Students start search for off-campus options

by Beacon Staff • April 2, 2008

When students get sick of hiding toasters in computer boxes, blowing smoke through shower vents or dealing with randomly selected roomies, they embark on a rite of passage-renting a new apartment. But now is the time to get your butt in gear-especially for the upperclassman who aren't guaranteed on-campus housing each year. A little leg-work with the help of Emerson's Off-Campus Student Services may aid you in your hunt for housing.

Elin M. Riggs, coordinator of OCSS said that while finding the right place can be a lot of work, it is vital for students to spend the time it takes to find the perfect place of residency. Even more importantly, students should begin the process soon.

"Now is when realtors are finding out from their attendants if people are coming back into their apartments or not," Riggs said. "So now is a good time to start looking."

On April 9, the For Rent Housing Fair will allow students to talk to 15 different realtors and agents who have listings available for September. Ideal for those moving off campus for the first time, the fair makes it possible for students to meet with an array of realtors without making a commitment to any one company.

"If you're not getting a feel for one of the companies you are talking with, there's probably going to be at least 14 others to look at," she said. "You're going to click with at least one of them."

But before the fair rolls into town, Riggs says students should know where to look on their own first. The Internet is the easiest way to begin your search. Your new home could be hiding among the incalculable number of Facebook groups, or in the thousands of classifieds on the popular Web site Craigslist. Emerson's message boards may also hold the key to finding your new abode.

Ashley Whiting, a junior who currently lives at the Double Tree, was put on the waiting list for housing next year and believes that living off campus is the right choice for her.

"Once I calculated it out, it is cheaper accordingly if you live off campus," the writing for film and television major said. "I was more than willing to move off campus even though the process was more difficult than expected."

Last week, Whiting signed the lease to her new apartment in Symphony, within walking distance of Emerson's campus. But settling on this apartment was no walk in the park.

"It's overwhelming to look on Craigslist and at first it was kind of frustrating," she said. "We would contact people and no one would contact us back so it's kind of just a hit or miss with Craigslist ads."

While sifting through the thousands of options can be time consuming, Riggs recommends Craigslist as well as the vacancy listings found through the OCSS Web site because she has known a lot of people who have found the right home in this way.

One may use the "Open Message Boards" or the "Tackboard" by clicking the link from the E-Campus Web site or finding the "Apartment Listings" connection. The board is only open to Emersonians and offers the option to post and view potential places within a close-knit community. By posting likes and dislikes, how much the individual is willing to pay each month and where he or she would like to live, Emersonians can connect closer-to-home.

But while these methods are convenient, it is important to approach the ads with vigilance. OCSS does not inspect the apartments listed on the sites and warns that posters can still put up false information.

In addition, hopeful homebound students should find a realtor that they can trust. But beforehand, these naive newbies in search of their first home should do their research.

In order to rise above the shenanigans of the shifty, Riggs said that students should educate themselves before and during their search.

The first piece of advice she gives is to make sure students find out up front if there are any fees. Usually, she said, a realtor will charge for their services in helping find an apartment, whether the potential buyer chooses to rent that particular pad or not. To avoid this problem, the consumer should ask ahead of time if it is possible to get it back if they change their minds about the apartment the realtor helped them find.

Another mistake students make, she said, is leaving their parents in the dark. Because many apartments mandate a guardian's co-signature, students must consult with the 'rents before they rent.

"You shouldn't be signing anything or giving anyone any money until you've talked to your parents about it because your parents are going to be co-signing on the loan." Riggs said. "Any parent or guardian should be spoken with before you decide to put anything in writing just so you guys are all on the same page."

With a new ordinance limiting the number of undergraduate students who may live together to four, Riggs said it is up to the student to learn the rules and follow them.

"There are going be some landlords that are going ignore it and there are going to be some realtors that are going ignore it," she said. "But you can't rely on your realtor or your landlord for not telling you, because it is ultimately your responsibility to educate yourself."

But the bill only applies to Boston Proper-if students looking to live in large groups find themselves in a pickle, OCSS can recommend other popular areas for Emersonians to inhabit that aren't too much of a trek away but still avoid the new restrictions, such as Cambridge or Somerville.

Junior Brian Roy and two of his roommates started their search last January when they were living in a suite in Little Building. He said that finding the right realtor was important to the success of their residency research. After signing the lease with their second realtor, however, the boys had some doubts about their decision.

"Once we started to sign the lease and he kind of disappeared and he was being real shady. We found out he had drug problems which was kind of sketchy," he said.

Riggs understands that apartment searching can be a complicated process and tries to give students as much information as she can. However, she said, it is up to the student to make the final decision as to who they put their trust in.

"Looking for an apartment is like a full time job for a little while," she said. "It takes a lot of work and dedication to find the right apartment so you're in a good place. I don't have a stake in it the way a real estate agent would. I hope they hear what I'm saying and they try to follow the advice that I give them."