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Buying (& Renovating) a House

Patrick D., M1

When I was applying to med school, house hunting was not exactly my first priority. However, after settling on WashU, I realized how insanely inexpensive and unique real estate is in the STL area compared to where I grew up in the northeast. I kid you not when I say my jaw dropped while driving by the rows of historic stone mansions in the surrounding neighborhoods, and I knew I had to have one of these pieces of history for my own. 

Now, buying a house for the first time is an understandably daunting process — but that’s what a great realtor is for! Seriously, my realtor saved me a number of times and opened my eyes to options I’d never even considered. Be sure to vet a few realtors thoroughly to find one that fits with your goals. For me, location was the most important factor. I wanted to be near school and in a safe neighborhood, so I spent hours driving up and down street after street. I printed out a map and marked each block either red, yellow, or green based on factors such as how well the houses were maintained, if kids were out playing, and what businesses were nearby. 

I ended up settling on a larger home in the Central West End built in the 1800s and in need of some serious TLC. It ended up being over my original budget, but one thing to consider is finding some roommates to spread out the monthly costs. Also, if you’re open to putting in some work yourself, I suggest using the rule of thumb to pick the worst house in the best neighborhood. Don’t underestimate the extent or cost of the work required, but in the end, you’ll have something uniquely yours. I am in the middle of some fairly major renovations, which can be stressful, but I’m a little crazy and would choose this over Netflix any day.

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Buying a Townhouse

Rochelle E., M1

As a born and bred Californian, I was accustomed to astronomical housing costs. I therefore never expected to be able to live in my own place at age 22. St. Louis real estate prices, however, made buying property feasible. In fact, the affordability of real estate in St. Louis was one of many factors that led me to choose WashU.

Since I had only spent two days in St. Louis prior to moving, choosing where I wanted to live for the next eight years seemed impossible. To give myself more time to explore the many unique neighborhoods, I found a WashU resident (via who was subletting a room for two months. With a deadline in mind, I spent my afternoons and weekends biking around the city to check out the places I’d identified after hours browsing the seemingly-endless properties in my price range on Zillow. 

Having only a slight idea of what I wanted as well as a very minimal understanding of real estate, I interviewed a couple of realtors so that I could choose one that had the time and patience to put up with my naïvety and indecisive nature. I’m especially glad that I did because I really put her patience to the test. She ended up showing me 26 properties all across town so I can now say with confidence that St. Louis truly has the property for anyone. Whether you’re looking for a 100-year-old home with lots of character (ie. stained glass windows, stone fireplaces, and a horror movie-esque basement), a four bedroom house with a half acre of lawn to mow, or a modern, apartment-style condo, you’ll have plenty of options within a 10-minute drive of campus. 

I ended up deciding on a modest townhouse (though it merits pointing out that I get access to a pool and a backyard large enough to host COVID-friendly gatherings, neither of which I actually have to take care of) that allows me to be within walking distance of campus and many of my classmates. From there, my realtor took care of the rest and twenty days later I had the keys to my new place. 

Now, actually furnishing the place has been a different story. While the only IKEA in Missouri is just down the street and Facebook Marketplace has some great inexpensive options, getting furniture has been more difficult than actually buying the place. I guess that just goes to show how manageable buying a townhouse in St. Louis really is.

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Finding a Roommate

Sarah F., M1

I always knew I wanted to live with a roommate, but like many of my classmates, I didn’t know any other incoming medical students. I was definitely nervous about finding someone who I would live well with — we’ve all had those rough roommate experiences! Luckily, WashU sets up a great housing spreadsheet where you’re able to input living preferences and information about yourself. The spreadsheet also contains a ton of general information on different apartment buildings, including personal experiences from M1s and M2s, as well as information on the different areas to live around St. Louis. Due to COVID and the fact that we lived on opposite sides of the country, my roommate, Shannon, and I met virtually over the summer via that spreadsheet. We talked on the phone and quickly realized that we had similar living preferences and both wanted to live in the same apartment building. Because St. Louis is such an affordable place to live, we were easily able to find a spacious two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment in Montclair for a very reasonable price. Obviously, there is no guarantee that you’ll find the perfect roommate, but I can confidently say that having a roommate (especially another M1!) was one of the best decisions I made. Especially during COVID, there is nothing better than having a built- in friend to help you adjust to medical school, explore a new city, and attend (virtual) lecture with!

