Students post roommate ads online

AU students struggling to find housing this year have a new option to make their search a little easier. Liveoffcampus.com, a Web site started by three George Mason University students, has been advertising heavily around AU's campus and offers a unique approach to the apartment hunt.

"It's run by college students for college students," said Kendra Tuthill, vice president of the site.

Liveoffcampus.com first expanded to the AU area this fall, and even though there are currently only 19 listings for the AU area, it is still the site's largest source of advertising after GMU.

One of the specific advantages of the site, Tuthill said, is that advertisers list the distance from the rental property to campus. The site initially offered free listings in the AU area, but has since started charging $20 per ad, she said.

Liveoffcampus.com isn't the only Web site students recommend when looking for housing.

"Internet research can really help you out," senior Lindsey Phillips, who lives in the Berkshires, said. "If you don't have the connections or friends, there are services out there to help you out."

One such Web site, Craigslist.com, started as a nonprofit in the San Francisco area dedicated to helping friends find jobs, houses and other items more easily. It expanded to the D.C. area in 2000 and last month listed 2,700 apartments for rent and 2,500 rooms to share. Community Relations Manager Marcia Estarija said Craigslist.com fills a special niche for many of its users.

"We don't advertise, so the way we get out there is word of mouth," Estarija said. "People like to say that we're kind of underground."

The best part of the site, Estarija said, is that housing listings are free to post and it is also free to contact people.

Many AU students said online sites are especially useful for those looking for housing after a semester abroad.

Phillips, who found her apartment through several friends, agreed that it was difficult to find housing after a semester abroad.

"Coming back, I had looked for housing, but it was kind of hard," Phillips said. "With the time difference, it is hard to make phone calls and you can't see the apartment."

Some companies have teamed up to offer potential renters more information.

The Washington Post works with Apartments.com for its housing classifieds online, said Karrie Gottschild, vice president of marketing at Apartments.com. Property management companies, which often manage many apartment buildings at one time, sign large contracts that allow visitors to the Web site to see pictures and floor plans, and even take a virtual tour of the different apartment buildings, Gottschild said.

At the City Paper, the technology is more simple and the atmosphere less formal, but there are still more advantages to using the Web site rather than the paper edition, Classified Representative Kara McPhillips said.

The Web site is updated with new listings on Tuesdays at 3 p.m., two days before the classified ads are distributed to the public in paper form, McPhillips said. Apartment hunters who take advantage of this information are more likely to land the best apartments, she said.

"Renters really like to hear from people from the Web site because they tend to be go-getters," McPhillips said.

The City Paper's classified ads worked for sophomore Jackie Puente, who found life in the residence halls too distracting to get her work done.

"I was extremely frustrated," Puente said. "I realized early on that I was not a roommate person."

Puente checked out many apartments advertised in the City Paper before settling on the Idaho Terrace for its close proximity to campus and hardwood floors.

AU's Housing and Dining Programs also offers

its own online listing of apartments on its Web

site. Housing and Dining maintains the site to provide students with an easy way to find off-campus housing in the AU neighborhood, Executive Director Julie Weber said.

"We hear from lots of landlords that they particularly like to rent to AU students," Weber said.

Housing and Dining also offers off-campus housing in Park Bethesda, an apartment building in nearby Maryland.

"It seems that our market for Park Bethesda is people who want the advantages of the apartment, but also want the security that the University provides," Weber said.

Unlike other apartment buildings, Park Bethesda offers a shuttle to campus, and there is no security deposit, features that Weber said make the building more attractive to some students.

With all the new Web sites of the last few years, many students said that word of mouth is still the best way to find a great apartment.

Shaina Korman-Houston found her first off-campus apartment through the Apartment Living Guide, a free booklet available in boxes outside Metro stops. She regretted her first choice of housing.

"It was not the greatest idea," Korman-Houston said, "because the building was lovely, but the apartment was overcrowded and expensive."

After consulting her friends, Korman-Houston moved into a group house in Friendship Heights. Even though she recommends word of mouth as a method to get housing, she warned that students should be careful when living with friends.

"Don't assume that because you're friends with someone you can live with them," Korman-Houston said. "How have they gotten along with past roommates?"

Roommate conflicts are just one danger to a successful off-campus experience, students said, as the financial responsibilities of signing a lease can strain friendships as well.

Korman-Houston's father, a lawyer, advised

his daughter on the lease before she made the

commitment. However, most students will not

have expert legal advice when negotiating the

complex terrain of security deposits, cosigners, credit and leases.

Senior Rachel Gedid, who lives in a group house in Bethesda, said her experience demonstrates that students can untangle the complicated process if they follow one simple rule.

"We've had a lot of people in and out," Gedid said. "It's a lot easier when people are your friends who[m] you can trust. You could really get screwed"

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