Ah, the first post-collegiate dwelling. It’s a great experience moving from college campus or your parent’s house to a little space you can call your own. You sort out who gets which bedroom, decorate, stock the fridge, and feel like a real adult.
Until the faucet in the shower slows down to a trickle. Or a steady steam of ants appears in your kitchen. Or your upstairs neighbor enjoys a side gig as a traditional clogger. Or you realize that the girl you loved to party with in college makes a terrible roommate.
These are all real life scenarios that have happened to real graduates. The first rule of Zen-like living after college is to embrace the fact that things like this will happen. Here are some tips for minimizing the pain:
- Research, research, research. Remember how you used to spend hours in the library doing research for papers? Utilize those skills before they get rusty. Before you sign any papers for any living situation, do research. Find real people who have rented in that building or from that company. Make sure you’re getting a fair deal and don’t be afraid to negotiate.
- Reality check. This is my foolproof plan to make sure you don’t get overexcited at the first place you see. Go visit one apartment/home that is WAY out of your price range. Ooh and aah at the fancy appliances and hard wood floors. After that initial excitement, get real and look at places you can afford. They will not be as nice as the first place thus helping you zone in on what the place is really offering.
- Know the neighborhood. I love living in a part of town where I can walk to local eateries, bars, and the grocery store – especially in the winter and the roads aren’t plowed! Factor in your work commute and personal living habits when scouting a location – “name brand” neighborhoods tend to be just that – more expensive for the same benefits as other parts of town. Spend a couple days in the ‘hood before you sign a lease – figure out if you like the vibe and if it’s a conducive living environment for you.
- It’s takes money, honey. Sit down and write out all the real costs of living on your own. Rent is just a piece of the puzzle – there are security deposits (which rarely come back), moving costs, utilities (many of which require a down payment), and other associated costs. Renting a house? Be prepared for the cost of landscaping and snow removal. Apartment doesn’t have a microwave? You’ll have to buy your own. Be sure to discuss all of these costs with your living partners as well before you sign any contracts
- Read what you sign. This seems simple but it’s very important. If you don’t 100% understand what you’re signing, show it to someone who does. Make sure you know the length of your lease, the terms if you want to buy-out, the process for renewing, additional fees for things like trash pick-up or maintenance, etc. Keep a copy in a safe location for reference!
Each of these guidelines comes down to one thing – time. Whenever possible, take as much time as necessary finding the right place in your budget. This may mean living at home while you look or spending a little money to scout possible locations but it’s worth it for a stress-free transition.
Ten basic things to check out in your new home:
- Water pressure and drainage – look for leaks, low flow, and draining issues for every faucet in the place
- Mold – especially in the bathroom and basement areas
- Appliances – what comes included and do they work? Some places will upgrade appliances if requested for a fee usually less than the cost of purchasing yourself
- Look inside the cabinets – it gives you a sense of your storage space but also any pest issues
- Outlets – get a sense of how many are in each room and consider bringing something small, like a phone charger, to test a few out
- Windows – find out if they open, how secure the locks are, and if there are screens. Remember that windows that aren’t sealed will leak out valuable heat/air, driving up your utility costs
- Lights – how many are in each room and what type? Will the lighting souces be sufficient or will you need additional lamps?
- Floors – examine if the flooring is coming up in any areas or if there are stains, etc. If the place has hardwood floors, they may require floor coverings for noise purposes.
- Walls – check for stains and cracks. Make sure you understand the rules for hanging decorations, fixtures, shelves, etc.
- Safety – this is very important. Be sure you feel sufficiently safe in your new home – do all the doors have locks? Is the building well-lit? Who has access to the building? If you’re looking at renting a house, introduce yourself to your neighbors so you have people looking out for you.