So you got an admit from a great university and you’re all excited to go abroad for the next big chapter in your life. But wait a minute…. you don’t have a home yet. How can you ever rent a home in a different country without even going there? What things should you look out for while searching for a home? Read on to find the answers to these questions and a few more…
Selecting a good house is a really important process since that would be the place where you’ll spend half of your time…well, at least theoretically (the ratio is going to change (by a lot) once you’re a semester into the course). Still you gotta come home to something, right? I would suggest looking out for these points before finalizing your house:
- On-campus or off-campus: Many universities offer dorms for the students and in most cases they are costlier than what you’d pay for an off-campus housing. Your university might have a list of off-campus housing realtors hidden somewhere deep in their website… try your luck searching that. If not, get in touch with someone who studies at your university to better know your housing options. You should also search for facebook groups of your university such as “Housing XYZ university” or “ABC University Fall 20xx Students” to find out more about housing options as well as to get in touch with possible roommates.
- Size: Whatever they say, size does matter! Apartments come in varying sizes, ranging from a small studio to 3/4 or even 5 Bedroom houses. One thing to keep in mind is the bigger the apartment, the less you pay per head. However that comes with a cost, more roommates = more people you need to adjust with and coordinate over the common resources with (think common fridge, kitchen, and bathrooms). So that’s a tradeoff you should consider. One common strategy I’ve seen people use is 3 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment or 4 people living in a 3 bedroom apartment where one of them usually stays in the living room at a lower cost. This way they can cut the individual costs even more.
- Roommates: Most likely you’ll be sharing an apartment with other people owing to the point above. However, you should carefully choose your roommates. Make sure that all of you share similar interests and more or less similar timetable. You are going to be living far away from your home country without your friends or parents, however, a compatible roommate can help ease that pain and get you going. Some other important points to keep in mind while choosing a roommate are a sense of cleanliness, uptightness/easygoingness about finances, dietary habits (i.e. veg/non-veg) and any other things that you are particularly specific about. As such, you should try to get in touch with other people who would be joining your college with you and get yourself a good roommate before you leave the country. Obviously, I don’t expect you to conduct interviews with all your prospective roommates like Sheldon does, but a little chit chat won’t hurt anyone.
- Location: What have you heard all the real estate agents say about their properties: it’s all about the location! Surely location plays an important role when finalizing a house, but it’s even more important for you. Most likely you won’t have a car while you are here and even if you do, it’s gonna take at least a year to get one. So you should choose an apartment that is close to your university as well as grocery stores/restaurants. (fyi, getting groceries are a big pain in the US if you don’t own a car since the trend here is to buy groceries for at least a week and stock them… and so your groceries are going to be heavy, very heavy). If you can’t find an affordable apartment in such a location, at least try to get an apartment that is close to one of the bus stops so that you can get public transportation. Also, you should check the crime rates in the neighborhood that you’re looking for before finalizing the deal.
- Lease terms: Apartments are typically leased for one year (another reason you need a roommate who can be your buddy ‘coz there’s no getting out until after 365 days (this sounds scarier than 1 year :p). You will probably have to pay a month’s rent as the security deposit in advance. Before finalizing the lease, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, try to find out how quickly does your lessor respond to a maintenance request. Second, you should be clear about what is included in the monthly rent and what’s not. Typically, utilities include water, garbage,electricity, gas, heating and internet and some or all of these may be included in your rent. Heating often constitutes a large chunk of your electricity bill during those snow covered days (or should I say months :P). Having all the utilities included in the monthly rent gets that tension out of your head. Additionally, it is a good idea to check if your house is furnished or not. At some universities, off campus housing is furnished or partly furnished(though mostly it is not the case). If you happen to be at one of those few universities, you should also check the furniture and appliances (like microwave) you would be getting (also included in the lease). Last and the most important one, do read every line of the lease agreement before signing it (the only other person you are stuck with for the next 365 days is your apartment realtor, so you better be aware of clauses that are “slyly” put into the lease).
- Other quirks: Be highly watchful of dubious rental ads; you don’t want to be scammed even after changing continents 😀 . If possible, it’s always a good idea to send someone to have a quick look at the house before you actually transfer the security deposit (.. and you always thought those distant relatives of yours won’t ever do anything other than to bug you about your marks….now is the time to put them to work).
With some of these key things in mind, you should be set to comfortably move into your new home in the US. Have a fun and a comfortable house hunting experience !
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