MOORHEAD, Minn. — Emma Vatnsdal juggles three jobs along with her studies at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Last year she added another time-consuming task to her life: looking for a new apartment.
"My roommate and I wanted to add another roommate so we needed to find a three-bedroom we could all afford," Vatnsdal says.
She says it wasn't easy — they spent more than three months looking for a place that fit their needs.
Because Fargo-Moorhead is home to three major colleges or universities — North Dakota State University, MSUM and Concordia College — the metropolitan area has no shortage of apartment units: approximately 39,000 units, according to a January report from Appraisal Services, Inc.
A 2015 report from Housing and Urban Development says 44 percent of people living in the area are renters. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) says it's important for would-be renters, especially young ones, to do their homework to ensure they find the right apartment and avoid becoming the victim of a scam.
"The internet has made it very easy to search for rental properties," says Susan Adams Loyd, president and CEO. "Unfortunately, it's also made it easier for scammers to create fake ads on sites like Craigslist, which attract victims with promises of low rent, only to take their security deposits and leave them on the outside looking in."
The BBB says there are steps every renter should take to make sure looking for — and finding a new place to live — is safe and successful.
Location, location, location
You've heard it before — it's considered the first rule of real estate. Ask yourself these questions:
• Does this location make sense in terms of my day-to-day life?
• How far away is it from work or school?
• Is there a grocery store nearby?
Vatnsdal says location made a difference for her and her roommates mostly in regards to safety. "We wanted it to be in a part of town that we felt safe. We wanted it to be clean and close to MSUM," she says. "That was really important to us."
Do your research
Visit potential apartments in person when possible and go online to sites such as Bbb.org to access customer reviews on management companies. If you're deciding between two apartments, a bad review of one management company could sway your decision.
"Also, keep your eyes open while you tour," says Dan Hendrickson, communications coordinator for the BBB. "Are the hallways clean? Is there trash piling up in the parking lot? You can learn a lot about a management company that way."
Ask what's included
You might be ready to jump into a lease when you hear about a low rent, but find out what's included in that cost. Does it include heat, electricity, cable, internet, sewer or trash collection? Do the math to figure out if a slightly higher rent makes sense if more of those things are included.
Read your lease carefully
Ask any questions you have about the lease prior to signing it. Know what you're getting into before you sign on the dotted line.
"We hear it a lot from college students — they get into an apartment, then four months later they want to leave when a friend asks them to move into another place," Hendrickson says. "But they don't realize what their lease says (preventing them from moving to the new apartment)."
Some leases auto-renew every year, others require a 30- or 60-day notice in writing to vacate.
"We just want the students to make sure all their 'i's' are dotted and their 't's' crossed," he says.
It all worked out for Vatnsdal and her roommates. They've been enjoying their new apartment since May after enduring what she calls the "real headaches" of apartment searching.
"It's really nice," she says. "We like to sit on our balcony and look out to our neighborhood. It's the right place."