STORY BY Emma Newell

PHOTOS BY Gabriella Thacker and Kayla Duffy

DESIGN BY Tarraina Turner

The switch from a dorm to an apartment or house can be many things all at once—scary, exciting and definitely overwhelming. The factors that go into your choice are plenty, and the choices that you start with have lasting impacts. The search also starts shockingly early, with friends asking you to be their roommate for the next year when you’ve barely set foot on campus. “I started looking for an apartment in November of my freshman year, but this year I started looking in probably September,” sophomore Honors student Grace Overholtz said. It can happen fast, and it’s an important decision, both financially and personally, but it doesn’t need to be as stressful and uncertain as it can be. Understanding how to navigate the process can make it feel like less of the new, intimidating experience that it is.

To start, you have to know what you need, what you want, and how much you’re willing to give. With the extensive list of places to choose from, having priorities automatically reduces the options. Whether that be a location close to campus, parking, a shuttle, furnishing, being allowed to have pets—all these change your list of options. However, be willing to let some of your wants go, because something that checks all of your boxes will most likely not fall into your lap. It can change your budget as well.

While having a budget seems like a given, it’s not as simple as setting aside money for the monthly rent. It’s taking other things into account, such as 

utilities, transportation and any other fees that could be a side effect of your living arrangement. Assessing all possibilities is the key to not getting stuck in a situation that you can’t handle.

There’s a lot to think about, and you can feel pressured to figure it out in a short period of time. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of resources that are available to you.

At The University of Alabama, there’s an office specifically in place to help students through this process. Off-Campus Resources can answer any questions you have, either in general or about specific properties. They plan the monthly housing fairs, and they have a place to make off-campus roommate profiles. Above all, they can point you in the right direction according to what you’re looking for. “The problem is that students don’t even know that my office exists until after they’ve had a problem,” Janine McGee, assistant director of Off-Campus Resources, said. If you take advantage of the services they offer now, avoiding common problems could prove to be simple.

Getting your first apartment or house is a step into a new era of life where looking out for yourself is crucial, and it can be the perfect avenue to learn how to do that. You’re bound to visit complexes and properties along the way, and when you do that, you should not only be asking questions, but also trying to verify what they tell you. Taking things for face value and assuming managers and staff know exactly what they’re talking about can get you into a situation you don’t want to be in. Know that verbal agreements are generally not legally binding. It’s also important to know that realtors don’t always have to disclose all information. Going the extra mile to understand what you’re agreeing to will give you confidence in your decisions and a smoother year in your new home.

The lease can easily be the most daunting part of the whole process, but it all goes back to advocating for yourself and completely understanding what you’re signing. Reading the lease cover to cover before you sign is important; it’s a commitment that you can’t simply back out of. Whether you understand what’s in it or not, you legally agree to every aspect of it once you sign your name.

Fortunately, you’re not entirely on your own. The language can be hard to interpret at times, but Off-Campus Resources will read through a lease with you to make sure you understand exactly what you’re agreeing to. The resources are in place for you to make an educated and fulfilling decision for yourself; all you have to do is seek them out.