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Four Years at the Mount

The Graduate

Shh! Iím hunting apartments.

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

(8/2014) Life after the Mountóand after a short stint abroad in Austriaóhas been all about preparing for graduate school. In August I will be attending the University of Virginia for a solid 7 semesters straight of studying, summers included. This, of course, means that I need a home. More precisely, I need an apartment.

The idea of striking out on oneís own and renting an apartment, living in the city, and paying oneís own way through life is highly romanticized in the minds of young people everywhere. We want our independence, and college has given us a taste of it. Now itís time to move out of our parentsí basement and really stand on our own two feet. Well, easier said than done.

First of all, thereís just narrowing down the list of apartments in which you are even interested, which means determining your search criteria. Do I need granite countertops? Not so much, but a nearby bus stop is essential for daily transportation and saving on gas. Then thereís the big roommate question: to have or not to have? I have lived in a private apartment for two years and need peace and quiet for studying. The suite-style apartments are cheaper, but are mostly housed with underclassmen who want to live, shall we say, a louder lifestyle. A single-bedroom apartment is more expensive, but I have my privacy and my quiet study space. In the end, Iím there for school, so the single it is. I clicked "search" and crossed my fingers.

After sifting through a thousand results on five different websites, 16 were left for me to nitpick through. Perfectly timed, I received an email from University Housing offering me an on-campus apartment, but I had to accept within 24 hours. Brilliant! I thought. No more apartment hunting, just a nice simple campus apartment. Then I realized that the lease starts after I need to be on campus. I double check with the office to make sure I can move-in a few days earlier. "Weíre sorry, but we cannot allow you to move in sooner than the 23rd. There are some local hotels at which you could stay until the apartment is ready." How aggravating. I needed to be in Charlottesville by the 20th. What was I going to do with an apartmentís worth of belongings while I waited, spending more money I donít have on a hotel room? Guess on-campus housing wasnít the simplest fix after all. I let the schoolís offer rot in my inbox and continued to wander the tangled jungle of off-campus housing.

Though I still poked around a few websites, I figured the 16 apartments listings I had "favorited" were my best options. I began comparing the listings to each other. This one was an efficiency, that one didnít have a bus stop nearby, those couple came with furniture, while these included all utilities in their prices. It was an endless balancing of pros and cons. Ultimately, it came down to the phone calls.

I called the managers of my favorite choices first. It was mildly intimidating at first. Iím not sure if itís a curse of the texting generation to be nervous of using a phone for actual calls, but thereís something about not knowing who is on the other end that bothers me and many people my age. Texts have some security. You either know who it is and respond, or delete it and move on. Thereís no interaction and therefore no risk. However, the more places I called, the easier it became. I developed a basic formula to start the conversation: "Hi, my name is Nicole Jones. I saw your ad for the apartment at 123 Road and was wondering if it was still available?" Some answered their phones, some didnít. Others were out of town for the weekend that I planned to visit and couldnít schedule a tour with me. I ended up with a whopping three appointments.

My parents and I made the 3 Ĺ hour drive to Charlottesville that Saturday. First stop, an apartment suite with four private bedrooms and a shared kitchen. The building towered above us and circled around us, forming a small courtyard where we entered. The agent showing us around, Tanashia, led us up narrow wooden staircases to tour the two available rooms. The building was older, with narrow hallways, but well-kept and in the process of various renovations such as the installation of more energy-efficient windows. Inside I met Mackenzie, one of my potential suite-mates, and asked her what she liked and disliked about living there.

"Well, Iíve lived here for six years, so it canít be that bad." True, but I didnít like the looks of the beer cans hiding in the grass outside or the fact that mostly underclassmen lived there. Typically underclassmen have different priorities than graduate students. I continued to ask Tanashia some questions I had compiled.

"Whatís the typical rent increase in the past 1-3 years? Whatís the buildingís turnover rate? Under what conditions is it acceptable to break my lease?"

"Girl, you sound like youíre shopping! These are great questions that I donít usually get," she complimented. Thank-you, Internet.

