One of the great benefits of attending American universities is the global community. People from all over the world bring their unique perspectives and culture to share with classmates in an intimate learning environment. Despite the political and economical hurdles these international students face, they are still a growing proportion of the student population every year.
I sat down with my classmate, Anusha, to hear what it is like to navigate the American housing market 8,000 miles away. Anusha is originally from India, and prior to coming to her MBA program, had never moved to the the US before. Her choice between staying in India or coming abroad came down to a simple decision criteria:
“For me, the best way to experience diversity and build a global skill-set was to go somewhere foreign.”
THE MOVING PLAYBOOK
Before we even dove into details about her search or the challenges of her journey, Anusha opened her laptop and showed me a spreadsheet with six tabs filled with lists of resources. I am shocked by the amount of effort and creativity in front of me. With links to homes, agents, conversations, and much more, Anusha tells me that building this took months while working full-time, but was incredibly important to get right. I asked her what was driving the need for this level of detail. Was searching for a place that difficult in America?
“It isn’t that it is difficult, just tedious. There were factors I had to consider that I never thought of before, like snow, commute, and groceries. There are so many different neighborhoods, it can be an overwhelming amount of information. Especially utilities! One place charges a flat fee for utilities, another includes some utilities, another doesn’t offer snow maintenance. The list of things just kept growing, so I started assigning them values. My dream was to find the most affordable option closest to my classmates. However, either the price wasn't right, or the location was too far."
When I asked her how she knew where to start, she told me that she used the school’s housing guide. It was put together by alums and served as a good networking tool. She reached out to alums early on and asked them about their school experience to see what made certain areas better than others. Her focus was to find out the challenges they had faced with searching for and living in housing in the US. The more impressive part was that her technique helped build such a strong connection that alumni would go look at places for her while she stayed in India!
Prior to starting her masters program, Anusha was mastering a plan. When she got to campus, it was just about execution.
NOT EVERYTHING CAN BE PERFECT
The apartment Anusha closed on was far from perfect. The “cleaning service” the management company gave was terrible which made Anusha end up living with a friend for five days when she arrived. She and her roommates still had to clean for two days before the apartment was livable. It was not a great start, and Anusha was obviously upset given the amount of time she had dedicated to finding a place. Later on in the year, she discovered what “free heat” really meant.
“It was included in rent, but we didn’t control the actual heat. The management company did, and we had to rely on whether they thought it was cold out or not. Overall though, my rent was super cheap, so I compromised and found ways around it myself. I ended up renewing my lease there though since I already knew what I was dealing with.”
TIPS FROM THE CHIEF PLANNING OFFICER
Before we wrapped up, I asked Anusha for her tips.
“First, make sure to have a budget that is based on what you think is important. You may have to compromise on apartment quality for cheaper rent, or being closer to the school versus closer to the grocery store.
Second, apartment complexes will offer you free utilities, but make sure you find out the quality of that offer. Try to find previous tenants to talk to by using school resources or the property management’s website.
Third, talk to people about the area and find out what makes certain places more unique than others. The experience you have is very important. You could have the perfect apartment but the worst location.”
I thank her for her time and we get up to go. She walks about three steps, turns around, and tells me to write this down.
“Figure out what you can and cannot compromise on. Save for handful of criteria, most things we think important are actually variable.”
Property managers like the one Anusha mentions are practically all the same. They rarely interact with the tenants and barely know the issues of their buildings. At RenTrust, we are a community, a family of students looking for affordable housing options as we pursue our career goals.
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