Preparation helps students find suitable housing

The advantage of mobility is the flexibility to follow an opportunity no matter where it leads, whether down the street, on the other side of town or across the country. The disadvantage is actually having to relocate. Thanks to technology and an ever-more interconnected world, many of us can easily imagine moving to an unfamiliar place. But what about the logistics of that move? And, first of all, finding a place to move to?  

I’ve moved seven times to apartments around the Bay Area. As a freshman, I didn’t know how good I had it when all I had to do was open my email and find out I was assigned to a triple in Unit 2, Cunningham, eighth floor. That first year, in the spring, I was excited about getting my very first apartment — step one to feeling like a real adult! Armed with very little knowledge and quickly dwindling patience, the apartment hunt would turn out to be a terrible experience for me.

From the endless emails and phone calls back and forth to schedule apartment viewings, to coordinating with all my roommates, to filling out form after form, to following up with the property owner only to find out that the lack of a call meant that they had already found a renter (who wasn’t me) … it certainly induced quite a few headaches.

Every spring, I would get anxious about the impending search for my next apartment and the uncertainty that came along with it: What were my current roommates’ feelings about sticking together (well, maybe not counting the one who never did their dishes)? Could I stand yet another noncommittal person from the online classified ads? When I showed up to an apartment open house, how would I get picked over the 20 other prospective renters?

I’ve actually felt this stress around apartment searching too many times over, so I am setting out to help whoever has felt similarly before  — a bit confused and probably stressed — so here are a few tips. I’m no expert, but I have gone through this process quite a few times.

Start the search early. Property owners in college towns are pretty used to the churn of students graduating and moving out. They prepare early by coordinating with their current renters to get an idea of the upcoming vacancies and the move-out dates, and they start listing their apartment units. The more time you have, the less panicked you will feel about apartment hunting when May (and finals) rolls around.

Those credit checks can add up when you’re paying $30 per application and trying to apply to as many places as possible because people say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” You can minimize the costs by running your own credit check (one free annually) and making copies of it. Of course, not all property owners accept this, but a few might. It doesn’t hurt to try.

To property owners, most applicants look the same: just students!  But you can make yourself stand out. Be personable and greet property owners at viewings with a big hearty handshake. And follow up with an email including a blurb about yourself.

Diversify your sources! Of course, Craigslist is typically everyone’s go-to when it comes to apartment listings, but it’s not perfect. You’ll have to sift through and ignore the scams. And once you find a listing of interest, getting in touch is a hassle because you have to copy and paste their email and open a new tab, to start. Facebook’s Berkeley Housing group is a popular place to go to find a new home, with new listings being posted daily, or even hourly, although it seems better suited for finding roommates and short-term rentals.

Padmapper, recently acquired by Zumper, is another good source for timely rental market news and interesting blog posts. You can also check out Merpster, which is a free platform where you can apply to multiple listings quickly, e-sign leases and make automatic online rent payments. There are several great tools out there — don’t settle for potentially creepy Craigslist interactions!

As you settle into your routine for the spring semester, don’t forget that the apartment-hunting season will be upon you sooner than you think. Keep these pointers in mind! Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Mary Nguyen is a UC Berkeley alumnus and the founder of Merpster. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

A tagline accompanying a previous version of this op-ed failed to disclose that Mary Nguyen is the founder of Merpster.

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