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Living Alone

Maggie B. and Hana H., M1

After living with roommates for the past four years in university, I wanted to try living alone once I moved to St. Louis. Though I had heard housing was affordable here, I really came to appreciate that when I was apartment hunting: I settled on living alone in a studio, and am currently paying about as much as I was when previously living in Los Angeles in a one-bedroom with two roommates. So far, I’ve found living alone to be very comforting; I enjoy the freedoms that come with having my own place such as being able to play music out loud and be as messy as I want to be. Though living alone could be a little quiet for others, I personally don’t mind going out to see my friends and study if that means being able to come back to my own place where I can relax at the end of the day.

Maggie B.

Before coming to WashU, I had never lived alone. For all four years of undergrad, I lived in the dorms with a roommate, and I shared a room with my sister for most of my life at home as well.  I have always been a person who enjoys company and is used to having other people around, so I was definitely a bit nervous about moving to a brand-new city all by myself. While the initial stages of moving in and getting my footing in St. Louis were nerve-wracking and a little lonely at times, I have actually really appreciated living alone and would not change my decision. It has been awesome to set my schedule during the day. I usually like to wake up and go to sleep earlier than most people, so it has taken some stress off in the morning to know that I can walk around and make my coffee without worrying about waking anyone up. At night, too, I have always been a bad sleeper, so I really appreciate having more control over my sleeping environment. This has been huge in helping me stay grounded and healthy during med school! And, especially with the pandemic this year, being able to make my own decisions about how safe my living space feels has been important to me.

With regards to making friends and building community while living alone, I have found that there was no reason to be worried! There are tons of students living close by in the Central West End and other areas near the Medical Campus. If I ever need anything, I have several classmates in my building (and probably 30+ more who are only a 5-minute walk away). It has been super easy to meet up with people for runs in the morning, walk together to school, and run errands for one another. Also, the library and study carrels on campus are always open to medical students and are a great resource for finding company while studying. WashU does a great job of fostering a tight-knit community among students — so I have never really felt like I was alone.

Hana H.

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Living with a Medical Student

Arohi S., M1

Living with another first-year medical student has been one of the highlights of my time at WashU so far! My roommate and I met through the housing spreadsheet for accepted students and we’ve both had a great experience. Because of virtual classes, everyone is spending a lot more time at home this year, so having a roommate has really helped me not feel isolated. The first year of med school is a big change, and it’s nice to be able to share the experience with someone who is going through the same situation. My roommate is also my go-to person for studying, talking between lectures, and cooking dinner. If you’re someone who enjoys living with others, I definitely recommend looking for a medical student roommate. It’s a great way to meet someone in your class and form a lasting friendship!

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Living with a Non-Medical Student

Andy B. and Rohana G., M1

I opted to live with two of my friends from college — one law student and one pre-med. It has been a blast living with friends, and I am constantly immersed in a different atmosphere and community outside of the medical school. It has been nice to be able to separate school from life and friends and not have medical school be a constant topic and stressor. It is always nice having different perspectives around and somebody to get my eyes off the computer. None of us are ever on the same schedule, so when any of us have a busy day, somebody can always help out with groceries, cooking, cleaning, or other chores. At the same time, however, I am not as active in our class as some others since I am already living with friends and am not as immersed in the WUSM environment, though this is also likely due to social distancing as much as anything else. 10/10, would do again!

Andy B.

I live with one of my middle school (in Beijing!) best friends who went to WashU for grad school and is currently working from home as an architect. We’ve been friends for 14 years, so she’s basically family to me at this point. One of the perks of living with a non-medical student is getting to meet people outside of med school. Moving to a new city during a pandemic was quite scary; I could not have done it without the help from my roommate and her group of friends. My roommate and I have very different schedules, but it worked out pretty well — she cooks for me when I’m busy cramming for exams and vice versa!

Rohana G.

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Renting for the First Time

Lydia S., M1

I lived on campus for all four years of undergrad and applied directly from school, so I had absolutely no idea how to do adult things like rent an apartment! Even over summer breaks, I had alternative housing options that did not require signing a lease. I personally found the Dis-O Guide (yeah, this one!) to be a really helpful introduction to some of the popular housing options for medical students. Over the summer, current students also sent out a housing spreadsheet with even more detailed information about apartment buildings and a way to find roommates. Every leasing office I spoke with was very patient and understanding, so don’t worry about asking “dumb” questions — they’re probably actually really important ones! If this is something you’re nervous about, you can also do what I did and start with a year-long lease at The Core, where you don’t need to worry about utilities or commute or anything like that, and then take your time once you’re in St. Louis deciding if you would rather live somewhere else.