Vacation homes in college are not for the faint of heart

Once upon a time there was a young sophomore named Lauren (yeah that’s me) and she decided that resigning her lease in December 2014 was a great idea.

Fast forward to March 2015: my best friend asks if I want to live with her in a different apartment complex (which is known for being slightly expensive) and of course I say yes and sign the lease for a second apartment; who wouldn’t want to live with their best friend, and how hard could it really be to get out of a lease?

Let me tell you guys, it’s pretty dang hard.

The first place I had signed with required me to find someone to actually sign over my lease before I was no longer financially responsible for the apartment. I searched for months on Facebook pages and through friends of friends trying to find anyone who would take this apartment off my hands. It eventually became a joke among my friends and we referred to it as “Lauren’s vacation home.”

Unfortunately, finding a subleaser in a city full of apartment complexes is like trying to sell an ice cream sundae that only has vanilla ice cream in it. While it isn’t terrible, there’s an ice cream shop next door that offers first month’s free rent and an Apple TV thrown in when you buy the super deluxe sundae.

That year financially was the hardest year of my life. I was already paying the majority of my expenses with some help from my parents, but now I had added on almost $1,100 worth of rent between two apartments. My parents helped as much as they could, but it’s certainly not easy to ask them for $500 every month so I don’t get evicted.

Here’s where I went wrong: I acted spontaneously when I really was in a situation that called for rational thinking. Instead of looking into the first lease I signed for how to break the lease, I went ahead and signed with the apartment that I really wanted to live in. Sure spontaneous decisions can be fun like going to the beach at midnight, but being in two leases simultaneously could have easily been avoided if I took a step back before signing on the dotted line.

During that time when I had two apartments, I could have been saving $500 per month. That over a 12-month leasing period is $6,000 which seems unreal even now as I type it out. That $6,000 could have gone into savings for when I graduate, could have gone towards paying off my student loans, or could have been a sizable payment on a car. Instead, it went toward an apartment that collected dust for 12 months because I was living somewhere else.

The time to finalize apartment plans and sign leases is slowly creeping up. Housing fairs are full of people throwing shirts, koozies, umbrellas, frisbees, food, their first born child and whatever else is within arms reach to just get you to sign with their complex.

Sure, it might be fine to make a sudden decision by signing up for a place with four of your pals and having a great year. But, it’s important to remember that putting in a little extra effort to plan doesn’t take much time or pain.

I would suggest first going over a price point with whomever is paying your rent. This part is key because you don’t want to stretch your budget, or your parent’s budget.

The second thing to do is think about how many people you realistically want to room with. Are you a homebody that enjoys couch time and Netflix? Then you might want to keep the roommate count low so you don’t have to worry about always sharing the common area.

Once you figure out how many roommates you want, find people who will be reliable. And in this case I don’t mean that they’ll take out the trash every day or pay the water bill online; no, reliability here means that you can rely on them to sign the lease with you. There’s nothing worse than finding roommates who suddenly back out of signing a lease when April rolls around.

Lastly, ask whatever questions you need to about your lease. We are all in college and still trying to figure out how to match our clothes before a job interview. Unless your parents are lawyers or are in real estate, there’s no way you’ll know about everything included in your lease.

If you’re confused about utilities, ask to have the process explained. If you graduate in December and need to break your lease, make sure you know if you have to have someone sign it over or if you can pay to just break it. And if you have a pet, figure out if there is a pet deposit or monthly fee.

Sure these things might seem obvious, but it’s easy to gloss over these steps when you’re signing an apartment for the first time. Don’t be afraid to ask and ask again about any aspect of your lease or the apartment you are confused about. Happy apartment hunting!