I jotted Tanashiaís answers down in the notebook I brought with me, thanked her for her time, and headed to the next apartment. This one was very different from the first: a private efficiency, fully furnished, and in the basement of Ms. Hoffman, an eclectic frazzled lady spattered in paint. I was excited about this one based on the pictures and the description I had found. All utilities were included for a low fee, I wouldnít have to lug my own furniture across the state, there was free off-street parking, and Iíd have the apartment all to myself. Yet, when I walked in, I couldnít help but be underwhelmed. The space was tidy and exactly as advertised. There was a fully made bed in the corner and electric logs in the fireplace with built-in bookshelves lining the walls. It was like remembering how large and scary your favorite childhood amusement park ride was, only to revisit it as an adult and realize it was much smaller than you remember. I had built it up too much in my head and the excitement was wearing off with each detail, but the deal breaker was the "stove top"óa hot plate she stored under the sink. On to the next appointment.

The third one was the one I had expected to like the least, mostly because it was the most expensive and included the least utilities. As we pulled up to the Shamrock offices my dad speaks up, "I like this better already. Itís built better." Okay, Dad. I walk inside and itís awkwardly quiet. I instantly recognized the manager, whose name I still donít knowóweíll call him Stewartóby his voice. His extraordinarily lack-luster, defeated, and monotone voice. He drove us across the street to a different cluster of apartments belonging to Shamrock Corporations. He droned on about the three one-bedroom apartments that were available, the laundry facilities, and the off-road parking. I nodded and snuck a word in when I could.

On the second floor of the complex, we were ushered into an empty apartment. The tan carpet still had tracks from the vacuum cleaner and white walls stared at me from all sides. It wasnít overly glamourous, but it was well-maintained and had what I was looking for: no roommates, a nearby bus stop, and a full kitchen. It didnít blow me away, but it was comfortable, sturdy. I could live here. The best part? Shamrock has a strict noise policy.

Stewart droned, "Our noise policy is well-enforced. We allow up to 55 decibels. Thatís about how loud Iím talking right now. If you can hear your neighbors, thatís okay, but if you can understand every word, go ahead and call-in a complaint." It was the perfect study environment.

On the drive home I contemplated the three places I had seen. Really, I contemplated the first and the third. Paint-spattered Ms. Hoffman was nice, but a hot plate does not a stove-top make. For a while I thought maybe I had made a mistake by rejecting the schoolís housing offer. It had certainly been one of the cheaper options and I wouldnít have had to deal with setting up utilities. Then I realized thatís exactly what my undergrad apartment had been likeóprepackaged and worry free. I wanted a step up from that, even if it meant more responsibility and more hassle. I was taking baby-steps into adulthood. I could manage a few phone calls to set up my utilities, I could manage to write a few separate checks every month, and I could do it all on time without incurring the wrath of late fees. I realized that Shamrock was the way to go, not only because it was the best study environment, but also because it was the best growing environment.

The next day I sent an email to Shamrock, thanking them for the tour and stating that I was interested in leasing with them. I received a PDF of the lease and was given five days to mail in the security deposit. As I began to look over the lease, I noticed something wasnít right. There was only one page but the document referenced four more pages. I emailed them pointing out the error and quickly received the full document. Simple mistake I suppose, but it made me even more scrupulous as I read over the rest of the document. There was nothing unreasonable, but I needed to do one more thing before I signed on the dotted line.

"Hey, Mom, Iím about to sign a lease with Shamrock. Is there any reason I shouldnít?"

"Does the lease state your rent?"

"Yes."

"Does the rent include the grad student discount they mentioned?"

"Yes."

"And it doesnít include most of your utilities?"

"Correct."

"And youíve considered that into the total cost."

"Yes."

"Do they steam clean the carpet before you move in."

"Yes."

"Itís your call."

"Alright. Iím signing. Love you. Bye."

I looped my John Hancock onto the page, scanned it onto my computer, and attached it to an email. I received it back the same day with the managerís signature squiggled beneath mine. Digging through my nightstand, I found my checkbook and wrote my first check to Shamrock. I sealed it in an envelope and went to the post office.

"I want to overnight this." Iíd rather it made it there sooner than later. Leaving that little envelope in the hands of the postman behind the counter, I walked out feeling very satisfied. It was a crazy whirlwind of a week, but I had a new home come August 8, and that is a new adventure worth looking forward to.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones