So you’re looking for a house. Glad to hear you want to live off campus — the college houses are convenient and have nice amenities (and lots of free food), but nothing compares to the independence of your own space, with no RAs or hall neighbors to bother you.
And the pinnacle of off-campus living is a house. Floor to roof, that place is yours. No downstairs neighbors to ask you to turn down your music, no awkward hall interactions with people you’ve met like twice and your own front door (yes, you’ll discuss all the crazy open parties you’ll throw with your housemates-to-be, but they won’t happen).
The bad news is that if you’re looking for a house, you’re probably too late. Overeager Penn students have started looking for prime spots earlier and earlier, and landlords have seized the opportunity to rope them into thousands of dollars as early as possible.
But the good news is that because there are so few options as early as October or November, you can start thinking about next year now. And you should. My current housemates and I realized we wanted to move nearly a year ago and still almost found no alternatives to where we’re living right now. But we did, and that was because we were proactive.
You might get lucky and have a close friend with an awesome house who’s willing to pass it down to you. But chances are, you won’t. In that case, this is your best chance of finding a place that isn’t a fixer-upper on 43rd and Baltimore.
1. Start calling every landlord you can think of, as soon as school starts. There’s no reason to wait until you hear about them leasing their houses — some of them might be willing to pressure current tenants into deciding whether to renew as early as September or October. And I’m not just talking about Campus Apartments and University City Housing — there are a lot of smaller companies and individuals that lease houses and don’t have lines out their doors waiting to sign a lease on one.
2. Call them again. Some of them will forget what you wanted or even that you were interested at all. By the time you do this, they might have also asked their tenants if they’re renewing, and you could get first dibs on something that opens up.
3. Be prepared for surprises. I tried number two and thought I had won a fantastic house. Long story short, the day we were ready to sign the lease we found out it wasn’t actually available. Be flexible and willing to move on to other options if your ideal ones don’t work out.
4. Be ready to make snap decisions. Some of the biggest companies release their available houses on a particular day at a particular time. People will literally line up outside the door for first dibs on that list. To get one of the best places available, you might have to be ready to sign a lease and put money down literally within minutes of seeing the house.
5. Be prepared for disappointment. You could do everything right and still get unlucky, with no options that you love. In that case, be ready to settle. If you don’t get that eight-bedroom on Locust you’ve been eyeing, be ready to make a move on something smaller on 42nd and Sansom if that’s your next best option — even if it’s a big downgrade. Other people are in the same position as you and will be competing for less and less desirable houses as the semester goes on.
These steps give you a decent shot at finding something you like. But there’s no way to get around the possibility that you could end up somewhere surprising. Or even back on campus. But at the end of the day, that’s not so bad.
Alex Zimmermann is a College junior from Bethesda, Md. He is currently a senior staff writer at The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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