Tips you might need to know when renting in Kalamazoo
To say it's been a struggle to find a place to live since I came to Kalamazoo is an understatement to say the least. When I started looking a month ago, I didn't feel panicked at all. "Something would come my way, I'm sure of it."
Famous last words.
Kalamazoo IS a great town to find affordable housing, and there's plenty of it... if you're looking at the right times with the right tools. With multiple colleges in town, and most apartment and home rental agreements lasting about a year, finding something outside of the normal school schedule can be very difficult, as I'm discovering.
So as a person currently in the thick of it, still attempting to lock down a place that isn't a hotel, lemme give some advice from what I've experienced thus far, and some tips for anyone else who might be looking.
1. Use the tools
Apartments.com, Zillow, realtors, etc... download all the apps, and look up all the realtors you can. Carpet bomb the region with as big of a search footprint as possible. There's a LOT of apartment complexes and homes that might be on one platform, but not listed somewhere else. Realtors are the real heroes, though. They'll know about nooks and crannies where homes are for rent by owners, or apartment complexes that might not even be open yet, but are accepting leases for when they eventually open.
Lots of these properties also have the availability to tour from afar. Lots of them offer zoom walk throughs, and virtual tours you can see from the websites. And if you're lucky enough to know someone who lives in town, have them go check out the property for you. Just make sure they're someone you really trust. The last thing you need is someone telling you the place is fine, but neglecting to mention the drag racing next door neighbors, or that your new place is RIGHT on the train tracks.
2. The 'Needs' vs. the 'Wants'
We all know what we want out of a place to live. Whether it's number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, a specific place in town, knowing what you want out of a place to live is important... however, if you're just coming to town during an off-time, you might have to wiggle a little on some of these details.
Obviously, your "needs" are the most important part. Price, minimum number of rooms, available space, etc. If you're moving with a family, then yeah, you'll absolutely need more than one bedroom. If you're working from home, then you'll probably need the room for work space.
BUT, in my position, it's just me, and the pipe dreams of finding a spacious one-bedroom at a price I could afford was slim, and I really didn't want roommates, or to live in dense student population area (see "Location Location Location" below). However, after three weeks of falling flat on my face, I had to finally lock in something that's just good enough for now. And this may end up being great for me. It's not exactly what I wanted, but I had to cut out my "wants" to make sure I got my "needs," which, I NEEDED a place to live that wasn't a hotel.
3. The Time of Year
I guess you could interpret this as a seasonal thing. Sure, moving to Michigan during the winter is probably not a great idea. You don't want to have to move with sub-zero temperatures and a ton of snow on the ground. What I'm actually talking about, for Kalamazoo specifically, is the school cycle.
With Western Michigan, and K College in particular, lots of students living off campus will need places to live before classes start in August. Western alone has more than 23,000 students enrolled, and considering the majority of them will finish their degrees in 4-5 years, it'll be a long time before some apartments will ever come open.
While I was looking, there were plenty of places pre-leasing for July and August, when most of the graduates would be leaving. There's also a small rush of open rentals between fall and spring semesters from students graduating, but nowhere near what's available end of summer. Be conscious of this for sure.
4. Location Location Location
If you're a younger person, then living around student housing might not be such a big issue. There's plenty of large homes-turned apartments available in the Vine Neighborhood, which many have affectionally come to know as the "student ghetto."
All accounts say these places are relatively quiet, with some mutual respect shown to all the neighbors, but we're all aware of the things we've seen from college. Parties will happen, students will stay out extraordinarily late. I can't imagine how much my downstairs neighbors hated me in college with the number of times I stumbled home at 4 am, banging into walls, and slamming doors as I fumbled my way into my apartment. It happens, and if you're OK with experiencing that once in a while, then you'll have no problem.
My issue is my work schedule, which does NOT line up with a typical college student, so a consistently quiet neighborhood or complex is what I "needed" in this case. When applying to certain apartment complexes, or for certain properties, be sure to ask the leasing agent, or the managers what the student population is like.
Again, this isn't a knock on the students at all. Live your lives to the fullest, it's college, have fun. But as someone new to town, who needs it a little quieter during certain hours, it's a factor to consider.
Another factor in location, depending on what part of town you're working in, you might not actually
5. START NOW
My move was quick, so there wasn't a lot of time to do some digging before I got here. I did some, but I wasn't very aggressive about it, and I never expected what I ran into once I actually GOT to Kalamazoo. Whether you're moving in three days, three weeks, three months, or three years, start looking NOW!
Remember, I mentioned above, some of those rental places are locked down for 4-5 years with students completing their degrees. It's not crazy to think about looking well ahead if you KNOW you're going to be here.
In fact, I'm already taking this advice for my next move. Whatever lease I end up signing (hopefully soon), I'll get extended into August. That way, when I'm ready to look for an upgrade in a year, I won't have to break my lease, AND, I'll be shopping for a place in prime apartment hunting season in Kalamazoo.
I hope this helps someone. If you know someone moving to town soon, maybe share this information with them.