Last week in my student housing guide I weighed up the pros and cons of staying on campus for your later years at university, and those of moving out into a privately rented property. If you choose to stay in halls, it’s worth applying early on, and once you’ve applied there’s nothing more to do. In the rest of my housing guide, then, I’ll be focusing on the latter choice, and today I’m sharing your complete step-by-step guide to finding your second-year uni house.
1. Pick the right housemates
This sounds obvious, but it’s worth spending some time carefully considering who you want to live with. You might be in the fortunate position where you’re incredibly happy with your current housemates from halls, but it’s totally okay if you’re not. Most people I know live with at least some of their housemates from first year, but I buck the trend; I don’t live with any of my first-year flatmates anymore. That said, I will do next year, so these things can always change. In fact, I went through three different groups before the set of people I live with now, and none of my current housemates were in the initial group!
Going through so many changes was complicated and stressful, but taking the time to really consider who I wanted to live with for second year was absolutely the right thing to do. Remember that being friends with somebody and being able to live with them are not always the same thing. When it comes to numbers, I’d say that a house of four to six is probably optimum, but this is entirely down to personal preference. Try to make sure that your future housemates have similar priorities to you; if you like to spend most of your time studying, but live with people who like to go out clubbing three times a week, it could lead to clashes that might be better avoided. Similarly, if you’re not fussed about mess, but choose to live with people who like things to be tidy all the time, it’s easy to see how arguments could occur. At the same time, though, be prepared to compromise – and that isn’t the first time I’ll be saying that in this post.
2. Decide what you need from your uni house
I use the word ‘need’ here very specifically. This should not be a list of things that you want from your house, because, sure, we’d all love things like a dishwasher and an ensuite for every room (my personal wish was an attic bedroom), but this is incredibly unlikely. When I say ‘need’, I mean things like a maximum rent you can afford, the number of bathrooms you need, and the property’s proximity to places like campus, bus stops, or a supermarket.
It’s worth making a list of the things you’d like as well, but be aware that you almost certainly won’t get all of these – again, you’ll have to compromise at some point. As an example, I would really have liked to find a property where all bills were included, to save the trouble of organising it all ourselves, and although we looked at one or two which did include bills, they simply weren’t as nice as the house we eventually chose. And in all honesty, sorting out bills was much less of a hassle than I imagined it would be!
3. Start looking
The student housing market is competitive but good properties can be hard to come by, so it’s worth starting early. What ‘early’ means depends on where you are. At York, we’re advised not to start looking for properties until mid-January; apparently, the most expensive properties are put on the market early to take advantage of students who are starting to look very early on. However, this might not be the case in your city, so be sure to find out. Universities also often hold housing fares and talks to give you additional support in finding the right house for you and your friends. The most important thing is not to panic – you will find somewhere to live. Start searching online and getting a sense of the market – what’s available, where it is, and how much it’s all likely to cost.
Most students rent through student letting agencies. This can be a good idea as the companies are student-focused and very used to working with young people who are renting for the very first time. However, agencies tend to have a lot of properties to look after and the service can be impersonal. Although we looked at some agency-owned properties, our house is actually rented through a private landlord. We have been incredibly lucky with our find, so much so that some of us have chosen to stay here next year as well, and our landlord insisted on keeping the rent at the same price, even though rent tends to rise year-on-year with inflation. Although the private vs agency question does have an impact on your experience, I would generally advise you decide on the house, rather than the landlord – but it’s worth finding out what other students have to say about their experiences with your area’s agencies, as some are definitely more reliable than others.
4. Visit your selected properties
Next week’s Housing Guide post is all about how to visit a property, so I’m not going to write too much here. Book visits as soon as you can; remember, you’re competing with other students for the best houses, so starting to look early will play in your favour here. As well as its proximity to campus and your city, consider the feel of the house, street and area. Ask questions – to the estate agent and the current tenants if they’re in. I’ll elaborate much more next week!
5. Know your rights
So you’ve found a house you’ve all agreed on; it isn’t your perfect character property, but it fits your needs and you think you can make it your own. That’s brilliant! Now you’re going to be given a contract to sign. It’s incredibly important that you take all the time you need to read and understand everything in your contract. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find anything suspect, but you need to be aware of the terms you’re agreeing to. Contracts might specify things like adding or removing furniture; sticking posters on walls; who’s responsible for maintenance costs; how you’ll pay your rent; and overnight guests. It’s a legally binding document and by signing it you agree to all the terms it sets out; if you don’t follow them, you could be evicted.
But don’t panic! Many universities hold workshops or walk-in centres where somebody will talk you through everything in your contract to make sure you understand it and that there’s nothing dodgy in there. You can always ask your landlord questions, too. When you’re happy and ready, you’ll pay your deposit and sign your contract, all set up for next year. Congratulations!
What advice would you give to student renters? What are your priorities for your uni house? Let me know in the comments!