TimelessFinance is not just Joe Wood’s thoughts and opinions (although on days like yesterday, that may seem to be the case). I love the perspectives offered by high quality guest posts. They also reduce my workload. Last week Adina, a Canadian style blogger at Blue collar / Red lipstick, shared the wisdom of her first-generation Canadian parents. Before that, Kathy did several awesome posts on frugal hair and clothing. She’ll be back soon, as will Adina.
This week, my dear friend Jack Braithwaite – UFC aficionado, Deustche-phile, and TrentU peer – shares tips on how to find affordable student housing. If you’re attending university in the fall (and you won’t be staying in an usuriously expensive campus residence), pay attention!
My name’s Jack. I’m currently a student at Trent University studying history and German studies. And as some readers may know, especially students and parents with post-secondary-aged kids, another academic year looms large. I may not be the most knowledgeable when it comes to RESPs or student lines of credit, but I consider myself an expert on a particular aspect of student personal finance: finding decent, affordable student housing. After playing the house-hunting game for three years now, I’ve learned many important things about finding student housing that is affordable and safe. This kind of housing will contribute positively to your son/daughter’s success while they’re hard at work doing essays and/or keg stands. Here are six tips for parents and independent students on how to find ideal rental housing:
1. Kijiji is Your Best Friend
I cannot stress enough how important kijiji.ca is when finding a room to rent for the school year. This is the primary spot where landlords will post ads for rooms that are available, at least in Canada. The landlord will often give all the information that you need to know about the house (i.e. rent per month, address, current housemates, pets, 12 month or 8 month lease, etc.). On the main kijiji page, under “Real Estate” check out the following sections:
- apartments, condos
- house rental
- room rental, roommates
Use the convenient search criteria (e.g. price range, proximity) to narrow down your search further.
But like everything else on kijiji.ca, always be extremely scrupulous about the legitimacy of ads! Don’t give a cheque til you get the keys. Always get a copy of the lease (they should have you sign two copies; one for you and one for them) and ask for receipts. It’s not rude to ask, it’s common sense and the landlord should support this.
There are resources for finding housing, besides kijiji. Check out your university’s or college’s housing office website. Even pick up a copy of the good ol’ newspaper and read the classifieds. Kijiji.ca and these other resources are superior to desperately networking with other new students on Facebook groups.
2. Start ASAP
In my experience, the best deals for rooms in houses (measured subjectively based on their cost and location) are usually only available in January or February. So during, or right after, the Christmas break start searching for rooms for the upcoming fall. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.
3. Price, Price, Price
In my last tip I mentioned in passing that the location of rental housing is a huge factor in getting a good deal. For students on tight budgets, however, what is much more important is getting the room at a good price. A “good” rental price for a room will vary considerably depending on which town/city your school is in. I’m fortunate enough to live in Peterborough where the rental prices, although increasing, are not nearly as scandalous as those in bigger cities like Toronto or Vancouver. In Peterborough, a decent single room in a house/apartment (with a shared bathroom and kitchen), you would most likely pay around $325 – $500 a month. Any rooms outside of this range should fall under immediate suspicion. If it’s cheaper, there’s probably a catch. If it’s more expensive, it’s just not worth it. Figure out what the reasonable range is for your location. Scanning Kijiji (per Tip #1) will give you a good sense of this.
4. Bring Someone with You
This is also key in finding a house that is of good quality and fair price. It’s better to have more than two eyes when meeting the landlord. This means it’ll be easier to notice any visible issues with the house. It’s normal for a student to simply bring along a parent but it’d be ideal to bring someone you know (i.e. an older sibling and/or friend) who has been through this process more recently. Coming from experience I find it’s better to have someone with you who has more realistic expectations about what a student house will look like, rather than someone like my Mom who will always complain, “THAT HOUSE SMELLS LIKE POT!!!! IT’S A TOTAL RIP-OFF!!! YOU CAN WALK 3KM TO SCHOOL, QUIT COMPLAINING!!!” I love you, Mom!
5. Your School’s Off-Campus Housing Office is Your Other Best Friend
I know I mentioned this in tip #1, but it bears repeating. Your school’s off-campus housing office is an invaluable resource that often remains foolishly underused by students until it’s too late. Their website, in particular, may have links to rooms available that are posted by reputable landlords, as well as a wealth of advice on finding decent housing (that I may have forgotten to mention here). And most importantly the off-campus housing office website should have links to information that outline your rights and obligations as a tenant (dependent on whatever state/province your school is in). Where I live the relevant legal document would be the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act.
6. (Your Parents) Buy Your (Parents’) House
One option several of my friends (along with their respective parents) have pursued is the purchase of a home for the student to live in while attending university/college. This way the parents and their child(ren) can avoid all the trouble of finding a house that may/may not be leased out by a devious landlord and may/may not have questionable tenants. Another benefit of this option is that the parents can invest in rental real estate with less risk (assuming their child is trustworthy and will manage the home and collect rent on-time - those are MASSIVE assumptions).
On the other hand, as my friend Joe has pointed out time and time again, the Canadian housing market is in the midst of a large bubble. So if parents are interested in investing in a house that their children can live in while they go to school and you still have a few years before they do so, it might be best to wait until prices ease. It’ll be less risky and you might even get a house at a much more reasonable cost. That way, you can charge your child’s peers less rent – that’ll make your rental house more attractive to students than a $7.99 12-pack of Kraft Dinner.
So there you have it: some advice on finding student housing from someone who knows first-hand the challenges and the rewards of finding a house that fits a student’s lifestyle and a student’s wallet. Perhaps, sometime soon, I’ll do more posts about ways that my fellow twentysomethings can save money! [Editor Joe's Note: I added a Category called "CheapskateU", and you're welcome to do a series, Jack!]