Mary Edmonds

For senior Mary Edmonds, safety was important, so she looked at the safest options in her budget.

Starting your off-campus housing search can be overwhelming. There are thousands of options, from an apartment in a downtown development with an infinity pool, to a 1900s cottage in Boulevard with a semi-modern kitchen but oodles of charm.

It’s important to start the hunt early so you can consider every detail that will go into the lease-signing process and the home itself. Anyone searching for housing for the first time might find a lot of information spewed at them on that first tour. But with a little research, you can narrow things down to find the best option.

When it comes to finding the right place for you, it means setting your priorities and finding a spot that meets your needs and budget, not what works for your friends or what looks cool in a brochure. Here are six essential factors to consider.

Location scouting

There’s a reason “location, location, location” is a real-estate mantra. Where you live will have the biggest impact on your off-campus living experience. You might love a downtown development, but if all your classes are on East Campus, finding a place on the East Side could ultimately make your daily life more enjoyable. On the other hand, if you have an evening job downtown, maybe living close to work is smarter.

Many apartment complexes have shuttles that can transport you to class or downtown, and others might have an Athens Transit bus stop a short walk away. If it doesn’t have either of these things, consider if it’s realistic for you to get a parking pass on campus or somewhere nearby. Think about your schedule, everyday life and commitments when you select a location.

Budget basics

Make sure you have a clear idea of your budget before you start your search. If your parents or guardian are covering some of the costs, have a candid conversation about their expectations before you start searching. If you’re taking out loans, consider how much you want to spend. It might be great to have a cool place now, but how much of a loan payment do you want when you graduate?

Not only is it important to consider the price of rent and utilities once you’re already moved in, but you have to consider the cost of application fees, security deposits and any additional down payments the lease might require. Mahlena O’Neal, a fifth year sociology major at UGA, experienced many hidden dollar signs while searching for a place to live.

“Some places wanted me to pay the last month’s rent, an application fee — which some places are willing to waive for you — a down payment plus a bunch of other things,” O’Neal said. “It’s one thing to look for a place in your budget, but you have to look out for the start-up costs, too.”

Consider safety

Be sure to do additional research on the safety of the apartment or house you are looking at, such as the amount of break-ins and crime rates in that area or complex. Be sure to pick a place that you will feel comfortable in and will let your loved ones sleep peacefully at night without having to worry for your safety. For Mary Edmonds, a senior history major at UGA and an Athens native, safety was a top priority during her housing search.

“When we were looking for houses, some of the ones in my price range were in some not-so-safe areas, so we definitely had to keep that in mind,” Edmonds said. “So do your research on the areas you’re looking at and see what will work for you and you will feel best at.”

Know yourself

Carefully think about what’s important to you when you make a selection. Do you crave alone time? Find a place where you will have a room of your own that you can really spend time in rather than just climb into a loft bed at night. Don’t be swayed by a fancy looking kitchen if you know you’re never going to actually cook.

Also, be sure to factor in how you will interact with your potential roommates. Often, getting the right number of people for a lease means a mix of rooming with people you may already know and having one or more random roommates added in. Think to yourself if you would be uncomfortable rooming with a stranger or if that’s just another opportunity for you to make a new friend.

Pick perks you’ll use

Many student complexes have cool features like elaborate pools, high-tech workout rooms or game rooms. If you’re going to use these features, by all means factor them into your decision. But if you know you’ll be studying abroad in spring or leaving Athens for the summer, you might not even use a pool. Consider if you might take advantage of another perk, like on-site study rooms or a shuttle to campus and downtown.

Along with perks, maintenance should be carefully considered before signing a lease. Many students in Athens often come across pesky cockroaches and spiders in their residences, so making sure maintenance is taken care of is crucial.

“I’ve lived in places that would say there’s pest control that comes once a week, but to be honest, I think I saw them come in three times the entire time I was there,” Edmonds said. “We ended up having to do it ourselves and paid a lot of money, so that’s definitely important to look out for.”

Really read that lease

Move-in and move-out can either be extremely simple or super stressful. Each situation comes with different policies. Read the contract ahead of time to save from having to pay unnecessary fees. (See our leasing guide for more advice.)

“Know the move-out policies before you sign,” Edmonds said. “My roommates and I once got charged way more than we thought we would for little things...They want everything gone most of the time.”

This article originally was published in the 2020 edition of our special publication Student Housing Athens, GA.