If you are a college student in search of an off-campus apartment, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the process. Along with dealing with hordes of other students looking to secure housing and tricky lease wording, there’s a bevy of issues to consider before signing your name on the dotted line. Getting yourself into the right housing situation can save you money and stress, and help you gain further practice with financial management and responsibility. This guide will help you navigate the sometimes complicated process of securing the right rental and help ensure your college career is the best it can be.

Start Your Search Early

Competition is especially fierce in college towns, so you’ll want to jump on the apartment hunt as soon as possible. Avoid using brokers with excessive fees by taking charge of the process on your own. Visit the neighborhoods you’re considering and walk around. Sometimes you’ll find “For Rent” signs that aren’t listed anywhere else. Another word of advice when you begin your search: don’t settle on the first apartment you visit. While you may be rearing to get your name on a lease, rushing the process could see you in an overly expensive situation that you end up hating a month or two down the road.

Stay Within Budget

Rental rates are the most often cited factor for students when it comes to choosing a place, for good reason—money is tight more often than not. Once you’ve created a budget for your rental, you need to stick to it. Don’t visit places you know you can’t afford; chances are you’ll fall in love and have a hard time saying no. Instead of in-house amenities, base your search on geographical ones. Proximity to school, grocery stores, and other sources of convenience should be your top concern, as it will help cut down on auto expenses. While the place with a rooftop pool might be the apartment of your dreams, your wallet will beg to differ a few months down the road. Don’t rely on haggling; your chances of talking a landlord down to a lower rent price in the face of heavy competition is slim to none.

A Personal Inspection

When you go for a walkthrough, do so with a discerning eye. Before going, make a checklist of essentials to look for. Flip switches on and off to make sure everything is in working order, look at all appliances and consider what you’d have to provide on your own, and keep an eye out for signs of shirked maintenance. If there are ceiling stains from an obvious leak, chipping paint, or an intensely dirty stove, mention them to the landlord immediately. If they aren’t willing to fix it before you move in, it’s likely that won’t change during your tenancy.

Have a Deposit Ready

As housing competition is fierce in college communities, you’ll need to have the deposit prepared by the time you find a place you want to rent. You must also be aware that many landlords will require college students to have a cosigner on the application. As a college student, you likely don’t have established credit, meaning your cosigner will need to have a strong credit score to qualify as a cosigner in the landlord’s eyes. In most cases, the cosigner is a parent, but it can also be other family members and family friends.

Read the Lease

Don’t let a greedy landlord take advantage of you. Once you’ve been approved to live in the rental, you’ll have to sign a lease. While it’s tempting to sign immediately and secure your spot, taking your time is always advisable. Read the lease facet by facet, have your cosigner read it if applicable, and ask questions. If something seems fishy, there’s a good chance it’s going to work against you. If there’s something you want the landlord to amend, ask. The worse they can do is say no, and if it’s a non-negotiable, you’ll have the sign you need that it’s time to walk away.