If you go

What: Annual Off-Campus Housing Fair

When: Jan. 30 and March 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: UMC Glenn Miller Ballroom

Visit: http://bit.ly/VFCuEV

A s students are diving into the spring semester, they'll have only a couple of weeks before they need to start thinking about where they'll live next fall, if they haven't started already.

CU sophomore Georgina Parra began her housing search last semester -- almost a year before she plans to move into her new place.

After spending months last year trying to track down a good location with an even better price, Parra and her roommates settled for the university-owned Bear Creek apartments because they were available.

"There was nothing good in the locations we wanted, so we just ended up staying in Bear Creek because it was easier," Parra said. "We wasted a lot of time looking and ended up settling in the end, so we got an early start this time."

Parra learned her lesson and began viewing rentals in Boulder in the fall with her three roommates.

Michelle Rangel, Communications and Marketing Coordinator for CU's Off-Campus Housing and Neighborhood Relations, said preparation can make the difference between getting the ideal pad or having to take what's left.

"Students need to compare their options and see what's available so they can make the best decision," Rangel said.

But there is such a thing as starting too early. Most landlords won't know what units they have available until after the first of the year. So Rangel recommends waiting until the end of January to start the search.

"Housing in Boulder won't run out," Rangel said. "Even if students are coming in late -- like a transfer student looking in June -- there's still plenty of options."

For students looking to live on the Hill or in other prime locations, a head start is needed because those properties will go first.

But leasing early in the year could also mean higher prices for some students, said Tom Orlando, relocation director for Housing Helpers of Colorado.

"If someone needs to stick to a budget, pre-leasing is probably not for them," Orlando said. "Prices tend to start high, then, as the time goes by, the prices come down. If someone is looking for a great deal, they need to be patient."

Priorities

Deciding what is a priority will make the process easier, Rangel said. If students know what is most important in their rental when they start looking -- like pricing, location or amenities -- they can more easily decide how to proceed.

Parra said compatible roommates were her first priority this year, but next on the list is location and affordability.

"We don't drive so we want to be close to campus so we can walk or ride the Buff Bus over," Parra said. "And, obviously, we will have a price limit. I think that's always a factor when students are involved."

Do your homework

Rangel suggests calling the city's Department of Housing (at 303-441-3157) to find out how many tenants can live in a specific property. If the city finds out there are too many tenants, some could be evicted, leaving the rest of the roommates to make up the rent.

Tenants are responsible for paying 100 percent of the agreed rental price, despite a sketchy roommate deciding to skip out on paying, Rangel said. But students can avoid getting stuck with extra charges by living in Bear Creek, which offers individual leases for each tenant.

Other costly surprises can sneak up on students if they're not prepared, Rangel said.

Ask about pet deposits and additional maintenance fees, in addition to security deposits, and how much rent is required up front, she said.

Students can also call Xcel Energy to get an average utility cost for a potential rental, which can help students estimate monthly costs.

Getting help

Students who are willing to forfeit ideal locations for amenities or cheaper rent should check out CU's annual housing fairs on Jan. 30 and March 6 in the Glenn Miller Ballroom.

Local landlords will be available to talk about their properties with students and answer questions about leasing options.

Ralphie's List also hosts several online listings, including maps and photos of houses, condos and apartments around Boulder.

The office also has an attorney on staff part-time to look over student leases and help renters understand what they're agreeing to when signing with a landlord.

Rangel said students should plan on signing a lease for the fall by early March.