Freshman Elliot Seals signed a lease on Oct. 20 but won’t be moving in until Aug. 18, almost 10 months later. He’s not the only one who signed his lease this early — just under two months after move-in week, students are already signing leases and preparing for the start of next year. Signing leases early is simply part of Madison’s culture, students say, though many have questioned why this is the case.
Alongside Seals, freshman Rachel Delmar also signed a lease at the end of October after hearing about Madison’s early leasing period.
“I was very pressured to sign early,” Delmar said. “I was told by almost everyone that if I didn’t sign a lease, I would be living somewhere far from campus or in the dorms.”
In addition to signing leases early, many students have reported overpaying for their apartments. “I was not trying to pay the price I am for my apartment next year, but it seems like the average price is much higher than I expected it to be,” Seals noted. “I'm paying about $200 more a month than I wanted to.”
While it might be easy to assume that these trends in housing are new and based on Madison’s increasing student population, UW-Madison alumni have asserted that this isn’t the case — the hunt for housing in Madison has always been a demanding process.
According to UW-Madison alum Kory Seymour, who graduated in 2015, students have always had to start searching for apartments early on in the year.
“Luckily, I knew it was important to jump on it right away, so we pretty much started looking for next year’s place right after move-in,” Seymour said.
Pricing, however, hasn’t always been as high as it is. As UW-Madison alum Michael Juley, who graduated in 1973, described, there were no modern highrises during his time at UW-Madison. He shared a one-bedroom apartment with two other people, resulting in somewhat of a cramped situation.
Despite this, he still paid the average cost of housing in Madison, a number that doesn’t hold a flame to today’s cost even when accounting for inflation.
“For my junior and senior years, it was $60 per person per month,” Juley said. “That was probably the average cost for housing from 1971-‘73.”
While past students seemed to be more used to Madison’s unusual rent cycle, current students have spoken up about the timing. For these students, signing a lease in October seems especially early due to UW-Madison’s late move-in week, which spanned from the end of August to the beginning of September this year.
“I don’t understand why it is like that here and it is very frustrating, especially for freshmen who just got here and are still trying to find their community and real friends,” Delmar said. “It’s very stressful to be thinking about where you are living a year before.”
Unless citywide change happens, it looks like Madison’s cycle of leasing early is doomed to continue.
“While signing the lease, my future landlord told us that the rush comes sooner and sooner every year,” Seals said. “This year all of their availability filled up within two days.”