If You’re in College You Should Live in a House and Not an Apartment Complex

(photo credit)

While I was hanging out with my brother the past few days, we got into an intense discussion as to whether or not it’s better to rent a house or apartment when you are a college student. He signed a lease at a big brand “campus community” for junior year, and his group of friends are considering the pros and cons of house vs apartment for senior year. If you look at the issue holistically and factor in costs, amenities, flexibility of use, and quality of life, houses win by a long shot. Here’s why if you’re in college you should live in a house, and preferably a cheap one.

When You Got Lots of Mouths to Feed and a Marketing Budget, Expect to Pay a Lot

Consider the average college apartment complex where all the cool kids live. You see tons of free T-shirts around campus with the apartment company logo on the back. When there are giveaways of any kind, that company is there to hand out pencils, pens, sunglasses, and other cheap trinkets to get their name out there.

I went to school at the University of Florida, and the most hyped apartment buildings held massive pool parties during the summer. It was an SEC football school that also had a dominant basketball team, so naturally there were lots of athletes who would show up. My guess is that a fair amount of NCAA violations went down there because how else do you get the most popular local celebrities to show up? They used their likenesses in promotional material and on radio advertisements so who knows what the arrangements were. The parties were legendary, but the primary reason they would host them is so they could get all the free advertising for the apartment community.

These complexes have massive marketing expenses that single landlords just don’t have. If you own one or two college rentals, you might use a little time putting up a Craigslist ad, but other than that you don’t have to spend anything getting your property in front of potential renters. Apartments are sold, not bought. That is, you need the marketing expenses to make sure you get tons of people in through the door because they aren’t going to show up at the leasing office otherwise.  To cover these marketing expenses, rental prices have to be higher at the apartment complex.

The other big expense that these companies have that mom and pop landlords don’t is full time property management staff and on site repairmen. You need a bunch of people to show the place to potential tenants as well as handle customer service complaints, police and fire dept inquiries, and delivery packages to name a few duties. You also need them for all the payment issues, service requests, and community activities that take place. All these staffers need to be paid for their services, thus raising the operating expenses of the complex. The on site repairmen make life better in theory because they are supposed to come out right away to fix any issues with appliances, exploding pipes, broken A/C, or whatever else goes wrong. In reality, the service you are promised is often very different from the service you get. The only problem my brother ever had with his college apartment was when the garbage disposal broke. It took the company a full month to send a guy out to fix it. While it is possible to get a bad landlord who does not honor the terms of the lease, you are far more likely to get a highly responsive point of contact to get any issues fixed ASAP when you go with a house.

All these extra expenses mean you have to have higher rent for the apartment complex to make the same profit as the private landlord. Because the apartment complex is probably run by some big for profit company, they will charge as much as they can get away with, probably backed up by market research. The private landlord will charge a good enough price rather than let it sit on the market for long periods of time. You can even negotiate the price down. In my non scientific search for rentals on Craigslist and Zillow for rentals, I found several 4 bedroom two bath houses to compare against the 4 bedroom apartment my brother was living in. I found one house for $1400 a month in a decent area that was the same quality. He and his roommates together are paying about $2000 a month. For that amount of money, I found a beautiful 2800 square foot house 5 minutes from the stadium with a stone fireplace, wood floors, a bar, great room, and sun room (aka tricked out bachelor pad). In general I think houses are about 20-30% cheaper than apartments, all else equal. This cost difference comes mostly from the higher operating expenses of an apartment complex. It doesn’t hurt that it’s way easier to create an extra bedroom in a house for someone off the lease either.

Would You Rather Have a Gym You Don’t Use or a Huge Backyard?

Most houses will come with a cool space in the back for grilling, hanging out, or playing beer pong with friends. At an apartment complex, you might have a balcony or some other outdoor space, but good luck if you want to use the outdoor grill next to the pool on a Saturday before a big football game. When we had our house in college, we would frequently have big groups of people over and have fun before heading out to big sporting events.

The amenities you get in a good apartment complex are a lot of fun if you use them often. Most people do not. If you really do value the basketball courts, pool, gym, or other features, consider that if you go to college you probably have access to far superior facilities for free with the student fees you’re already paying.

