Housing Advice, Student Life

Getting To Know Your New Home

If you’re heading off to college for the first time, you most likely will be finding yourself in an entirely new place.  It can be incredibly daunting if you don’t know anyone, you don’t know of any cool places to go yet, and you’re just starting off at your new school.  At JumpOffCampus, we’ve certainly been there, and that is why we’ve put together some suggestions for helping you get to know your new home.

Check the walkability score.  In one of Mark’s previous posts, he had mentioned using Walk Score to find cool places near you.  Not only will the site give you the rating of how walkable your city is, but you’ll also get a listing of all the restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, retail stores, bookstores, bars, and other entertainment venues right in your area.

If you’re a coffee lover, try CoffeeSeeker.com.  By simply putting in your zip code, you can find all the coffee shops right within your area.  That way you can even try all the coffee shops in your neighborhood to see which one you like the best.

Check local newspapers and other local publications for cool events and reviews.  One of the best resources you can use are the local publications in your area.  Not only can these give you listings of some of the local businesses near you, but they may also give you reviews of these places so you can determine if it would be a place you would like.  If you live in Boston or Providence, you may want to check out the Boston or Providence Phoenix, which will have a ton of cool listings right in your area.

Take a drive.  Another way to find intriguing places is to simply take a drive around and see where you end up.  This can also be a great way to get to know your new roommate, so take them along for the ride!

Avoid chain stores and shops for a while.  A great way to meet new people and find some great places is to avoid shopping in chain stores, or places you could find anywhere else.  It will not only open you up to your new city, but you may also find your new favorite coffee shop or bakery!

Although navigating a new place can be difficult sometimes, it’s best to try to take it all in stride.  While it won’t be easy at first, just hitting the web or taking a drive can help you ease the shock of living in a new place.

Housing Advice, Student Life

Tips for Getting Along With Your Neighbors

For many students, living off-campus comes with a greater sense of independence.  However, with this independence comes greater responsibility, and one main responsibility many students often forget is neighbor relations.  While it may not seem like the most important thing on your list, fostering poor relationships with your neighbors is the major reason why students receive a knock on the door from the cops.  This is why we’ve identified some of the biggest problems students experience with living off-campus in terms of neighbor relations and put together some tips to keep yourself from becoming just another one of those “pesky kids.”

Noise.  One of the biggest problems students experience when it comes to living off-campus are noise complaints.  Oftentimes students will have a party or just have few friends over and the cops will get called because of the noise.  However, this is highly preventable; it is easy to turn down the music, especially after a certain time of night.  The general rule of thumb is turn down the volume earlier on Sunday evenings and during the week, and later on Fridays and Saturdays.  However, many communities will have noise ordinances so you may want to check on these times for your specific community.

Parking.  Another problem students experience with their neighbors is parking.  If someone has parked their car blocking your neighbor in, your friends have parked illegally, or there are just too many cars on the street, the cops could get called.  You want to make sure that the people you are inviting over are also courteous of your neighbors as you are.  When you have your friends over, make sure that they aren’t parked so that they’re blocking your neighbors in and that they aren’t parked on someone else’s property.  You may also want to ask your friends to carpool to your house so there won’t be too many cars parked on the street.

Trash/Furniture.  One ordinance many neighborhoods have is related to trash and indoor furniture being outside.  These ordinances maintain that trash should always be in the bin or dumpster, and that indoor furniture should not be left outside (if it’s left to the elements, it’s basically considered trash anyway).  If you have grouchy neighbors, you may be receiving a nice big fine for not complying with these types of ordinances.

Yard Maintenance.  In many cases your landlord will take care of yard maintenance.  However, if they don’t offer this, you should pitch in to make sure the yard is looking nice.  While this also may not be at the top of your list, in many cases your neighborhood will actually have ordinances in relation to overgrowth.  Not only could you get slapped with a fine, you could have other problems with letting the plants and grass in your yard get too big.  These added problems could be an increase in the population of bugs in and around your house (ewww!), as well as interference with power lines.  The best course of action here is to make sure the grass is cut, there aren’t too many weeds, there isn’t any garbage hanging around, and nothing is around the power lines.

