CNJ216 Final Project, Fall 2010

CNJ216 Final Project, Fall 2010: Off Campus Housing for University of Miami students

For University of Miami students seeking to venture from the security of on-campus housing, now is great time to make the move, providing that the right help is enlisted in navigating the sometimes confusing Miami market.

According to local realtor, Amy Levine, “It’s a fantastic time to buy, because everything is so cheap, but most students don’t know where to look.” Herself an alumnae of the University, Levine attributes the trend in low rental rates to an overall greater willingness of sellers to negotiate their prices.

“Miami was building all these high risers a few years ago, so there were all these available rental places in Brickell and Coral Gables, but then the housing market burst,” she explains. “Now, people want to rent to avoid foreclosure or short-selling. So for students, it’s good.”

On average, she estimates that, in 2011, a student seeking a two bedroom apartment in a nicer area can expect to pay anywhere from $1,400 to $1,700 a month. Houses are difficult to estimate because of variations in space, but in general, a student will most likely pay $1,800 to $2,100 a month for a three-bedroom house.

“I know that I’m biased, but I really recommend using a realtor,” says Levine. “Students don’t realize that, in Florida, the seller pays the realtor- not the buyer.”

Realtors, she explains, have access to data the average buyer often does not, such as the length of time a property has been on the market. Students who opt to avoid professional assistance often miss opportunities for negotiation, turning instead to popular, nearby communities, such as Red Road Commons, The Cloisters at the Gables, or Valencia Apartments.

Though the proximity and large student population of such facilities is attractive to first time renters, it also drives up prices significantly higher than lesser-known, sometimes more luxurious, communities just down the street.

An average-sized, 970 square foot, two-bedroom apartment at Red Road Commons, the newest and closest of these facilities, for example, can go for as high as $2,080 per month, according to the community website.

“We concentrate on the fact that our location is key when deciding our rates,” explains Red Road Commons Community Manager, Diego Sanchez. “I can tell you, for the past six months, rates have gone up, and they are continuing to do so.”

Still, despite the increase, Red Road is at full capacity. According to Sanchez, there is already a waitlist in place for available units in May, June, July, and August of 2011. As of early December, 32 students had already expressed interest in renting for the next academic year.

“Right now, because the community is not even two years old, we are still trying to identify the sweet spots,” says Sanchez. “But I would say a student would need to begin working with us in December or January if they are serious about getting a spot here.”

Not all students, however, are willing to pay extra cash for the convenience of living close to campus. For those interested in exploring other options, the University Department of Housing and Residential Life is a great place to start.

According to Jon Baldasari, a full-time staff member at the Department of Housing, the University offers several online resources to aid students in their search, including a database of nearby listings. A full-time staff member works with local realtors and is available to answer any questions about the process, and the office runs an off-campus housing fair during the third week of April each year.

“[The fair] is always a great event,” says Baldasari. “Lots of local apartments come out, there are free giveaways, and it’s just a lot of fun. I absolutely recommend it for anyone searching for a place to live.”

Not everyone, though, is as excited about services offered by the University. Many, such as junior Mark Khoury, who moved off campus at the end of his sophomore year, found the assistance very limited.

“[My roommates and I] were finding more, better places on our own- stuff that wasn’t showing up on the University search,” he explains. “We eventually switched to working with a few different realtors, and that’s how we ended up in the house we have now.”

Still, the Department of Housing warns students to avoid trusting just any realtor or organization, especially those who charge a fee. Kenden Pettit, a former realtor in Miami, recommends working with another student.

“Student realtors know what other students are looking for, whereas many others are just trying to make money,” he says. “For example, when I was working as an undergraduate, the first thing I would always ask my friends was ‘what’s the farthest that you want to be- mileage and time-wise?'”

Traditionally, distance from campus is a major factor in determining where students live. Other details, such safety and percentage of other young adults, play an important role too, depending on the type of student.

“I’ve found that people who tend to have a bit more money are willing to sacrifice waking up a little earlier to commute just to live on the water and in an area with a lot going on at night,” says Pettit. “But then there are some who just want a small place to go home to and study at night.”

Space also can be important if a student knows that he wants to live with a group of friends. In fact, many, like sophomore Rob Finn, make the decision to move off only after consulting with potential roommates.

“[My friends and I] knew early on that we didn’t want to deal with getting in trouble with [Resident Assistants] and living with their rules,” says Finn. “So we had a tentative plan to live somewhere close to campus that could fit all four of us.”

Others, like Junior Kate Festa, find a place to live first and a roommate later. “I really wanted to live at Red Road, but I only had a small window to get off the waiting list,” she says. “I signed the lease by myself and found a roommate a few weeks later.”

Festa had never seen her roommate before they first met at the University food court in March to discuss potential living arrangements. A mutual friend suggested the match.

“I got really lucky that I ended up with someone with really similar interests and tastes as me, but I know it doesn’t always work out that way for everyone,” she emphasizes.

No matter how students find their roommates, she recommends taking time to meet up at least a few times before you actually make the move. “It’s definitely important to talk a lot from the start; that way, it’s easier to communicate once you’re sharing the same space.”

Roommate or no roommate, as students mature, most tend to desire more private, clean, and spacious living arrangements than those offered on-campus- or at least, a place to escape the rules of the dorms. Still others view the experience as a rite of passage.

“Living on campus for two years, it was fun,” says Festa. “But as a junior, I knew it was time to get out of the dorms and experience something different.”

And with the current condition of the Miami housing market, there could be no better time to do so than now.

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