The annual student housing rush: December’s not just about the holidays…
As first semesters wind down and the glorious Christmas holidays loom, all a student can do is bundle up three months of laundry and look forward to a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Maybe you’ll even have a few nights out dressed as Santa and his reindeers.
But while during the season of good will you should be able to relax after successfully scoring a 60 average (technically a 2.1) throughout the term, December is key house-hunting time for many a discerning student.
The eager ones will have snapped up properties in November, while the more considered will have held out until December. After all, those extra few weeks living with Messy Mike might have changed your mind about who you want to live with…
Choosing a student house is exciting, but it’s generally a cauldron of tensions running high (when one housemate decides Sky has to be included), panic (when the ‘book now, going fast’ posters go up) and desperate scrabbling for the ‘best’ houses.
So, we’re here to give you a first-hand account and tell you about the realities of smarter house hunting.
Firstly, don’t get panicked into believing that ALL houses will go. While it’s true that those 10 bed pads that will house your flatmates, next doors flatmates and that guy you like from basketball society do go quickly, taking the time to think it through is better than realising you hate your housemates 3 weeks after moving in…
The Big Search
Your university has a duty of care, so naturally any accommodation which has been endorsed by them is a good choice. You’ll already have some assurance that the property has met your university’s standards and if any issues arise during the year you can inform them.
It will become their responsibility to rectify any issues (within reason) and if problems continue the landlord will risk having the property dropped – bad news from a marketing perspective.
That said, in some university towns, your route from halls to campus is likely to pass by several student estate agencies which tend to attract the hordes (university accredited or not). If you go with one of the shiny ‘property shops’ then think reputation. What do other students think about the properties and the service? Students are a very vocal community and it usually doesn’t take much to get wind of a dodgy provider.
Once you’ve consulted your university and found some potential landlords, go in with a price and location in mind. If you don’t know where you want to live then do your homework, while we all think we’re urban and streetwise after 2 months living in a new city, chances are we won’t know our sleepy suburbs from our sink estates.
Once you know what sort of price you can expect to pay you’ll be able to spot any alarm bells too. If it’s too cheap there’s usually a reason why…
Arrive a little early and get to know the area before you view the property. Did it take a good 35 minutes of trekking to get there after your lecture? Does the community seem ‘student friendly’? Trust us, while the property might have lured you in with a recent refurb, a bad location soon gets tiring.
Naturally, a flimsy front door or damp patches on the walls will stick out like a sore thumb, but use your nose too – that musty smell won’t disappear with a spritz of Febreze.
Once in – and after checking there’s no obvious sign of rodents, damp or any other nasties, check out how useful the house will be for you and your group. If there’s more than 4 of you, you’re going to want more than one bathroom. Similarly, that one fridge freezer will ruin any chances of stocking up when Ben & Jerry’s is half price. You have been warned.
Checking out how ‘study friendly’ your house is will be useful too. If you go to a university where getting a computer during exam time requires getting up at 5am, then you’re going to want a decent size desk and walls that are preferably thicker than card.
Finally is there a box room that nobody really wants? Student landlords are famed for offering the box room at £65 per week while the vast double bedrooms are £68. If someone’s going to resent paying only a smidgen less for the tiny room then consider passing it up.
Negotiating Your Way Into Accommodation
So you’ve found a place you like and you’re as convinced as can be that it’ll offer comfort for 9-12 months. Now it’s contract time.
Unless you have a budding solicitor in your midst then consider passing this on to your parents or any other senior family member. While their knowledge on property law might not be any better than yours, they will have the benefit of experience and should be more likely to pick up on anything dubious.
That said, while contracts may be convoluted, they aren’t mystical, so give it a read yourself and highlight any paragraphs that you find confusing. Your Students’ Union housing department should be able to help you understand the details. Note ‘details’ is the word – check any and all small print and make sure you know what it means.
Don’t feel like you have to accept everything with the property either – highlighting anything which you feel threatens the property’s security (i.e. lack of side gates) is likely to be taken seriously by your landlord and wherever possible you should try to get any promised installations written into your contract.
Written proof will be your saviour, so never work on the basis of a discussion and a hand shake.
Make sure your deposit goes into a Tenancy Deposit Scheme too – all reputable student landlords should be adhering to this, it’s basically a way of protecting both yourself and your landlord from unfair losses in any disputes.
The End-Of-Summer Move
Moving in might be months away, but when the new terms starts, it’s all about getting evidence again. Snap any stains and breakages and email them to your landlord. Make sure any photos are dated and save them – this could be the difference between getting your full deposit back and being blamed for something that wasn’t your fault.