Searching for an apartment and/or searching for roommates for said apartment can be a huge hassle. Finding a GOOD apartment and a GOOD roomie/group of roomies, however, is like the search for the Holy Grail. You can end up with a filthy apartment and freeloading roommates in no time, or you can get kicked out of your place because of your roomies' bad behavior. Or, your eccentric behavior may make your roomies secretly start to hate you and move out, leaving you with a place to yourself but all the rent to pay. (Happened to a friend of mine, LOL)
But fear not! You CAN find a good place to live AND good people to stay with, if you know some tips beforehand! It doesn't always have to be a struggle!
Don't wait until June or July to find an apartment near your school in time for classes to start in August! Jump on it as soon as you know you're accepted and are definitely going to this particular college. That way, you won't be pressed for time and/or get crowded out of all the good apartments.
If you mention that you're apartment-hunting to locals in the community around your college, you'll find out in a hurry which neighborhoods they don't recommend. When I was looking for apartments in Greensboro, there was one apartment complex that kept coming up in searches as being the cheapest, and yet it had really nice-looking rooms (at least from the pictures online). I was about to decide to lease there, and I mentioned it to a Greensboro friend of mine. "Oh hell no," she said. "They're nice rooms, but they get broken into ALL THE TIME. Don't stay there unless you REALLY have to."
The moral of this story: research and ask lots of locals (online and in person) about what apartments and neighborhoods they recommend. Then choose the safest of those options that are still in your price range. Remember, your safety is more valuable than anything!
Make sure you don't get confused and lease a $600/week apartment when you could have had a $600/month apartment! Also, read ALL the documentation so that you don't get hit with surprise fees, rules, etc. Sometimes really nasty little uglies like to hide in fine print. If something doesn't make sense to you, take the documentation to someone who can translate Legalese (like a law student friend).
Insist on this, even if the complex's website offers a virtual tour. If the landlord/complex owner refuses, take your business elsewhere. You can't make a good decision about a place to live if you can't even be in the actual space for a little bit before you sign a contract!
This is not as much of a no-brainer as it seems. Ask if your monthly utilities are included in your payment--if they're not, you'll need to account for those, too. This is how some unscrupulous apartment owners get you paying higher prices.
Your potential neighbors are great resources of information about your prospective living situation, especially the ones who have lived there a long time. You can find out really quick how attentive the landlord is (or isn't), how prompt they are at fixing plumbing/heating/air-conditioning, how often the place gets bug-sprayed, etc. Ask in online communities or spread the word through local friends--or, if you're brave, go meet said potential neighbors in person!
A lot of people just post really basic roommate ads online or in local stores, etc. "Looking for roomies at [insert address here]. Contact me at [phone number]." Don't do that unless you're desperate. You'll get all sorts of creeps and freeloaders responding, because some people are just awful.
Instead, post something like "Looking for roomies who are attending [insert college name here]. Apartment is in the [neighborhood] area. Must have a job to help pay rent/utilities. Non-smoker preferred. Interested parties, please contact me at [insert phone number here]." Whatever qualities you're looking for in a roommate, be up-front about them. This may mean you get fewer or even no responses, but it's better than you getting stuck with a roommate whom you can't wait to be rid of.
Harsh but true: best friends who room together may not always leave that apartment situation as best friends. It's happened to good friends of mine, and it's happened to me. Sharing living space may feel "natural" with your best friend at first, but you've probably never lived with them long-term before, and so you won't know how messy/clean they are on a daily basis, how they use the living room, whether they leave lights on all the time, etc. Plus, there's a lot of pressure to "get along" because y'all are best friends, even though you might be getting on each other's last nerve roommate-wise. AND, to top it off, when you start having disagreements about the shared living space (and you will), you will be extra frustrated because "they ought to know what makes you mad by now."
How to fix this? See how to treat roomies!
