By Stacy Eden
Moving into your first real apartment or house off-campus is tricky, especially if you spent a year or two in the dorms. For most college students, dorm life is the first time to live without the watchful eye of the parental units. And because you have this experience under your belt, you may be thinking that an apartment is pretty much the same thing, right? Wrong!
Your first apartment or house is a big adjustment, maybe even bigger than adjusting to the dorms. You have roommates, the commute to campus, renters insurance and cooking your own meals to keep you busy when you’re not studying. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are the essential hacks every new off-campus student needs to make the transition go smoothly:
Prepare for Moving Day
It’s a lot different than moving into the dorms. For one thing, your parents may not be there to help this time. And while your friends are willing to help if you promise to feed them, don’t rely on anyone to show up out of the goodness of their heart. And don’t expect a rented moving truck to be easy to drive either. If you have big or heavy stuff to move, it may be worth it to budget enough cash to hire movers. It may save you a lot of time and frustration in the end.
Take Inventory of Damages
Take pictures on your phone of every dent and ding in the walls, every little blemish and any other damage in your apartment first thing on your move-in date. Email the pictures to yourself with the subject: security deposit. Landlords are notorious for blaming renters at the end of the lease for small flaws that were already there to keep the deposit. If you have photographic proof that the damage was already there (most camera phones have a photo time stamp), you have a better chance of getting your deposit back.
Get Renters Insurance
Odds are you have some pretty valuable stuff in your new place, like your computer, speakers, TV, musical instruments and gaming systems. Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose. Get renters insurance — You’ll sleep better at night.
But don’t stop there. Make a list in Excel of all your valuables; include the make and the model, and hang on to the receipt if you can. Also take a picture of where each high-ticket item usually is in your house or apartment. This makes it easier to file a report with police and put in a claim with the insurance company if you need to.
Pay Rent on Time
Late fees kill your summer savings. It can be tough to get that check to the front office or in the mail every month when you have classes, tests and a social life to think about. But this is one place where being late doesn’t fly. Talk to your roomies about setting up direct deposit so you’re not waiting on anyone’s share of the rent to make you late.
Also take a look at your lease before you sign to make sure that late fees are in writing and aren’t totally unreasonable. Nolo has a great legal guide to dealing with difficult landlords and excessive late fees in case you do get yourself in hot water.
Plan Your Commute to Campus
Rolling out of bed and trekking across the quad was probably your longest commute to class last year, but now that you’re off campus, be prepared to face the insane traffic that comes with just about every college campus across the country. Plan extra time to get to morning classes, and you might want to reconsider that 8 a.m. class, as it will probably coincide with rush hour traffic. A bicycle is always an option, but make sure it’s the right mode of transportation for you with this list from Fearless and Loathing.
Heading off to college? Start the school year off right with The Secrets of Top Students.