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Off-Campus Housing: Searching a New Home

So you’re halfway through your freshman/first-year of college and you’re having a great time in the dorms with your newfound friends but you’re tired of having dorm food every day, having to shower in the common bathroom down the hallway only to realize that you left your towel in the dorm room. Or you’re an incoming student (which will be most, if not all, of you reading this blog) who doesn’t want to bear the financial burden of living on-campus. Regardless of your current situation, off-campus housing is always a good alternative to the dorms or campus-run apartments.

The process of finding a place to live off-campus, finding potential roommates to live with, knowing the right price given your housing conditions, and the logistics of actually signing a lease can get complicated and tricky. A guide on everything you would need to know about off-campus housing will never fit in a single blog, so I will be splitting my off-campus housing guide into a few blogs. This blog will cover what you need to know and things to keep in mind when you’re looking for a place to live off-campus.

Here are the four questions you should have at the back of your mind when searching for off-campus housing options:

  1. Where should I live? How far or near campus should I live?
  2. Who should I live with? What if I don’t know anyone?
  3. What living conditions do I need?
  4. How much should I be paying for my rent?

Where should I live? How far or near campus should I live?

A very important question to answer. Before answering, here is a map of the vicinity of the University of Minnesota campus:

Here’s a brief summary of each area:

Como: A relatively quiet housing area with surprisingly a lot of families that are not affiliated to the University of Minnesota. The area is mainly comprised of low-cost houses and maybe a couple of apartments. Although it’s about a 20 to 30-minute walk from campus, the #3 bus is only about a 10-minute ride at most from the area to campus and back.

Marcy-Holmes: A pretty sizeable area ranging from apartments on the more luxurious end close to campus (especially along University Ave. SE, 4th St. SE, and 15th Ave. SE) to low-cost apartments and houses farther away from campus. The area is about a 3-15 minute walk from campus depending on where you live but the #2 bus goes through the area fairly often. Dinkytown, a part of the area, has some really nice restaurants and a couple of convenience stores.

Cedar-Riverside: The main housing area at West Bank for university students. It mainly comprises of newer apartments right next to campus and some houses south of the West Bank campus. It is also home to a significant Somali and East-African community whose culture is evident in the restaurants and businesses that operate there. Downtown Minneapolis is only a five-minute westward bus-ride from the area.

Prospect Park: It mainly comprises of apartments on the higher end, especially around the Stadium Village area which also offers a lot of convenience stores and restaurants ranging from local businesses to nation-wide chain stores. The Green Line, a public light rail service, is your best friend to commute with although most classes are a five-to-ten-minute walk away.

Keep in mind that these are not your only options but a majority of students live in the mentioned areas.

When finding a place to live, a lot of first-year students who live on campus dorms or apartments shy away from farther areas like Como or the northwest end of Marcy-Holmes because of the distance factor. From first-hand experience having lived at the east-end of Como—which is about a 10-minute bus ride from campus—I can assure you that distance should not be the determinant factor; it’s only a matter of getting used to it and before long a 10-minute commute to campus will no longer feel like a hassle.

Who should I live with? What if I don’t know anyone?

Most first-year students end up living with their newfound friends from the dorms, signing a lease together, but when you don’t know anyone, finding roommates can definitely get tricky. A few resources that would be helpful to looking for roommates to live with include University of Minnesota pages and groups on Facebook or other social media and roommate match programs offered by off-campus apartments.

If you add your University of Minnesota email to your Facebook account, you can access numerous Facebook pages that are exclusive to the University of Minnesota student body and these pages range from the Class of 2018 page to Secret Admirers page where you can confess your infatuation for that heart-throb in your Chemistry lecture. You can also find a “Housing” page which is a great resource to find potential roommates and get to know them, find affordable housing options, and seek advice on housing-related issues. This way, you could get to know  your roommate and learn each other’s compatibility before all of you sign a housing lease and live together.