Overall, the best way to avoid problems with your neighbors is to introduce yourself when you move in.  This is important because . . .

  1. It puts a face to the new neighbors.  By introducing yourself you are setting yourself apart from many of the other student tenants that have gone before you.  This reduces the likelihood that your neighbors will lump you together with those tenants, and you can build your own relationship with your neighbors.
  2. By introducing yourself and letting your neighbors know that they can come talk to you directly if they ever need anything or have a problem, you are saving everyone a lot of grief.  You will be less likely to get a knock on your door from the cops and your neighbor will no longer get woken up at 3 am by loud music.
  3. Your neighbors can be your biggest resource; they know the area because they’ve lived there longer and they can help you out if you ever run into any problems of your own.

By introducing yourself to your neighbors and by heading off any issues before they arise, you will not only have a better off-campus experience, but you will most likely prevent the cops being called.  It’s best to maintain a good relationship with your neighbors because it not only saves you all this grief, it is also makes you more independent, and demonstrates that you can be a mature young adult.

Other articles referenced:

Good Neighbor Relations Guide by Liveable Neighborhoods for Kansas City

Good Neighbor Relations Among Students & Community Members by Melissa Emerson

Housing Advice, Roommates

What Happens When You Get a New Roommate?

It happens all the time:  You choose to live in the same apartment for another year, your roommate moves on, and you end up with a new roommate.  While it is just a part of life, it’s always a little weird adding a new roommate to the mix, especially if you have been living there already.  This is why we’ve put together some suggestions to help you navigate your new roommate situation.

Don’t forget that it’s their place too.  This is perhaps the most important thing to remember:  If you’re adding a new roommate to the mix, you can’t forget that the apartment is just as much theirs as it is yours.  Just because you have been living there longer doesn’t give you the upper hand.

Take time to get to know them a little.  We’re not saying you have to be best friends, but it is considerate to try to get to know them a little bit.  In particular, you should consider asking them questions about their lifestyle preferences (i.e. when they go to bed, where they like to study, etc.).  That way you know what they like and what they don’t.

Take time to explain to them your existing house rules.  If you and your roommate(s) had previously established house rules (i.e. guest policy, chore distribution, etc.), you want to let them know.  However, because this person is new to the situation, you shouldn’t consider these rules to be set in stone.  Talk with your new roomie about how they feel about the rules you’ve established, what they like (or dislike) about them, and how the house rules can accommodate everyone’s preferences.

Give them a tour.  Show your new roomie where things are normally kept; this includes where the cleaning supplies are, where everyone puts their food, and where they can find extra toilet paper and paper towels.

Be helpful.  Be open to answering any questions your new roomie might have about your place.  Also be sure to explain to them any weird features or problems you may have with the apartment.  This way they know the kooky characteristics of your pad just as much as you do.

While it may be strange for you when your new roomie moves in, imagine how weird it must be for them!  They are moving into a new place with people who have already been there before.  They may think you and your other roommates will be best friends already and/or you will already be into your own routine that you won’t acknowledge them.  This is why it’s important to talk to your new roomie and figure out ways you can help them make your apartment feel like their home too.

Housing Advice, Student Life

96 square feet?!? What is a college student to do?

Especially as a freshman, it is hard to know exactly what to expect when you’re moving into the dorms.  This is perhaps not only the first time you’re moving away from home, but it is also the first time you are living with someone else. The first thing you will most likely consider is space; especially when you’re living with one, two, or even three other people, you will want to know just how much space will you have and how you will carve out a space that is all your own.

To find out exactly how much space students are given in their dorm room as freshmen, we recently conducted some research across 50 universities around the U.S.  What we found was that the average square footage universities provide per student is around 96 square feet.  That’s pretty small, given that the average mattress size for a dorm room (an extra long twin) is about 20 square feet.  However, perhaps what is most surprising is that, overall, square footage per student ranged from 132 square feet at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma to 50 square feet at Oklahoma City University.

