Guide to searching for off-campus housing

Students can lower their costs by saving money on groceries, transportation and utilities as well.

In a busy college town like Columbia, finding off-campus housing can be a struggle for students competing for housing contracts and leases after freshman year. There are a number of steps students should take when first looking for off-campus housing, especially if they’re new to the area, Off-Campus Student Services coordinator Dionne George said in an email.

Do your research

When finding the best apartment, it’s crucial to scour the Internet for all the possible information from reviews to floorplans. However, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call. So many of the larger luxury complexes will not post key information such as rent, so a phone call is most effective.

Junior Haley Smith recommends that students should also take the time to schedule a tour to actually see the physical space they will be living in.

“The Reserve has a model room in their little office, but if I had seen what this apartment was going to look like at the time, I would have probably reconsidered and looked at other places,” Smith said. “I think it’s fine now, but I would definitely say, actually take a look at what you will be getting, if you can.”

For additional help, George said students can schedule a consultation with Off-Campus Student Services.

“In this consultation, we will share all the factors students should consider before signing a lease, we will provide housing options based on their list of must haves and we will share students reviews of properties,” George said.

If a student can’t make it in person, they can visit the Off-Campus Student Services website, where they can explore various factors to consider as well as browse properties.

Students could also speak with upperclassmen that have housing in Columbia. There are various Facebook pages about off-campus housing where students share advice, especially in the comment section.

Senior Elijah Solidum also recommends students speak to their parents who may be more experienced on the issue.

“Talk it over with your parents, because I’ve never really talked about my situation with my parents and they usually provide input because they’ve been through this before,” Solidum said.

Finding a budget

After doing extensive research, the Columbia housing scene can get a tad overwhelming with all the Brooksides and fancy add-ons. Before touring each location, make a budget that includes rent, groceries, utilities and other costs associated with living off-campus.

A typical student-housing budget per month is $450; however, George said there are many ways students can lower their off-campus living expenses.

“My first recommendation for students is to track their spending to see where they could reduce costs,” George said. “More often than not, utilities, transportation, groceries and eating out are areas most people find that they are over spending.”

Although utilities might be included with rent, students can make sure they’re making the most of their money by checking previous utility usage data on the property. This will allow students to have an idea of how much past tenants usually have paid for utilities at the property so they know what to expect. Simply search for “rental utility data” on to find the amount paid on bills by previous tenants. George also recommends visiting the CoMo Energy Challenge website for energy saving tips.

Junior Paige Greer said she feels that unnecessary amenities can also be a factor that tends to raise costs for students.

“I feel like a lot of people get trapped into paying too much by thinking they’re getting all these great amenities, and they turn out not to be such great living spaces,” Greer said.

Food is another expense students should consider. Using coupons when shopping for groceries can be beneficial to cutting costs, George said. Many of the coupons for local grocery stores can be found online.

Consider location and transportation

Many of the housing complexes near campus are more costly due to location and amenities. The fairly new complexes such as Todd Apartments, The Lofts on Broadway and District Flats come with a high price tag, ranging from $735–$999 per month.

For students working on a budget, more affordable housing closer to campus that’s just a walk or bike ride away include University Place Apartments, Dumas Apartments and the Reserve at Columbia.

Another option Greer said students should look into is living in a house off campus as a cheaper option than apartment complexes.

“I mean living close to campus is pretty important to me, but you can definitely find a house that’s cheaper and closer to campus than you can find an apartment,” Greer said.

Although many of the housing options are cheaper the farther they are from campus, students may want to consider whether they will have a car and how they plan on paying for parking.

Driving and the cost of gas was a factor that influenced Smith’s decision to look for housing closer to campus next year.

“I really want to live on-campus, or at least very, very close to campus, because driving and parking is a big hassle,” Smith said. “Paying for gas is a hassle, so I’d really like to live much closer to campus so I can walk everywhere if I have to.”

Many of the complexes have shuttles that run throughout the day to and from campus, such as The Den, The Reserve and Campus View.

Sophomore Becca Carter said even though her apartment offers shuttles to campus, she usually takes alternative shuttles such as MU’s Tiger Line or COMO Connect because she’s heard the apartment’s shuttles tend to have long wait times.

However Smith said that the shuttles at her apartment complex, The Reserve, tend to be very reliable and convenient. The issue that tends to arise is that an 8:30 a.m. shuttle may end up being too crowded and full.

“That can be a little annoying or scary if you have a 9 a.m. and you wait all the way until the 8:30 bus, but other than that they’re pretty convenient,” Smith said. “If you wanted to do late night studying at Ellis, you couldn’t do that though, because (the shuttles) stop at like 9:45 (p.m.). So that’s sort of a hindrance, but you can’t expect them to run all night.”

Take the search seriously

Carter said she wishes she had looked at more places before signing her lease at The Grove last August. Although her apartment has three rooms — which is what Carter was looking for — and fell within her budget of under $500–$600 a month, she said there are various aspects she would like to change.

“It’s not really nice,” Carter said. “Like I came here and there were dents in the furniture and there was stuff all over the walls.”

Smith said she feels similar about her current living situation as the one bedroom, one bathroom space ended up being more like a studio apartment which is not what she was looking for. In addition, her apartment’s proximity to the woods have a negative affect as well.

“We’re closer to the woods, so there’s a lot of bugs, and that’s an issue,” Smith said. “I just buy bug spray from Walmart… but there were spiders everywhere and that was a big disappointment.”

While it is ultimately up to the student to choose a place that fits his or her needs, George has some reminders for students during the housing process.

“A lease is a legally binding document, so do your research before you sign,” George said. “Find roommates and spend time getting to know them before you sign leases together.

Students will have an opportunity to talk to landlords, property owners and other off-campus agencies from 10 a.m to 3 p.m Nov. 11 at the Off-Campus Housing Fair in the Student Center.

Despite the many factors to consider when looking for housing, Solidum said students shouldn’t feel overwhelmed because there are many housing options to choose from here in Columbia.

“There’s a lot of options and there’s a lot of flexibility,” Solidum said. “You can really find what you’re looking for. It’s not like you’re restricted to one apartment complex. There’s dozens to choose from, dozens of different locations.”

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