Five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a hot tub, and a view of Bishop's Peak, all within 5 minutes walking distance of campus. You know what you want, and you can picture all the awesome times to be had there. The question is, will your wallet be able to handle it?
For starters, the average cost of rent in SLO is about $800-$1200/month for a single and $450-$800/month (per person) for a shared room.
After you figure out your price range for rent, you need to make sure that your budget is similar to your roommates. If your roommate's budget is around $950/month, and you're working with $600/month, you're going to have a tough time finding a home that satisfies both of you.
Once you and your roommates are all on the same page with a price range, the goal is to find the best home for the best price, obviously. There are lots of things that make a home better than another, one of those being amenities.
Amenities are features or facilities that make the housing situation more desirable (or in some cases live-able). Not all amenities are necessary for you to live comfortably, but they’re something extra for the home to offer. These include, but are not limited to:
Laundry Facilities: This is one of the most important things you should be looking for. Having an on-site laundry room will save you time, money, and energy as compared to lugging your dirty clothes to the laundromat.
Air Conditioning/Central Heating: We all know what the weather can be like in SLO. It's comforting to know that air conditioning is an option when it's 95 degrees, as well as being able to turn on the heat when it's 30 degrees.
Dishwashers: What do you do if you don't have a dishwasher? Hand wash every single dish and utensil. It's not a necessity, but it'll save time and energy to devote to other things.
Outdoor Space: Nice to have, but not necessary. All depends on your budget!
Workout Facilities, Pools, and Study Rooms: It's convenient to have these where you live, but maybe not necessary. As a student, you pay for access to these facilities (like the Rec Center and Kennedy Library) with your tuition.
Utilities & Miscellaneous
Utilities are useful and sometimes necessary features and services for the home. They include gas, heat, water, electricity, TV cable, and internet connection.
TV/Internet Connection: Few apartment complexes (and almost no houses) offer cable or internet as a part of the rent. So you'll most likely have to set it up on your own. Unfortunately, there aren't many providers to choose from, and they're about as reliable as SecureMustangWireless. The primary provider of internet, television, and phone service in SLO County is Charter. The cost for internet service on its own is typically $40-50. Adding cable television costs an additional $60+ so consider sticking with Netflix or Hulu to cut TV costs.
Parking: There is a parking deficit around many areas of SLO. If you live in an apartment complex, or near campus, there could be an extra cost of $150-300 a year just for parking! Make sure to check with your future landlord for details.
Pets: Some locations won't let you bring one, and others will. You just need to ask! If the landlord specifies “no pets allowed”, then don't even bother asking. The only exception is for specially trained service dogs (as required by California law).
That was a lot to take in, we know. But you now have most of the cost drivers broken down for you. Keep in mind there are still some additional factors that will add value as you search for a place:
Distance from Campus: You probably want to be near campus, especially if you don't plan on bringing a car. Keep in mind that the closer your home is to campus, the more expensive a room becomes. You know those houses on Hathway behind the Rec Center? Last year a single room rented for $1100.
Access to Public Transportation: Check out how far away the bus stop is from your place! Walking, biking, and driving may make sense for some but SLO Transit is one of the easiest ways to get to campus (and it’s included in your Cal Poly tuition!).
Lease Start/End Date: It's favorable to have a lease that starts/ends somewhere in July or August to avoid a rushed move-in/move-out. If your lease starts at the beginning of October, and school starts two weeks earlier, you have a dilemma. Same deal if your lease ends on June 1 and there are still two weeks of classes left. Make sure your lease details work for you and all your roommates.
Hope your brain didn't explode from all the little details we just threw at you. Now that you know about them, you can make educated decisions about what you want versus what you can afford. If you doubt it, you can probably live without it.
PolyRents Tips: What You Should Know
Consider Amenities: Amenities are nice to have, but not necessary to live. More amenities typically mean more money each month. Weigh your options between what you want and what you can afford.
Ask About Utilities: Ask questions about utility service and billing before you sign a lease. Know whether you or the landlord is responsible for paying the utility companies directly, and which utilities those include.
What About Fido?: Landlords and property managers will tell you upfront if they are "pet-friendly." If they aren't, and you really need your pet, start looking elsewhere!