Only seven weeks into the fall 2021 semester, many Cornellians have already signed leases for the 2022-2023 academic year. With hybrid tours and more Cornellians in Ithaca than last fall, this house hunting season has challenged students as they scramble once again to find a home for next year.
Ithaca experiences a housing rush each fall, with an influx of approximately 20,000 Cornell students living among a local population of 29,000. This creates a competitive housing market, especially for coveted apartments boasting locations near to campus, convenient amenities or new construction. Ithaca housing prices have risen consistently over the past years, but the rate of vacancies remains low.
Anneliese Markus ’23, who has spent the last few weeks looking for an apartment, said she signed her current apartment lease last October. Even then, she said, finding off-campus housing in a desirable location was hard, as students around her also raced to sign their leases.
“Around that time, we would call places and ask ‘Is this available?’” she said, “and [landlords] would tell us, ‘No, it’s gone.’”
The pandemic added new challenges and procedures to apartment hunting last year. With landlords and property management companies advertising virtual tours, fewer renters saw spaces in person.
Kaitlyn Cisz ’22 recalled difficulties during her housing search last year due to the pandemic.
“Finding an apartment during the pandemic was crazy,” Cisz said. “We didn’t want to go into other people’s spaces and make them feel like we’re encroaching on their space. But there were no vaccines yet, so we also didn’t want people coming into our space.”
Markus said she feels these tours often don’t give students a full picture of the apartments they are renting. Last year, according to Markus, the virtual tours in the building where she currently lives didn’t show potential tenants the building’s disadvantages, including overflowing garbage on one floor.
“If you didn’t do an in-person tour, you wouldn’t know if you were on the garbage floor,” she said. “I think it’s easier to take advantage [of future tenants].”
Samantha Hass ’25 shared similar concerns about virtual tours. Even though current first-year students will be required to live on campus next year under new University policy and will likely not sign leases until fall of 2022, Hass said she hopes virtual showing methods will no longer be relevant by then.
“I would be afraid to virtually tour somewhere,” she said. “I think it puts a lot of pressure socially on a person to figure out where and with who you’re going to live with a year in advance.”
While apartment hunting last year, Cisz said she decided to renew the lease on her current apartment rather than go through the “risky process” of finding a new space.
“Even though I wanted to live in Collegetown,” she said, “it was really nice to not have to show my apartment and just lease it again for the next year.”
Though Cisz is a graduating senior and won’t be signing a lease for the 2022-2023 school year, she said she was happy with her decision to renew her lease for this year.
Faith Shote ’24 also decided to stay put for the 2022-2023 school year. Cornell guarantees on-campus housing to sophomores, and Shote said the off-campus search seemed too challenging.
Shote said she plans to sign up for Rose Scholars — a program in Flora Rose House on West Campus that guarantees students housing through enrollment in a one-credit course — so she can guarantee herself a room.
“Ithaca renting is really difficult, especially this year,” she said, “and I don’t want to waste my time, so on-campus housing it is.”
Despite housing challenges, Markus affirmed that she felt more confident signing a lease this year compared to the previous one, as she has gone through the process of putting down a deposit, paying first month’s rent and gathering documents before.
Cisz offered advice to anyone going through the housing process for the first time.
“Costs really add up, so find a place that’s right for you and don’t get stressed about early signing,” Cisz said. “At the end of the day, you’re going to have to live there for a year or more.”