There’s a lot we would ask for this holiday season, and at the top of the list is something big: guaranteed housing for everyone at Tufts. Of course, we know this wish is just that — a wish. Realistically, the vast majority of upperclassmen will have to find and rent off-campus apartments, and while we applaud Tufts’ efforts to build a new dorm and invest in Community Housing units, off-campus living will remain a part of students’ lives for a long time.
Living off campus isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, having your own house with friends offers unparalleled independence and the freedom to form your own community. However, as anyone past their first year knows, the housing search is a time-consuming and emotionally grueling task — and that’s not even accounting for the not-so-uncommon predatory realtors and notoriously difficult landlords.
Members of the Daily’s editorial board are no strangers to the housing struggle. We’ve had groupmates flake out, leaving housing arrangements in limbo, and we’ve gone on dozens of house tours to find our current rentals.
The unfortunate reality most undergraduates face is that we will have to go through an arduous and expensive search for housing that includes dealing with (often) dishonorable real-estate professionals. Our goal as an editorial board — and as a group of upperclassmen who were in your shoes — is twofold: to publicly acknowledge your challenging experience and to offer a non-exhaustive list of advice to make your housing search a little less painful.
The greatest time-sink in the housing process is searching for available rentals. In the time we could have devoted to school, we’ve become full-time house hunters, left scouring the internet for leases and sublets, clicking through hundreds of listings on several different websites and forums, only to find the perfect listing … $1,000 over budget.
In our experience, it can take daily, active searching to find an affordable place near campus. That’s why we agree with Angy Sosa, associate director of residential operations, who told us in an email that it’s “never too early to start thinking and learning about housing for your junior and senior years.”
However, thinking about housing and signing a lease are two very disparate steps. Although some students choose to sign leases up to a year in advance, Sosa called this “far too early” and suggested students take more time and keep their options open before committing to an expensive (and legally binding) rental agreement. After all, friend groups change, and it may be worth it for your group to find out if you receive an on-campus lottery number.
There are a variety of different websites which show available rentals, and we suggest checking all of them religiously. Tufts has its own off-campus housing platform in partnership with Apartments.com. Other housing websites include Zillow, various Facebook groups and a slew of platforms run by realty companies like Boardwalk Properties and Compass.
Keep in mind that each website is likely to have their own exclusive listings, and houses that go on the market tend not to stay on the market for long — so as soon as you see a listing that looks viable, be sure to send an email to the listing agent. You should also know that convenience comes at a price; apartments closer to campus can cost well over $1,000 per tenant each month.
The house tour
Before you schedule a tour with a realtor, be aware that they have a vested interest in renting you a house since they earn a hefty brokerage fee. Although brokers are helpful for finding apartments, our experiences with brokers have included insistence that we add hundreds of dollars to our leases in order to win potential bidding wars and pressure to rent subpar houses, lest we never find an alternative. Don’t let brokers scare you, because trust us, there’s always an alternative.
When you’re touring houses, you should be prepared with questions. Be sure to ask whether utilities are included (they usually aren’t), if the property needs repairs and if there are (working) appliances, such as a dishwasher, washer and dryer. Sosa also suggests asking about parking availability and subletting policies.
If the current tenants happen to be at home during the tour, ask them about their experiences living in the house and dealing with the landlord: Is the landlord responsive to maintenance requests? Does the landlord respect the terms of the lease agreement? Odds are, the current tenants will be more honest and straightforward than the broker. Lastly, when you’re preparing to sign a lease, read the document closely and ask as many parents or trusted adults as possible to go over it as well.
Throughout this process, we suggest visiting Tufts’ own housing resources page to review your rights as a renter, as well as reaching out to Sosa along with the Residential Operations & Housing Services team. The office is available to answer questions before and after you sign leases, and its staff can even help you mediate disputes with your housemates or your landlord. Sosa suggests that students email email@example.com with any housing-related questions.
Though we’re always in favor of Tufts purchasing more CoHo units for students, we also believe there are cheaper options Tufts can pursue now to make life easier for students seeking housing. For one, not all students follow the Off-Campus Housing Canvas page, but we think everyone should be automatically enrolled. The page includes updates from housing services and a forum for students to connect with subletters.
It’s also deeply frustrating and time-consuming having to scour several websites for potential rentals; though this problem isn’t Tufts’ fault, we believe the university should create a platform that aggregates rental listings from different websites. Tufts could also send students a weekly newsletter with verified rental listings and sublease solicitations, saving us some of the time and hassle of searching online.
Lastly, we think Tufts should invest in a more persistent and visible advertising campaign to realistically educate students of our obligations and to highlight the resources available to us. The better informed we are, the easier our searches will be, so our house-hunting hours can instead be spent agonizing over exams in the basement of Tisch.