Rent a dorm room at NIU or buy a home in Sycamore?

It's not a choice that many parents consider, but when you look at the cost of student housing at Northern Illinois University (NIU), you have to wonder why they don't set their son or daughter up as a landlord in a single-family home in nearby Sycamore.

A recent Tribune article on New Hall, the first new NIU dorm in 44 years, quoted a sophomore as saying that "I just wanted to cry when I saw my room here, it's so awesome." Well, parents may want to cry when they see the tab for one of those mini-rooms – $6,482 per semester (pdf) for a single room and the minimum "Gold" meal plan.

NIU does provide a worksheet to compare the cost of off-campus housing, but it doesn't cover the rare situation where a student might, with parental assistance, buy a nearby home and play landlord during his or her tenure at the university.

We've seen the single-family homes at Shodeen Residential's Reston Ponds development in nearby Sycamore, and you can use one of those to compare the costs of ownership less the income from renting rooms to two other students, to the cost of living in an NIU dorm. I'll let you do the math, but my rough guesstimate is that a student-landlord can live virtually rent and utility-cost free.

Note that Sycamore's Zoning Ordinance would prohibit more than three unrelated individuals from living together in a residentially-zoned property.

Playing landlord for several years can be a valuable experience for a young person – as can the experience of not living in a dorm populated with 1,000 students, most of whom are away from home for the first time.

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