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A Guide to Accommodation for Uni

·8 mins

I’ve enrolled into a Master’s degree in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins. While being admitted into a university like that is a life changing move, that is not the point of this blog post. This tackles a concept post-admission; finding accommodation.

The naivety #

Even though I did stay in a flat in Pune with some really amazing people, I was not the one that looked through properties and decided on which one to move into. All three of my roommates were very well equipped to handle renting out a room, to hiring a cook/maid at an absymally cheap rate (some would call it exploiting but at the same time, she seemed okay with the rate?), to handling groceries to electricity bills to nearly everything else. Point is, I was like a guest at my own home when it came to matters like these. I did contribute to a certain extent yet my roommates ensured that everything was accounted and provided for. I cannot thank them enough.

Herein lies my naivety. I thought that simply being early to the house hunting party as well as forming a group in advance would give me immunity to the struggle of finding a reasonably priced household in due time. While at the present, I could consider past me to be a clown, in hindsight, I didn’t really do that bad. I’d say that me and my roommates just had different priorities which I couldn’t sense ahead of time.

While this post is tuned to work for Baltimore, most of the ideas should work for any place. Here’s a few factors that come into play when you’re finding housing,

  1. Room type.
  2. Pricing.
  3. Utilities.
  4. Proximity to Campus.
  5. Dietary Preferences.
  6. Negotiating with Owners.
  7. Rooms.

1. Room Type #

I’ve come to realize that not all groups are alike. I stayed in a 2bed apartment with 4 people occupying the household while I was at Pune. I was very comfortable with the idea of sharing my room with another person. However, I was in for a stark revelation that not everyone is comfortable with the same. The people that I interacted with, wanted their own separate room and privacy. While I understand, I don’t think I can relate all that much. I blame my Pune roommates for making my life so much easier.

My group was stringent on the requirement that each person should get their own bedroom and an attached bathroom too in an apartment. At the start, it seemed reasonable but over time, we realized that the apartment owners weren’t responding to our messages. Aside from that, only one of us was contacting them at a slow pace. Eventually, we ran out of time before we realized that we might have to begin exploring individual houses/apartments.

Fast forward to after most people had booked their flights, the supply chain was moving much quicker and the supply was dwindling. I was complacent, assuming that my roommates were on the hunt and instead focused on finishing my work at the office. This was a grave mistake and by the time I started hunting, the houses with reasonable pricing started vanishing.

One other major flaw in my search was to stick with a three bedroom house search without paying heed to the architecture style of houses in Baltimore. There was a severe lack of three bedroom houses and an abundance of two bedroom ones. This reduced our options a lot more.

2. Pricing #

I’ve also come to realize that people have budgets. Some high, some low. My initial roommates had a high limit on their budget and were open to spending a fortune on good accommodation. The hassle art of buying your household supplies and paying the gas bill was completely lost on them. To be fair, can’t blame them for it, sometimes you just want accommodation that’s good and want to put your focus on education instead.

I ended up parting ways with them. They were chill, but rent being that high and having to worry about it seemed like an unnecessary headache to me. Sounds much nicer to be able to afford your accommodation with your own earned money through on-campus part-times or Course Assistantships. And, that’s the goal for me.

3. Utilities #

While utilities like gas and electricity doesn’t generally cost too much, it helps to pay attention to the appliances that you’ll be receiving at your accommodation. If the laundry is not in the unit, then you’ll have to go hunting for laundry bins near campus. Being new to the place, that might be a hassle. Depending on how far the nearest laundromat is, even more so.

4. Proximity to Campus #

This is an important factor to consider as us students in general have no means of transportation. So, it’s important to factor in how you’re going to be reaching campus. Staying near public transportation that drops you near the campus is one way to ensure that you’ll be able to reach without the hassle of Ubering your way to campus everyday until you get your own vehicle.

The other way of handling this was to live closer to campus, which seemed like the better option considering the crime rate of Baltimore. The North was safer and we wished to reside there.

5. Dietary Preferences #

While I used to think that I’d be okay with living with non-vegetarians, it does make it much more convenient to have vegetarian roommates. Especially in a country where finding veg food is much much harder than in India, cooking food does become much easier when all of us are using the same ingredients and cooking in batches. After I joined the new group, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about that headache anymore and the pressure of shifting reduced by a bit.

The new roommates that I have are all vegetarian. I feel surprisingly comfortable now. None of us drink either, so that’s even better. Alcohol in the household isn’t something that I want.

6. Negotiating with Owners #

This was tricky. Not only did we live in different timezones that inverted AM and PM, but reaching out to them too was hard because of the lack of a common communication medium. Facebook was a failure and so was Zillow as we were bound to get IP-blocked from communicating with the owners. So, most of my conversations had to happen with those owners that ran Whatsapp. It was a weird experience, but glad that it’s past me now.

With regards to actually negotiating, we initially managed to reach out to an owner and he agreed to bring down the price of the unit that we were looking at before we confirmed on it. He called me up and stated that another group was looking to get the unit and were offering a much higher price. I presumed that this was a negotiating tactic and mentioned that we weren’t going to go for it then. Little did I know that the demand for good housing was at it’s peak and that I was going to lose the only accommodation that I thought was good at the time.

The next few days were filled with regret and stress. I proposed to my then roommates that we split up and find individual housing but it wasn’t that easy to split up when I knew that I didn’t have any backup. I mean, I could stay with my dad’s friend for a week or two, but then I’d just be deprioritized in any room group that I’d join. So, that wasn’t an option either.

I lost three properties to that owner by the end of the week and I was devastated. I couldn’t sleep peacefully and kept waking up to check my phone for any messages from the owner. It was an unpleasant state of Being.

Later on, I found a nice owner and despite one hiccup of paying half the rent of the previous month to reserve the accommodation, we still went ahead with it. Because, right now, I’m trying to fight against demand and the supply is short. So, I’ll take all the good stuff I can get even if I lose out a bit in the start.

7. Rooms. #

I always thought that after we’d settle on a house that everything would be sorted out. I used to think that I didn’t care too much about which room I would take up or whether there’d be enough space to accommodate my clothing. Sharing was nice is what my Pune roommates taught me, but my experience surviving in Bangalore taught me enough about how you needed to look out for yourself first.

So, after negotiating with the owner, I did take up charge of the group and posted the room that I wanted to reside in. There was one challenge to the claim and I called them up instantly and we discussed it out. If there’s one thing that I know about conflict, it’s that it’s a good deal to communicate it out as soon as possible. Listen, give room, offer suggestions, break even or fall back if it doesn’t work out.

Doing it over call is a killer move. Negotiations are much easier on call or much harder depending on your situation. But, I’d take a call and instant feedback over mulling on whether the person has seen your message yet and what they think about your suggestion. Reduces the anxiety, reduces the emotional drain and reduces conflict overall. Luckily, the roommate that I conversed with was cool about it and picked something else.

The rooms are still empty and while I’d like fully furnishing housing, beggers can’t really be choosers. I’ll have to get my own furniture and stuff, but I don’t mind. Should be a fun experience building up my own room. (I’m only worried about the price tag but that’s the stingy person in me talking from an Indian currency point of view) Finding accommodation is exhausting and it’s an experience that I’ve gotten much better at now that I hope I go through lesser of in the long run.