Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spotted: American University Students Seeking Off-Campus Housing

At the end of second semester most college sophomore’s get the itch. They get tired of living “the dorm life” where they eat, sleep, do homework, and watch T.V. in the same small room. Being away from home is very freeing, but moving into your very own house takes that freedom to a whole new level.

“Even though I’ve only been at AU for a year, I began to feel tired of the dorms. There isn’t a lot of space in the bedrooms and the lounge is often full of people trying to use the same sink and stove” said freshman Camille David.

Students move off college campuses for a variety of reasons, including wanting more freedom from the dorm restrictions set up by RA’s, more space, and the intrigue of living with friends. Cost is one of the main reasons driving AU students into the local residential area.
According to American’s Housing and Dining Program, the cost of room and board for undergraduate students is approximately $12,930 for the nine months in the academic year. This averages to about $1437 per month. This number is much higher than the cost of the surrounding DC real estate available to AU students. According to local landlord, Sylvana Dias, a home in Tenleytown or AU Park averages about $5,000 per month and can fit six students comfortably. This equals out to each student paying just under $1,000 a month to live just blocks from their classes, a bargain compared to the skyrocketing room and board costs.

There is also a lack of on-campus housing at American that is forcing more students to move off. Most colleges have expanded greatly over the past decade and American University is one of them. American currently has 6,023 undergraduate students enrolled along with about 2,000 graduate students. College Board statistics report that in 2007, American took a freshman class of 1,287 and in 2008 a class of 1,580, an almost 23 percent increase.

“Large publically funded institutions are caught between increasing enrollments and less income from investment…meaning less money to build houses so many students must live off campus” said AU Spokesperson David Taylor.

This is happening on a nationwide level. Northeastern University in Boston for example, had recently shelved plans to build a new dorm that would house an additional 600 students. Also the University of Maryland is experiencing an on campus housing shortage that is forcing more and more upperclassman who desire to be on campus into off- campus residences, adding to the competition that students are already facing, according to the National Multi-Housing Council.

Unfortunately for the thousands of college students across the nation who look to move off-campus during their four years of their college education, there are many difficulties associated with student housing rentals including financial barriers, high demand for houses with a low supply, and students being in direct competition with the many families that live in surrounding areas.

According to Dias, the market for housing rentals in the Washington DC area is very competitive among college students and it is fairly easy for a landlord to choose a good group of students from a large pile of applications.

“Many of the properties that are available in the area are very nice, and we [property managers] have to be selective when choosing who is going to live there. We do contact references and perform credit checks to make sure that the group is right for the home” Dias said.

Students such as Christina Friedberg, a senior Public Relations major and member of the dance team at American, have faced financial problems on their housing search. The current economy is not providing job security, which means it is difficult to sign a lease for an extended period of time.

“I just don’t know where I am going to end up working. It could be in DC, New York, or back home in Pittsburgh and until I find a job I won’t know and won’t be able to commit to a house” Friedberg said.

Friedberg is one of the many seniors at American who have not yet secured a job after graduation, and it is this insecurity that is preventing her from living in her dream home with her five best friends next year.

On the bright side, the market for local apartments is looking better than the housing market.

According to a spokesperson from the Avalon Apartment Complex, which is located just feet from American University, prices on the spaces have gone down since January in an attempt to attract more students. Sophomore Ryan Kasman is one AU student who is moving into the Avalon in the fall, and said that the lower prices helped make her decision final.

“[The Avalon] has a gym, a pool, full-time security, and is very spacious with two-bedrooms. It’s still more expensive than the others but it’s worth it to be so close to campus and not have to spend the time searching for a house” Kasman said.

One-third of American University students live off-campus, according to Housing and Dining records, and starting the search to get there can be very difficult. A good way start is with a simple internet search of the real estate surrounding the University. Craigslist and AU Park rentals are two of the most popular web resources available to students, said American University’s Housing and Dining Program. These sites deliver pictures, lease dates, and rent prices right to your computer screen. Housing and Dining employee Adam Tager said that AU does its part in aiding the search for off-campus houses by offering a website where students can register and post listings of local houses and apartments. The site can be accessed through the my.american portal.

Dias recommends a few tips to students who are looking to rent a house with a large group. First, it is important to start your search early and be flexible, Dias said. Second, Dias said to show a strong interest in the house by asking questions and being active when viewing the house. Third, do everything in a timely manner. Be on-time for viewings and hand in the application as soon as possible.

Adam Gevarter, a real estate asset manager for a private investment company, also adds that using a real estate agent is better than dealing with a property manager. This is because you often don’t have to pay commission and they can help you find houses that are not even placed on the web yet. Gevarter also recommends that you should have your deposit money of one month’s rent ready before you even view the house.

“You want to look like you have everything together,” Gevarter said, “and having the deposit money ready to go will speed up the process and boost your chances of getting the house.”

Those are just a few things that students can do to get the off- campus residence they want but there are also the things, like the economy, that are not under their control.

“Finding a place to live with all of your friends is a great experience” a discouraged Friedberg said, “and it’s too bad that students are facing difficulties because of the bad economy.”

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