Greetings, UW Freshmen!
You have now completed your first month of college, established your core group of friends, and are (hopefully) buddy-buddy with your roommate(s). The weather in Madison is changing quickly, but the scenery is as beautiful as ever. As you’ve walked (or scooted) around campus, you’re probably beginning to see ‘for rent’ everywhere. This is a sign (pun intended); it’s apartment hunting season!
College is a time where, truly, you only live once. And that is certainly the case when attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison! Dubbed, “The Best College Town in America” by multiple sources, Madison is truly the place to live. A lot of students find and choose to live on campus after their freshman year, whether that be in the dorms or in apartments on campus, but a lot of students don’t know how to properly go about finding off-campus housing.
With school officially underway and the first midterm under your belt, freshmen don’t need extra stress, but for some Madison students, finding a place to live next year adds that extra, unwelcome stress. At this time of the year, you’re likely beginning to scope out who you want to live with next year, and where you want to live.
For most, if not all freshmen, your sophomore year will be the first time you’re truly living on your own. To make finding your home as easy as possible, we’ve put together the freshman’s guide to off-campus housing at UW-Madison in 4 steps.
Step 1: When to Search
A good time to begin searching is late September – December. The earlier you begin searching, the better housing options you will find. A lot of Madison students will typically start looking for their homes in October once they know who they’re living with. You can definitely still search for your house or apartment after December, but the longer you wait, the greater the chance you won’t find what you want. Another downside about waiting is that all of your friends will have likely already made living arrangements with other people.
When you do proceed to search possible homes, it is important that you view the actual unit and not a model unit. This is important because a model unit may be arranged the exact same way, however, it could be missing some key appliances or furniture that might sway you into determining whether this unit is the right fit for you.
Step 2: Roommates
In what should be the most fun aspect of finding a place to live is finding your roommates! For most apartments and houses, 2-4 people is typically a good size (depending on the type of housing). You’ll need to decide how many people you want to live with, and once this is determined, you’ll need to decide on the living arrangements (i.e.: sharing bedrooms). When determining who to live with, you should take into account responsibility. This is extremely important when you pay the electric bill, and especially rent. Roommates who fail to pay rent can put you in jeopardy (based on your lease).
When touring a rental unit, whether you’re planning on living alone or with roommates, you should always tour with someone. This is important because that person serves as an extra set of eyes. If you tour the unit alone, you may not see something which may not suit your liking.
While you’re touring the unit, take into account all of the safety features. These can include smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, sprinkler system, etc.. Also check out the windows and door(s) to the unit. Make sure the windows open and close properly and whether or not they lock. For the doors, make sure the locks function properly. A lot of students may not emphasize these features, but they are very important to your safety.
Step 3: Location
This can either be an easy or hard aspect to consider. For example, if you’re living with a group of people who like to party a lot, you might wanna look at Mifflin Street (strictly for the block party) and State Street (Halloween). Other valid locations are Johnson, Dayton, and Regent Street. If you prefer not to be in the center of all the hoopla, you might look elsewhere off campus.
Before deciding where to live, though, you should always research the area you’re going to be living in. It’s important to feel safe and comfortable in your neighborhood, especially at night. If you haven’t yet, sign up for UW safety alerts to stay in the know about current happenings around campus. Everyone should do this, not just current students. It’s free and takes 1 minute to setup, so you have no excuse! Signup here for alerts.
Along with WiscAlerts, it’s important to check out the night scene in the neighborhood of your possible home. Check it out with friends and make sure there is enough lighting, and even observe the people living in the neighborhood. Scoping out the area is a good way to ensure your safety (before choosing where to live).
Also take into consideration the amenities around you, such as grocery stores, laundromats, and banks. Remember, you’re not in the dorms anymore, so you’re on your own for food and laundry! When living off campus, it’s important to always consider transportation and distance to campus. Make sure you’re aware of possible ways to get to places, including campus, such as the bus, biking, and walking. Also ask the landlord about storage space and parking. Whether it’s a car, bike, or moped, having proper storage and parking options makes life a lot easier.
Step 4: Rent
This should be your biggest area of concern. Rent is the amount of money you owe the landlord each month. It is EXTREMELY important to pay rent on time. Rent will likely be due the first day of each month, and is either mailed in, submitted online, or dropped off to the landlord. Failing to turn your rent in on time will cause major problems between you and your landlord.
It is important to live within reason, that is, don’t exceed your budget. Before even searching for homes, talk to your roommates about how much you want to pay, whether that be overall rent or rent per month. This will give you an idea of what to look for, and what you can afford. Failure to do this could leave you in a pickle!
The next biggest area of concern should be amenities and utilities. Depending on the landlord, certain amenities and utilities are or aren’t included in rent. Amenities include: laundry, parking, air conditioning, and storage. Utilities may include: heat, water, electric, internet, and cable. Most times utilities will not be included in rent, which means you will have to pay extra for those certain utilities. But again, it depends on the landlord and where you live.
If you’re looking for a pet-friendly place, those are harder to find because landlords are more picky. Geographically speaking, a lot of pet-friendly homes are further away from campus. Make sure to ask the landlord about pet policy, including breed restrictions, pet rent, and any other ramifications.
Extra Advice – Apartment Showings
When attending an apartment or house showing, act professionally and look the part. Don’t show up looking like a slob who doesn’t know anything about college housing. Take the initiative to learn about how renting a home goes, and continuously think of questions to ask the landlord; you should always have questions. The more professional and educated you are about this stuff, the more likely the landlord will trust you and see you as a reliable, responsible tenant.
Extra Extra Advice – Be Safe at Night
The night life in Madison is crazy; everybody knows that. But what students don’t always remember is that walking alone in the wee hours of the morning is very dangerous. The University does not condone any student walk home alone at night, especially if he/she is intoxicated. Note that you, as students, have multiple resources to call upon if you want to be safe. SAFEwalk is your best bet, as they will come to you and walk you home. The UW Police Department is another option, but won’t accompany you back, however, if you need to report something, call the UWPD. Other possible solutions are the Madison Taxi Company, Uber, and Lyft.
When searching for your first college home, there are a lot of bumps in the road. Now, depending on your luck that might not be true, but this is a learning process. Going through something like this with friends (roommates) is a great thing for everyone. Chances are, you and your roommates have never lived on your own before. Learning how to deal with all this stuff together is the best way possible. If the first five houses you look at don’t work out, it’s ok; learn from your mistakes. There are plenty of housing options off the UW-Madison campus. Whether you’re searching for it or not, you’ll find the perfect home!
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