Roommate match programs, on the other hand, would be a convenient alternative to going through the trouble of having to proactively look for a roommate or housemate. This program is usually offered by off-campus apartments which allow students to sign an individual lease as opposed to having to sign a lease for the entire apartment unit. When you apply to live at an apartment which offers this program, you will fill in a section which essentially asks for your lifestyle such as your bedtime and how tidy of a person you are, and also your roommate preferences. The only downside to this is that you would not know your roommate until after you sign the lease with the apartment. Nonetheless, both options are definitely worth considering.

What living conditions should I expect?

Different housing options vary a lot in living conditions. A new and fancy apartment on Dinkytown would have conditions similar to that of a hotel. A house on the far end of Prospect Park, however, may have a narrow kitchen, a basement with a hole at the corner, and less-than-ideal heating. The living conditions definitely reflect on how much you’re paying for rent, holding everything else constant. As a college student on a tight budget, I can tell you that living in suboptimal housing conditions is really not that bad at all; if anything, you will learn to appreciate the value of money.

Speaking from personal experience, I have lived in relatively poor housing conditions. Last school year, I recall the garage door not closing properly and the toilet bowl would not flush on occasions and eventually broke. I remember having to fix that on my own because the maintenance man either took forever to attend the broken toilet or would charge a lot just to make a minor repair. I also recall having to fix the washing machine with my other roommates and the front stairs to the front door cracked for the first few months before sending the maintenance man to repair it. I will delve more into the topic of maintaining your living space in another blog, but the point being is to illustrate what conditions I had to deal with the last school year. Was it troublesome having to deal with that? Most certainly. Was it the end of the world? No. Is this how bad most off-campus housing gets? Definitely not. Some apartment or housing lease companies offer better maintenance service than others, but don’t expect a five-star hotel service, unless you are paying a bucketload of rent. Speaking of paying for rent…

How much should I be paying for rent?

Rent is definitely an important factor to consider when deciding on a place to live. A good price range, in my opinion, would be somewhere between four hundred and six hundred dollars. Of course, many variables will determine the final outcome of the price. Here are most of the key factors:

  1. Apartment vs. house. Apartments are generally more expensive than houses when it comes down to rent per person. There are a few reasons behind this. Firstly, most apartments come with a lot more facilities and amenities such as a study lounges with computers and free printing, gyms and swimming pools in a handful of them, and free Wi-Fi whereas houses don’t come with any of these. Secondly, most apartments are situated much closer to campus than houses. Also, most apartments come fully furnished, saving the trouble of having to purchase your own furniture and move them in.
  2. Distance from campus. Generally, the farther away you live from campus, the cheaper your rent will ultimately become. Most places at Dinkytown and Stadium Village will cost significantly more than houses at the far ends of Marcy Holmes and Como.
  3. Housing conditions. A pretty obvious point, nicer living conditions equate to a higher rent overall. Amenities such as number of bathrooms, size of kitchen, whether or not the place has been refurbished, heating, and other miscellaneous factors will definitely affect the price. It is always a good idea to take a tour of the house, whether in person or a virtual tour.
  4. Number of roommates or housemates. Sharing a room will lower the rent; living in your own room will cost more. Living in a housing unit of five people will cost less than living alone. This is also where houses are favored over apartments. A number of apartment leases are signed on an individual basis while house leases are usually signed on a per-housing unit basis. While some off-campus apartment leases are signed on a unit basis, there are usually restrictions on the number of people living within a unit. Houses are often times a lot more flexible with that. You could potentially fit ten people in a five-room house and pay half of what a person would for a whole room to himself.

It is extremely beneficial to search extensively for housing options in order to have plenty to choose from. As you’re searching for them, you will have natural tendencies to stick to your preferences like, say, apartments a lot closer to campus. I would strongly advise you to keep an open mind and take a variety of housing options into consideration, whether or not they align with your preferences. In the next part, I shall cover the steps to take once you have found a potential place you would like to live in.

Stay tuned for more…