If You’re in College You Should Live in a House Because It Gives You Flexibility

When you are living in a house, you have more space. When you’ve got 3 or 4 roommates all living in the same spot, it’s nice to have plenty of elbow room. Because we had a larger house when I was in college senior year, we could easily host multiple people when friends, significant others, and siblings visited us. If we wanted to have a ton of people over for dinner, it was easy. No management to answer to, no security that would know everyone was coming to APT 101, just lots of quality time with friends.

Perhaps the best part of having a house was being able to host parties. When you’re in college, it’s nice to be able to let your hair down and have people over and sing songs loudly while playing a bit of flip cup. At the height of our irresponsibility, we had 150 people over and got to meet a ton of international students who were on exchange in the US, many of whom I stay in contact with today. That could never have happened if we had lived at an apartment complex. The best part of this flexibility is you never have to worry about the people below or above you throwing their own all night rager the night before a big exam. You are the only ones you need to worry about. A quick side note, it’s helpful if you buy baked goods at the nearest grocery store and give them to all the neighbors along with a post it note to call if there’s ever a problem with noise. If you do that, you’ll never get a noise complaint.

The last neat thing about houses is that they are customizable. When you are looking for one, you will see a bunch of different configurations to choose from. Whether one roomie wants a big master bedroom with a walk in closet and another wants lower rent with a smaller space, everyone’s wants can be met more efficiently in a house. Apartment rooms are typically equally sized, making that kind of optimization unachievable.

The Quality of Life Renting a House Per Dollar Spent is Just Way Better

When you sign a contract with an individual landlord, you can write whatever you want into it. Want a month to month? Cats and dogs ok? Need to include a work relocation exception to the lease term? That’s doable with a private landlord. Try altering the language of the contract at a leasing office of an apartment complex. They will look at you like you are smoking something, and if they have the option to change the contract you will owe a hefty fee.

Your lower costs with a house will make your time there better because of what you can afford. In the case I looked at with my brother, he could save $2000 if he moved to a house from his current apartment complex. With that $2000, he could buy a flat screen TV, a bunch of nice IKEA furniture, order pizza for his friends on every college football weekend, get a semester long membership at a rock gym, and buy 10 different video games to entertain himself before the decisions were equivalent monetarily.

You have ultimate flexibility and cool amenities like backyards, nice front lawns to hang out in and drink a cold beer on a Saturday evening, and plenty of space to host friends and family. To give you some final anecdotal evidence, consider my own experience. I’ve lived in a dorm, three apartment complexes, three houses, and a church (it had apartments inside it). At the three apartments, I got charged a ton of fees at the end of one of my leases, got a concussion after the on site repairmen failed to clear the snow, lost most of my belongings after a pipe burst in the building and my room flooded, and had police storm a neighboring unit to break up a raucous Halloween party. In the three houses, I never had any big problems. The worst thing I ever experienced was a heating bill that was larger than expected. I also saved about $200 a month and the quality of the living quarters was about the same. When I did have an issue, a quick call to the landlord fixed it. The church was nice but it came with a lot of restrictions (no friends back in the apartment area) so it was similar to an apartment with all the rules that went with it.

Most people go with apartments for the same reason that they lease a car, have a phone with Verizon, or give Comcast their right arm to have internet. They are slaves of convenience that will choose the easier option because it involves less thinking. Renting a house in college will teach you self reliance and will save you a ton of money. Heck, if you are a real baller see if you can get your parents to help you get a downpayment together and rent out the other rooms to turn a profit while you’re spending your four years there. No matter how you cut it, you will have more fun and save more money if you go with a house and not an apartment complex in college.

Any landlord horror stories that contradict my points? What about apartment stories that will make other readers tremble? Comment below!

2 thoughts on “If You’re in College You Should Live in a House and Not an Apartment Complex”

  1. You forgot to mention the extremely high likelihood that you’ll deal with pests because of messy neighbors in an apartment complex. Even though I’m a clean freak I had a terrible pest situation many years ago because my downstairs neighbor (200 unit complex) was disgusting..

    1. I like when I’m renting a house you’re dealing with a human being in most cases and not a corporation. If you have a major issue like that in an apt complex, you have to go through several layers of management with no power to expedite anything or spend lots of money to get it fixed if that’s needed. In a house, you have to convince one person that it needs to get fixed fast to get the ball moving and you out of your misery. Just depends on whether you are willing to accept mediocrity in your living situation vs a potentially more uncertain arrangement with a private landlord. I think most private house rentals have worked out well but there’s always a few. Just check out the landlord before signing anything and make sure they are very on the ball and communicative during the rental process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.