On the Search for Housing…

by Mike Bombace

A great many incoming students naturally have questions about the housing search. Rising 2L Mike Bombace offers a few insights on the topic. For additional information, please see our Housing webpage.

As I mentioned in my last post, housing is important. Consequently, I thought a post about the housing search would be helpful for those of you currently preparing to move to Lexington. As you may have already figured out, your housing search here will be very different from any housing search you’ve perhaps ever conducted. Why? Well, for those of you coming from bigger cities, most of the properties in Lexington are not listed online. Because of this, it is an excellent idea to come to Lexington and spend a couple days looking around.

A few words about my housing search… 

My search began in February when I registered for an Admitted Students Open House. I began by contacting friends of mine in the DC area who knew alums from W&L. These W&L alumni proved to be a tremendous resource, and I will be forever in debt to a high school friend, Saul, and a friend of his, Emily, who was a recent W&L Law grad. She (and a few recent alumni with whom she put me in touch) provided excellent advice about both housing and law school in general. Consequently, more than anything else, I recommend you get in touch with current students or recent alumni. They can guide you through a great many things about life in Lexington and law school, from where to live to what to expect from professors.  

I walked around Lexington during and after the event. The first place I visited for housing was the Dutch Inn which is in the center of town and has been recently renovated. I have sketched this in general before, but it bears repeating: where you live matters in law school. Your time and energy will be in short supply. Your housing should be comfortable, as nice as you can reasonably afford, and close enough to campus so that you don’t spend hours commuting. There are friends of mine who have an hour or longer commute and they do just fine, but they are the exception and not the rule.

I chose to live alone in large part because I had been doing so for the last five years; however, there are several students in my class who took the plunge and chose to live with someone in our class. They set this up largely during an Open House, on top-law-schools.com, or the Admitted Students Facebook page.

At the end of the Open House I decided on the Dutch Inn. It is a five to ten minute walk from school, very nice, not too expensive ($480/month), and the lease ends May 31. This shaped my summer to a large extent, but I will save that for another post.

Below are a few tips you might find helpful as you look for somewhere to live.

Make a budget and list of what you want. Examples include: if you want a roommate, have a pet or pets, a car, need office space, want a second floor unit, house, yard, dishwasher, central air. These considerations, which are far from exhaustive, will help narrow your search and save you considerable time.

Get in touch with current students. This is probably my number one tip. This is what I did and received good advice, (on all sorts of topics, including what real estate agents to work with). The Facebook group for Admitted Students (linked above) is a good place to start (general housing advice as well as listings are posted there, and the page is monitored by current students), and you can find a listing of realtors by doing a simple Google search for “Lexington VA Realtors.” Using a realtor may seem a little old-fashioned, but they don’t charge for their services, and it will save you time and energy as you navigate the Lexington real estate market.

Begin the housing search early. Try to begin your housing search as soon as you know you will be attending W&L Law. There is enough housing in Lexington that you can find a place to live even a day before classes start, but the sooner you start, the more choice you will have, and there are definitely places and locations that are more desirable than others. The longer you wait the harder it will be to find housing close to campus and the harder it will be to find something that fits your list (see above). In my opinion, you should have a place picked out by early August so you have plenty of time to move in and get settled before Orientation and the start of classes.

Come visit. There is no substitute for this. While it is possible to contact a real estate agent or current student and obtain photos and other relevant information about various rental properties, you really should consider taking a day or two and coming to Lexington. As with any other housing search, you don’t want to rent any property sight unseen, and you want to make sure you are comfortable with the location and feel of your apartment, house, etc.. In my opinion, the best and most effective way to do this is in person.   

If you can’t visit, don’t worry. You can find a place without coming to visit, but you will definitely have more work to do. There are several people in my class who did this and met with relative success. If this is your process, get in touch with current students now. You can do this through the Facebook group or by contacting Brett Twitty, and he can put you in touch you with a student. If, for whatever reason, you do not want to contact current students, a quick Google search will give you an idea of the local realtors. 

In Town vs. The Country.  The majority of people I know live in town. This ranges from Woods Creek which is the law school housing directly across from the school, to those of us in downtown Lexington, to a good friend who is about two miles away from campus and lives in a duplex with one of the better views of the rolling hills of Lexington. There are a few students who live way out in the country, but they are mostly second- and third-year students, and, as I’ve detailed previously, during your first-year it is generally a good idea to live close to campus (as that is where most of the other people in your class will live)

If you live in or near the downtown area, it is possible to walk to a great many things (school, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.), but places like Wal-Mart (yes, you will end up there at some point) are really too far to walk. It seems, without exact numbers, most law students have a car. Don’t feel that it is vital as it is easy to catch a ride anywhere, be it the grocery store, airport, or a weekend trip to DC.  

Leases vary as to when they start and how long they run. Find this out and make sure it the arrangement works for you. You don’t want to sign a lease in May and not be able to move in until August, and pay needlessly, unless it is your dream place. You also need to have a plan if you sign a nine month lease, which is not uncommon here, though twelve month leases dominate.

Finding housing is important and there are several decisions to make. The vast majority of people I know in, or recently out of, law school did not stay in the same place after their first year. Things change and it helps to be flexible. Enjoy the process and save your energy for school.

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