimize their stress, be time-efficient, and feel confident as they make the move off-campus!
Step 1: Create an honest monthly budget
This is unquestionably the most important step in the entire process. Your student must have a clearly defined budget so they know what they can afford. If your student will be paying for their housing themselves, they need to critically examine their income and determine the maximum amount they can comfortably pay in expenses each month. If you will be contributing to your student’s housing costs, have an honest and open conversation with your student about what you are willing to pay and what the financial situation will be for their off-campus living. When creating this budget, your student should account for all of their usual monthly expenses so they get a comprehensive view of their financial situation. That will make their budget as accurate as possible.
Step 2: List priorities and preferences
What are your student’s needs and wants? This step is all about answering that question. They need to create a list that thoroughly states everything they need and want in their housing. First is listing priorities. These are fundamental things that your student needs to have for a comfortable living space. For example, Amanda and I’s top priorities were an apartment, pet-friendliness (for our cat Poe), the unit being at least 700 square feet, and plenty of parking available at the property. Your student should not leave anything out in this section; even the most basic things that you may think every apartment has. I once toured an apartment that did not have a shower. Seriously, take nothing for granted. Conversely, preferences are things that your student would like to have. These are features and amenities that would be nice to have, but that your student can live without or work around if need be. For example, Amanda and I’s preferences included having an upper floor unit, hardwood floors, partial utilities paid, and close proximity to campus.
Similar to creating their budget, your student should be very honest and realistic when creating their priority and preference lists. Your student should critically think through what deserves to be a priority and a preference. Additionally, it is ok to have many preferences, but no place will be perfect and their budget will determine what they can expect to get. Therefore, your student must understand and accept that they will most likely have to make sacrifices when choosing their next place. By creating these lists in tandem with their budget, your student will be able to narrow down their housing search to the places that fit within their means, needs, and wants. This will make researching options much more manageable and much less time-consuming!
Step 3: Begin the search
Now that your student has a budget and their priority and preference lists, they are ready to start their housing hunt! There are several ways to find potential places. First, the most efficient way to go about their search is looking on local property company websites and third-party housing search websites. There are many great websites available that will allow your student to find places that fit within their budget and priority/preference lists, see pictures of the properties, and learn about the owner(s) of the property. The internet will definitely yield the most information about potential housing options. Second is traveling through the areas that your student would prefer to live in. For example, if your student wants to live close to campus, traveling through the neighborhoods close to campus and looking for “For Rent” signs could allow them to find more potential options to research. However, this is more applicable if your student is looking for a house to rent. Lastly, you student can simply ask people they know! Asking friends, coworkers, or fellow classmates could lead to even more options to look at. Every time your student finds a place that they like, they should write down the following: the property name, the property company or owner’s name, the rent price, the utilities that need to be paid (if any), and the features & amenities the place offers. Your student should search everywhere they can to get a complete picture of what housing options are available to them.
Step 4: Narrow the list & schedule tours
After your student has done a thorough housing search, they need to narrow down their list to their top choices. I recommend having 3-5 top choices so they have multiple to choose from and plenty of backups. Amanda and I narrowed our list by asking these questions about each place:
- Does it fit within our budget?
- Does it meet each of our priorities?
- Does it offer any other features & amenities that are important to us?
- What do online reviews say about this place (if any)?
Once we got the answers to these questions, we were easily able to rank each of our options. This ranked list determined which places we called to for a tour first. Going on a tour is super important in your student’s decision-making process. Seeing a place online and in person are completely different experiences. Going on a tour will tell your student so much more about a place than solely online can. Once your student sees a place in person, they will know exactly which places they like the most. It was common for Amanda and I to revise our ranked list after visiting each place. If possible, your student should also ask to see if they can talk with current residents of the property. Current residents will be able to give an honest review of the place and can give important information about their experience living there. Tours are one of the most important time investments your student should make in this process.
Step 5: Close the deal (with caution)
After going on the tours, your student now must make the big decision on where they want to live. Like Step 4, your student needs to ask themselves which place meets their criteria the most and will work within their budget. Once the decision has been made, it is time to start closing the deal! This involves your student applying to their choice and getting their security deposit paid to hold a spot. Since Springfield is a college city, it is important to note that many places here require a cosigner on student housing applications and leases. Therefore, it is very likely that your student will need you to be a part of this process in some way. Waiting for an approval is the most suspenseful part of this process. It could take a couple days to several weeks to hear back from the company or owner about whether or not they are approved. Your student must know that it is not a bad thing if it is taking a while. They will hear back in just a matter of time!
When your student is approved to a place, they should call the company or owner and figure out how the lease signing process will work. Some companies do it online and some do in person so your student should know the proper process to get it done. When your student receives their lease, they should look through it extremely carefully. A lease is a legal contract and by signing they agree to everything in it. It is very, very important that your student understands that and they know the responsibilities of both themselves and their landlord. Here is a link to a handbook that outlines those responsibilities in Missouri law: https://www.ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/publications/landlord-tenantlaw.pdf?sfvrsn=4. Several of the most important things you and your student need to look for are the following:
- Who is responsible for maintenance, repairs, lawn care, and trash service
- Rent paying procedure
- If the security deposit is refundable and under what conditions is it refundable
- If renter’s insurance is required
- When their move in date is and when their lease ends
- How many days’ notice your student needs to give when they move out in the future
- Cosigner responsibilities (if you are one)
If something does not seem right or something needs clarification, your student needs to always ask questions to the owner! Your student should ask as many questions as they need to so they feel completely comfortable with what they are signing. Once everything is correct, clarified, and comfortable, your student can go ahead and sign the lease. Your student is all set for their new home! The journey is over!
Making the move off campus is a lengthy process and can be intimidating, but choosing a new place to live is a big decision and at least a year-long commitment. Therefore, your student should take their time to make sure they find somewhere that works well for them. This is especially important if your student will be living with one or multiple roommates because they need to collaborate extensively with their future roommates through this process. Whether your student is living solo or with others, I hope this guide will help your student make the move off campus with less stress and more confidence!
Thanks for reading and Go Bears!