Normally, grad students would be able to go apartment hunting in person, just like on HGTV. You could once walk through an apartment, maybe multiple, and get a feel for it and how you felt. However, with the nation on lock-down, how should students go about searching for new housing for the Fall?
1) Check the same location on multiple websites
Nowadays, there are many third-party websites that help renters offer up their vacancies, such as Apartments.com and Zillow. While you may find a fantastic deal on one website, try looking for that same place on others. Different websites have different statistics and features; some may describe the crime rate and nearby amenities, while others may not. Since you want to get a good feeling for what this option is like and has to offer, looking for it on other websites may help uncover new and important information.
2) Reviews and current residents
When I was searching for opinions on potential apartments near my graduate school, some professors were able to get me in contact with current MFA students, who I emailed to get opinions and advice on different housing options. Looking at reviews of apartment complexes and leasers can be helpful, but your own professors may be able to get you in contact with current students, and they could give you advice sugar-coat-free.
3) Pictures and virtual tours
As I was searching for apartments, many complexes were actually offering virtual apartments for the time being. Now, I didn't take part in any, so I'm unsure if they're similar to a virtual reality type of thing or if the leaser shows you the place via their phone and talks with you all the while, but either way, they sound very helpful. Virtual tours can help you see the entirety of the space to the best of your ability without actually being there. You can get an idea of the feel of the space and how it looks, and maybe what you can do with it.
4) Ask any questions you have!
I was asking every realtor and leaser of a place I was mildly interested in the same questions over and over when I was hunting. Before you search, make a list of any question you have, no matter how insignificant it may sound; if you question it, ask it. Also don't be afraid to ask for clarification on listings-- does the place for sure come furnished? Are these certain utilities for sure included in the rent? Is the lease actually one whole year?
House hunting online does have its many challenges, but with some time and patience, they can be overcome. Depending on where you're moving, you may be able to set up a showing in-person, limited in the number of people, of course. You can always ask the leaser what options they offer for you to see the place, whether it be a virtual your, some pictures and specifics, or a small, traditional walk-through.
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