Get together for coffee, or something else pretty down-tempo when you both have some time to hang out and relax. The longer you can hang out, the better--otherwise, you won't find out how your personalities really jive. (Think about it: if they're driving you crazy or offending you after just an hour, how much worse are they going to be to live with? LOL!)
But also keep in mind that this situation can be nerve-wracking for someone who REALLY needs a place to live, like yesterday. Ask them about their interests, get them talking about what makes them passionate about life--that will ease the conversation and hopefully give you both a better read of each other. Listen more than you talk, and you'll get a lot of good information, too!
THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT! It's so important I put it in caps!
Seriously, though, it's great to have one of these. It doesn't necessarily have to be a legally binding document (though it is good to get things in writing), but it helps every roommate start out on equal footing, and takes everyone's feelings and needs into consideration.
A contract can cover all sorts of small things, like when lights should be turned out for the night, or ideal apartment temperature. (One of my roomies in college kept turning off the A/C at night because she was cold, and meanwhile I was burning up in my bed! We could have and should have used a contract for that alone!) However, this contract or agreement should also cover what happens if one of you has to move out before the lease is up, how the rent should be divided up, whether non-residents are allowed to stay overnight, etc.
When you use common living spaces (like the kitchen, bathroom, and living room), leave them clean and picked-up when you're finished using them. Nobody likes coming home to a sticky mess, or trying to use a space that's so cluttered you have to clear a path to walk through them. Keep your stuff contained, wipe up spills when they happen, etc., and the apartment will be a much happier place--TRUST ME!
Also, when you're both home, be considerate of how much noise you're making, especially if your roomie is trying to study or sleep. (I had a roomie in grad school who routinely cooked horrible, greasy/splattery food at 3:00 AM with her very loud boyfriend, all while the TV was turned up all the way, and neither of them bothered to clean up afterward...let's just say there was a "come-to-Jesus" meeting very soon! LOL!!)
It doesn't matter if your roomie brought dishes for everyone to use, or if they have their personal collection of DVDs in the living room--make sure your activities do not damage their stuff. And, if you accidentally break something of theirs, replace it; don't bother just offering to replace it.
This also extends to locking the apartment when you leave; this is the ultimate sign of respect for their property and yours, that you make sure to secure it before leaving. (If you're not sure whether they have their key or not, call or text them before leaving and make sure they have it before locking up.)
Hate finding the lights left on all the time, wasting power? Disgusted about the overflowing trash can or stinky laundry hamper? Angry about the sink full of dishes? Don't just shut down and leave a mess for your roomie(s) to "teach them a lesson"--clean it up as you normally would, and talk it out IN PERSON later. Passive aggressive notes only go so far, and usually are only funny to outsiders; they often make a tense situation worse. This also goes for the roomie who's noisy at night while the other's trying to sleep, or the roomie who always has somebody sleeping over on the couch, etc.
If a roomie has become suddenly apathetic about helping around the apartment, there may be something wrong, such as family stress, depression, or an underlying illness or addiction. In this case, you can best start caring for them by helping them with the daily chores, and gently asking them later if there's anything else you can do to help. Meet them without guilt and with as much compassion as you can spare, and you might find the solution to the problem together.
However, if said roomie gets angry or resentful that you asked, or if they shut down and refuse to talk at all, it's time to call in a mediator before the problem gets worse. Two or more people can't live together long without communicating civilly. (See: my first college roommate, who moved out in January of our freshman year...it was kinda my fault too, X_x)
This can be picking up or making a favorite snack, or doing some shopping for them so they don't have to later--anything that makes their lives easier or better would be a great idea. If your roomie is a lonely extrovert, perhaps inviting a few of your friends over to meet them could be just the thing to perk them up. If your roomie is an introvert who can't stand you having parties in your apartment, maybe having a party at a friend's place (and even staying over for the night) could help them "recharge."
Truly get to know and then care for your roomie, and you'll have a MUCH better living experience. Like it or not, when you live together, you become part of that person's daily life--make it a good part!