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Navigating the Ann Arbor Housing Market

This is Part 1 of a series for graduate students who will begin their studies at U-M this fall. See Part 2: How I Moved to Ann Arbor and Part 3: Furnishing Your Apartment or Room on a Grad Student Budget

The Ann Arbor rental housing market is pretty typical of a college town: there is high demand, not a lot of permanence, and the quality of housing varies wildly. On the positive side, unlike in many big cities, it is very possible to find reasonable housing within walking distance from campus.

What kinds of options are there?
The options can be split into a few groups. The University offers graduate-student housing, mainly on North Campus and the Munger Residence on Central Campus. I nor my friends have never lived in university graduate housing, but I guess the pros include convenience and the cons price. Second, there are apartment complexes in the private sector. These range from eye-wateringly expensive but often rather luxurious apartments in tall buildings scattered around campus, to complexes off-campus, which are typically just one or two stories, a lot cheaper, and often in family- and pet-friendly settings. The downside to the latter is that you need to either take the bus or drive to get to campus.

I have always lived in houses rented from the private market, and that’s what I would recommend, especially to those who want to live near campus.

When should I start looking?
You want to start looking sooner rather than later – undergraduates often secure their houses by October of the previous year, while the graduate student market booms in February to April when admissions are decided. (If you are late to the game and have a car, the neighboring Ypsilanti housing market is a good place to look for options.) Leases typically run twelve months, but many landlords will let you sublet if you need to move out mid-contract or you’ll be out of state for the summer; if this seems like a likely scenario, be sure to ask your prospective landlord up front. Be aware that because so many people move out for the summers and there isn’t much demand, it’s likely you’ll have to sublet your place at a discount.

Where do I look?
Large apartment complexes have their own websites; just google “Ann Arbor apartments” and many will crop up. There are also rental companies, some small and some large. I have always found my housing from private, individual renters. It is more work, but you usually get a better deal and quite possibly better service as well.

The University has a website for off-campus housing. This is a good option because the landlords are specifically looking for university students, and the places tend to be of a more even quality. Craigslist, an open online forum, has many more options but also requires more patience and persistence. There are also some scams; use your brain and don’t mail people money before seeing a place.

Where should I live?
Most graduate students cluster west or north of Central Campus, which are both pleasant, residential areas. (Look for houses in areas called Kerrytown, Germantown, or Old West Side.) If you want to live south of campus, try to do some snooping first or ask a friend: some parts of it (typically slightly further away from campus) are very peaceful, while the few blocks immediately south of campus are filled with frat houses and can get loud and messy.

What will it cost?
If you want a studio or a one-bedroom close-ish to campus, prices start from about $800 at rock bottom but more realistically around $1,000. Ask around to see if your colleagues are moving out of their apartments; it’s often possible to be “grandfathered in” to an apartment and get a lower rent that way. Sharing housing is more feasible for many, yours truly included. If you strike gold, you can find a room in a house within walking distance to campus for about $500 including utilities, but $600 and up will give you more options.

Make sure to find out exactly which utilities are included in the rent, and how much utilities typically cost. Especially during the cold months, heat alone can easily cost you $100/month. You may also have to pay for water, electricity, internet, cable TV, and parking. Shared housing means you will also save a lot on utilities, since all your costs will be split between several people.