You’re probably asking yourself, why would they give students so little space?  Well, let’s be honest here:  No school sets out thinking that they want their students to be crammed together like sardines.  Actually, many schools would rather that their students have a lot of space to live and to study within their dorm rooms.  It just works out that, in many cases, they just don’t have the room for it.  Especially if housing facilities are limited, universities can’t provide as much space as both they and their students would hope for.

So what can you do with the little space that you’re given?  We spoke with interior decorator and owner of Fresh Ideas by Sandy, Sandy Alger, about how students can better maximize the space they’re given and make it their own.

The first thing Sandy  suggests is maximizing storage space.  “I suggest using built-ins and shelving on the walls whenever you can.  Under the bed is great storage for the change of season, bedding, etc.”  She also suggests putting extra shelving in the bathroom (that is if you have your own bathroom), so that you can store more items.  By maximizing storage space, you can limit the clutter and mess you would have to deal with if you didn’t have a place to put everything.

Another suggestion Sandy has for students is multi-purposing furniture; she explains that you can turn kitchen tables into desks and coffee tables into storage.  If you have the opportunity to bring items like this, it is a great way to make your dorm room more like home and much more functional.

Alger also suggests bringing only the essentials with you.  Sandy says she lives by the saying, “Less is more,” and urges students to keep it “simple and inexpensive . . . think out of the box.”  She suggests browsing IKEA, and even thrift stores, for pieces and inspiration; photos, magazine prints and even your own artwork can serve as accents and make your room a little bit more “homey.”

However, the most important piece of advice Sandy gives to students is to be themselves when it comes to design.  “Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.”  When it comes to making the space your own, you want to be able to express yourself and feel comfortable where you are; you want to be able to feel like you live there, and that this is a place (no matter how small) that you can call your home.

Housing Advice, Roommates

Roommate Sharing 101

If you’ve never lived with a roommate before, it can be slightly daunting.  It’s strange to think that you’ll be sharing a home with someone whom you may have never met before.  There is certainly a lot to navigate when it comes to understanding how you will share that space and the things in it.  This is why we’ve come up with some ideas on how you can make sharing with your new roommate(s) easy.

Sharing Space

In an article we read by Catherine Walsh at Suite101, she explains that allocating storage for each roommate in the kitchen, fridge and bathroom is a great start.  You will also want to discuss with your roommates how the common areas will be used.  Are they primarily for hanging out and relaxing, or are they for studying, or both?  When will you have quiet hours?  You want to be sure that you identify those things with one another before you begin the school year.

Another thing you want to identify are the restrictions and guidelines for guests and overnight guests.  This is often the biggest problem roommates face, so be sure to to give plenty of notice when overnight guests are staying and establish beforehand what the terms will be.  This includes how long they can stay, if and how they can use shared space and items.

Sharing Food and Other Items

Establish beforehand with roommate(s) what items you will be sharing and how you will label those that are not.  This is especially important if you plan to share food items like milk, eggs, and condiments, as you want to establish a plan for purchasing them.  To do this, you may even want to establish a schedule to determine whose turn it will be to buy the shared items and when.  This way no one feels like they are the ones buying the food for everyone all the time.

You may also want to establish how these items get used, so you don’t run out of them before your next shopping trip.  While you don’t want to be “nitpicky” about how everyone will use the ketchup, maybe you want to establish a rule that if you are the last one to use it when it runs out, then you are the one who has to replace it.

Sharing Chores

This often tends to be another major problem roommates face:  who will clean what and when?  Establish a timeline or a schedule for when cleaning and other chores will be done and who will be responsible for what.  Maybe you want to break it up by week and switch off duties, or maybe you would prefer breaking it up by month; that is up to you and your roommate to decide what would be fair.  However, you want to be sure that everyone has a task and that the tasks are broken up evenly, so no one feels like they are left with all the dirty work.

Sharing Expenses

This is another tough subject for most roommates.  Especially if you are sharing one lease and sharing utility expenses, it can get difficult when it comes time to make those payments.  Our suggestion is to sign your own lease, rather than sign one lease between all the roommates (if your landlord allows it).  This way you won’t be responsible to make up the difference if your roommate doesn’t pay their rent on time.

If you can’t sign your own lease, we suggest that you establish one person who will be collecting utility payments and establish a schedule for when they will be collected (before the bill is actually due).  You may even want to switch off whose duty it is to do this, so no one feels like they are the “bad guy” all the time.  You could even establish some penalties for when someone neglects to make their payment on time.  This way everyone has an incentive to make his or her payment on time.

In terms of splitting utilities, that can be tough to do.  Use the same strategy as you would with your rent payments.  Be sure that everyone makes their payments on time so one person isn’t stuck with the bill.

The key to roommate sharing is really just establishing house rules beforehand, and making sure that everyone is complying with them.  Overall, roommate sharing can be simple, just as long as you are considerate and are able to have open communication with one another.

Housing Advice, Renting

The REAL Cost of Renting

If you’re renting for the first time, you should be aware of what utilities you will have to pay, along with your monthly rent payment.  While some apartments have utilities included in the cost, others only cover some of the utilities, and some don’t cover any.  If you’re looking at apartments with either of the latter options, you want to know what those utilities will be and what they will cost.

Heat:  The three most common options you will have for heating will either be gas, electric, or oil.  The major difference between these three is that gas and electric heat will be billed monthly, while oil heat, in some cases, will be billed when the oil tank needs to be filled.  This means that you will be billed only once or twice to fill the tank, however, this bill will be reasonably large as oil is expensive.

One common misconception about oil heat is that it is the most expensive option of the three (oil, gas, electric).  This is actually false; according to an article we read by the U.S. Department of Energy, electric heat will actually tend to be more expensive, despite its high efficiency.  However, natural gas comes out to be the cheapest, as it is roughly three times less than oil heat.

While you don’t get much of choice when it comes to choosing your apartment’s heating system, you should be aware that, in many cases, your landlord may request that you keep the heat at a minimum temperature.  This is generally meant to prevent the pipes from freezing, however, this should be factored into your heating budget.

Water and Sewer:  In most cases your landlord will cover the bill, and may even factor this into your rent.  However, if they don’t cover this expense, there are some things you need to know.  First off, your water and sewer bill will come together on one bill and your average monthly cost will depend on the area in which you reside.  For example, according to the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, the average one family customer used about 180 gallons per day in 2012 and was charged around $73.70 per month.  While this price will not be the same for most states, in an article we read by Brett Walton at Circle of Blue, in 2010, rain-scarce regions actually had the lowest residential water rates and the highest water use.

Secondly, you also have to be aware that your water bill will depend on a lot of things, including how you pay the bill (does your landlord split the bill, do you pay per apartment, etc.) and how many people live with you.  You may want to factor in at least $100 per month if you live alone and about $50 per month if you live with roommates.  This way you can budget for those months where your water use was high.

Trash:  This is another expense that, in most cases, your landlord will cover.  However, if they don’t and you’re on your own, your monthly trash collection bill will depend where you are living and how many roommates you have.  For example, your bill may be around $50 if you are living in an apartment building.  If you’re renting an entire house, it may be a little higher.  This a very specific question, as it varies greatly from one town to the next, so this a good question to ask any potential landlord.

Electricity:  In an article we read at AverageElectricBill.org, your bill will depend on your consumption and the rate charged by your provider in kilowatts per hour.  The quality of your appliances will play into the average cost, as well as how often you use each appliance.

Like many of your other utilities, your state and your provider will determine your average rate.  For example, the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs reported recently that the average bill for its residential customers was about $112 per month.   However, according to reports distributed by U.S. Energy Information Administration, average electric bills can range from $80 to $200 per month, depending on where you live.  This is why it’s good to ask your landlord what is the average monthly cost of electricity for your apartment.

Internet/Cable:  If you’re a student, cable may be a luxury but Internet is a necessity if you hope to do your schoolwork at home.  You’ll have to see first what your apartment is wired for, as some units are only wired for one particular service provider (Cox, Verizon, Comcast, etc.).  While each provider offers different packages, the basic packages will run from about $50 to $70 per month.  In some instances you may find that one person in the building has purchased an Internet package and is willing to share the connection with others for a lesser monthly payment.

You will also need to factor in other added costs associated with Internet and/or cable.  In an article we read by Amy Hoak at Marketwatch by the Wall Street Journal, she explains that you want to be sure to factor in costs associated with set up.  Many providers will actually tack on a cost to set up an Internet and/or cable service in your place.

In terms of paying utilities, the most important thing is to understand how they will be billed, explains Hoak.  You want to ask your landlord what utilities you will need to cover, and how the bill will be distributed.  You’ll also want to ask what the average prices will be per month so that you can get a better idea of how much money you should factor into your budget for those utilities.  You may even want to ask them what the highest price they’ve paid before so you can prepare.  The main thing is not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.  It’s better to ask a lot of questions now rather than not having trash pickup, having no water, no electricity, and getting to winter and not having heat.

Other articles we referenced:


Housing Advice, Renting

How to Make Yourself a More Attractive Tenant

The deadbeat tenant:  perhaps the most-feared in the landlord community.  This person is the tenant who never pays their rent on time, or at all, and will often leave their landlord with financial and/or physical damages that the landlord will have to take care of.  It is often for this reason that landlords will place prospective tenants through a rigorous screening process.  It certainly makes sense; you wouldn’t want to have to pay thousands of dollars in damages that were caused by someone else!

Well for those of you who consider yourselves good tenants, you have to let yourselves shine.  However, it can often be hard when the process is so rigorous and there may be plenty of other tenants out there who claim to possess the same qualities as you.

The first thing you want to consider is a credit check.  Often landlords will conduct a credit check on each of their prospective tenants, especially if they’ve experienced deadbeat tenants in the past.  For college students renting on their own, this can be an issue as many students either have bad credit or no credit at all.

In an article we read by Kay Miranda on eHow.com, she explains that you should include a cover letter with your application that honestly explains your credit situation.  You will also want to include information in this letter about what would make you a good tenant, and explain that you will be willing to work with the landlord to make sure they are comfortable with the situation.  Miranda explains that this could be agreeing to pay via direct deposit, or paying a higher security deposit.  You will also want to include any personal references that could vouch for your reliability and responsibility.

Many landlords will also request a face-to-face meeting or interview with you.  You want to prepare for this meeting like you would for a job interview.  You should be prepared to answer all potential questions they could ask, including those related to your finances and credit history.  You should be open and honest with them about this, as it is important to be honest with them and address their concerns.  You should be aware that your reactions, your demeanor, and your appearance will all play a role in determining whether the landlord chooses you or not.

As with any interview like this, you should also be upfront regarding your concerns.  Be prepared with questions that you may have for the landlord.  Their answers to these questions will also help you to gauge their reaction to you, as well as how willing they will be to work with you.

Overall, it is important to develop a good rapport with all of your previous and future landlords.  While the most important part of being a good tenant is complying with the terms of your lease, it is also important to keep the premises clean, tidy, and well kept.  This is because the way in which you maintain the space and leave it when you move out will prove to your current and any potential landlord (should your previous landlords give you a reference) that you are a good tenant.

Another major part of being a good tenant is keeping open communication with your landlord in regards to any repairs, damages, questions, or concerns that may arise.  In another article we read on eHow.com, they suggest also keeping a record of all of your correspondence with your landlord, just in case a problem should arise.  It is always important to let your landlord immediately (and in writing) about any problems or maintenance that must be taken care of.

It is relatively simple to make yourself a more attractive tenant in the eyes of potential landlord.  All it takes is being open, honest, and demonstrating responsibility and reliability.   Just be sure to address concerns they may have regarding your credit history and any other concerns they may have.  Keep in mind that fostering good relationships with any landlord you have cannot only provide you with a great reference for any potential landlord, but it will make your renting experience that much better.

Other articles we referenced: