Top 5 Things to Remember During Your First Off-Campus House Search

Moving off campus is an eye-opening, exciting experience. Making decisions about your own space, decorating, and not sharing a bathroom are some of the most rewarding parts of college! To make the most of this big step, there are a few key things to remember. If an off-campus move is in your future, check out these tips to stay on top of the process.

1. Choose your roommate very carefully.

This is huge. It’s one thing to share a res hall room with someone, but it’s a very different situation when you are legally locked into a lease with them. A good roommate is willing to contribute to maintaining the household, takes budgeting seriously, and respects the property of others. Before signing a lease, the future roommates should discuss schedules, chores, bills and house rules (including party expectations and boyfriend/girlfriend sleepovers). Also – and don’t laugh – write up a Roommate Agreement. Seriously! Even if you are sure the person is one of your best friends and you won’t need it, write it together and have everyone sign it. A Roommate Agreement helps ensure that everyone in the group understands their joint obligations and responsibilities and will make it easier to avoid and mediate conflicts.

2. House/apartment search & signing a lease – yikes!

The best piece of advice I can give you about searching for a place and then signing a lease is to slow down. Read it again: s l o w  d o w n. The housing market in Oxford is competitive, but not as competitive as you may think. Shopping around and not jumping on your first option will likely get you the best housing option at the best price. My roommates and I didn’t begin our search until halfway through fall of our sophomore year! Then, we looked at over 10 different places over the span of a month and a half until we found our location. 

There are a few good places to start your search in Oxford. This site from the City of Oxford details to what degree different properties pass a city inspection. This is extremely useful for determining safety and quality of the structure. Miami also has an Off-Campus Outreach website that has great resources and information about budgets, leasing, and even subletting. 

Make sure you’re okay with moving into the property as-is. Is the landlord telling you they plan to update or fix something in the future after you sign the lease? That may actually translate to, “You’re going to have to remind me to do this 3 more times and then pay for it yourself.” Be thorough when you look through the property!

Speaking of the landlord, do as much research as you can about your potential landlord. Talk to the current tenants outside of the property viewing to hear about their experience in an unfiltered setting. Check Google or Facebook reviews as well for any red flags!

Another pro tip: When you are visiting properties, ask for the lease in advance. Not only is this perfectly legal, but many students report feeling pressured to sign on-the-spot for a visit so they don’t lose the house or unit to the next group set up for a tour.  If you have the lease in advance, you can read it carefully and have a parent or trusted friend take a look as well. That way, you are more prepared to sign something legally binding. Check out the Off-Campus Outreach page for more in-depth info and some important questions to ask before signing your lease.

3. Let’s talk money – budgeting!

There is a TON more to consider when considering living off-campus in terms of budgeting. Most properties will price rent on a semester or academic year-basis rather than monthly. There are pros and cons to this – on the one hand, you’re likely only paying for months that you live in the property (and not during the summer). On the other hand, it’s less incentive for the landlord to respond to concerns and complaints when they receive all the rent money by November or December for the entire lease.

Here is a list of other expenses to keep in mind when creating your budget:

  • Rent and utilities – Determine each roommate’s share of the basic expenses and keep track of due dates and payments. Splitwise is a free app that can help with this, and with other shared expenses like meals out.
  • Groceries Most roommates find it convenient to go in together on pantry basics like milk, coffee, cereal, bread, fruit, snacks and cooking ingredients. They can share grocery lists through OurGroceries.
  • Property maintenance – If you are renting a house, there will almost certainly be maintenance responsibilities. You should check with the landlord about yard work and property upkeep. If renters are responsible for mowing the lawn, weeding and watering, trimming bushes and keeping the driveway and sidewalk clear of leaves and snow, that is something to note!
  • Furniture/decor – This is (for me) the most exciting part of having your own place off campus! It is important to communicate with your roommates about who will be responsible for what major piece, like couches, arm chairs, or TV’s (space permitting – you don’t need these things to have a wonderful, safe off-campus residence). There are also many opportunities for students to purchase furniture gently used by graduating seniors for a much better price than buying new. In some cases, the tenants before you may want to sell the furniture in the house/apartment to prevent them from having to move it out. If you decide to take advantage of those opportunities, be sure you thoroughly check the furniture for wear and tear. Be especially vigilant with bed frames or mattresses  – do not purchase one that has been used without a mattress cover!

4. Safety! Yes, even in Oxford.

While Oxford is known for being a relatively safe place, it is not invulnerable to crime that would be found in any other city or town. Being proactive about safety is important when living off-campus – here are some steps to keep your home protected:

  • Secure locks on doors and windows. The average burglar spends no more than 60 seconds trying to break into a home. Good locks, lighting, and neighbors who watch out for each other are a major deterrent. Pro tip: faulty locks on doors and windows are one of the things you should check for when viewing a property! Check every door and window – even if you feel super extra while doing it.
  • The property should be well-lit! When viewing a property, check for faulty lighting. You can (and should!) report broken or faulty lights to your property manager immediately, especially if they are outside. 
  • Does the rental unit have a valid permit? Has it undergone a full inspection or an exterior-only inspection through the City of Oxford? 

5. Utilities – who does what?

Know which utilities are your responsibility! Renters are typically responsible for electricity, heating/cooling, gas, and setting up internet/cable services. Check your lease or ask the landlord in-depth about the expectations with utilities. Also, find out if the utilities will be turned on when you arrive! It is important to get the utilities turned on or transferred into tenants’ names. Some utilities have fees that you must pay in order to turn the service back on and a transfer of service can help you avoid these fees. Ask the landlord if it is possible to directly transfer the utilities to your name and avoid unnecessary fees!

As you begin your search, it’s very important that you ask yourself (and your roommates) some important questions. What do you want from your living experience? Are there any places you need to be close to, including campus? Do you or your roommates need parking spaces? What kind of vibe do you get from the landlord? Determining what is mutually important to you will allow you to get the most of your off-campus living experience.

Go into the housing search with clear intentions, a list of questions, and an open mind. Enjoy the process of one of your very first authentic adulting experiences!

Kathryn Moir | Marketing & IMS