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Ultimate Student House Hunting Guide
By Adam Reynolds | May 3, 2016
Student housing can be a minefield with dozens of possible pitfalls, from picking the wrong housemates to not taking a proper look round before you sign. Take a look at our top ten housing tips, to help you make sure that your next student house will be a place you love to call home.
1) Take a moment (or two!) to pick your future housemates
When you live in halls you make wonderful friends very, very quickly. In a matter of days you’ll know more about your new hallmates than you do about some of your mates back home. In a matter of weeks they’ll be some of the best friends you’ve ever had. In a matter of months?
Well, that depends. Sometimes you’ll find that the ecstatic rush of independence you’re given when you leave home to start uni means you miss things. It’s best to take a little while to consider which of your friends you’d be a good match living with. If you struggle to wake up with two alarms and all of your would-be housemates row for the uni team then maybe consider the impact of your different sleeping patterns on house harmony. Likewise if one of your best mates has a penchant for listening to a song on repeat for hours then think about whether you share their taste in music.
It’s really not hard to make sure that you’ll have a great year in your new student home. The first step is just making sure that you’ll be living with people you really get on with. If you need help finding potential housemates, take a look at sites like SpareRoom, Erasmusu (for exchange students) or see if your university has a housing Facebook group. There’ll be plenty of people out there looking for people to live with. Once you’ve got your group, it’s time to start house hunting…
2) Start early
Taking a look at what houses are available early is a great idea as it lets you know what options there are for groups of your size within your budget, although more houses may come along later as renovations are complete and new properties bought. If you spot the perfect house then get ready to act, as popular houses in a great area can go quickly.
You don’t have to rush in and sign a contract for the first house you see, but when you do spot something you love you’ll be ready to go.
If you begin your house hunt early then you’ll also have the added bonus of visiting houses when the current residents are bright eyed and enthusiastic, having yet to have many people knock on their door. They’ll likely tell you everything you need to know about their new home and you might get the chance to quiz them on important extras like what the best local pub is.
The house hunting experience can be a lot more relaxing if you get started quickly.
However, as students sometimes change their mind about their plans for the next year, letting agents often have spaces in great houses left over. This means that you could easily snag a spot in one of the nicest houses in town, even if you have left it late.
3) Consider the small things
It’s not just rent your need to think about when finding a new place to live. As stupid as it might sound, before uni, many people don’t consider the fact that all the contents of a house cost money. Everything from the tables and chairs, to intangible thing’s like the wifi add to the cost of a home. Some properties look better on face value but when it comes down to it, you are paying for an empty shell of a house.
This is why you must weigh up the costs and benefits of paying a little extra a month to have fast wifi and flat screen TVs vs having to pay for and install wifi, sofas and beds.
As DJ Khalid once said to his landlord:
4) Ask questions
Ask as many questions as you can before signing any contracts. This will give you a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. It may also help you understand your landlord; a good landlord should be completely honest and not have anything to hide.
The sort of thing you should be trying to find out is whether your contract is going to be joint with other tenants; which basically means, if one person does a runner who is responsible for their part of the rent. You might feel like you’re annoying everyone with your excessive questions, but you’re better safe than sorry!
5) Consider bills inclusive options (Less stress)
Sometimes being a student can mean having to balance a frenzy of different activities: making it to lectures, a part time job and enjoying all of the perks of being a student at the same time. From societies to sports teams to discount club nights, there’ll be plenty to occupy your time.
So, why not make things easier for yourself? Rather than spending hours bickering with your housemates over who used an electric heater, or trying to get someone to pay their share of the gas bill, just choose a bills inclusive option.
When bills inclusive options are available you simply pay an additional payment each month alongside your rent and can rest assured knowing that everything is paid for in advance. It’s a great option that lowers the hassle you’ll be facing at tricky times like essay deadlines and takes away one of the leading causes of arguments among housemates. Who’d want to bother number-crunching if you don’t have to?
6) Agree on a budget
One of the most important conversations you’ll have with your potential housemates is to find out what their budget is. If you do this before you start house hunting there’ll be no nasty surprises waiting for you. Finding out early that one friend has a shockingly low budget for your expensive city, or that an acquaintance only wants to live in a house with a hot tub, is for the best really.
We’re all adults (right?), so have a quick conversation with your friends and find out what they’re looking for. If you know you all have different expectations then you can find a middle ground, with a house that meets everyone’s needs.
7) Google maps is your friend!
One of the best tools for student house hunting is good ol’ Google Maps.
Sometimes areas of student housing are given nicknames or are designated as being in certain parts of the city, meaning that house hunters can sometimes become obsessed with living in a ‘cool’ location rather than what that location really means. So take a map and find out. You might find that a house that appears really far from the city centre is actually less than a mile away, as is the case in small cities like Durham, or that a much nicer house is only a few hundred metres more away from the Tube station. Little things can make a big difference to the rent you’ll be paying and it makes sense to get the nicest house you can afford, even if it takes a little time to afford.
Another thing a map is good for is telling you how far the house you’re looking at is from key local amenities. For humanities students the location of the lecture theatre might hardly matter, but if you’re a scientist it’s nice to know you won’t have too far to go for labs. It’ll give you a chance of a long lie-in each morning, which is always a bonus.
8) Go for a walk…
When you’ve found a house that you think you might like to rent make sure to take a walk around the local area. Find out where the supermarket is, the nearest bus stop, that kind of thing. At the same time you can take in the atmosphere of the area and find out if it is a place that suits you. If you’re a little unsure about the area but really like the house you could take a look at some crime statistics, you may be pleasantly surprised with what you find.
Take one walk during the day and one during the evening, even if the house is quite far from where you are currently living. Rather than being a chore, this can be an enjoyable experience if you make the most out of it. Find a nice coffee shop near the house, or check out how close it is to the cinema. Little details like that will really help you to imagine what it’d be like living in your chosen flat.
9) Be ready to compromise
Everyone has different priorities and it is likely that your housemates might think of things differently to you. If all you want is a massive dining room with room to host dinner parties and have friends to stay, someone else might yearn for an attic bedroom. All you want is to be in the centre of town, a friend wants to be as far from university buildings as it is possible to be in a more residential area. Of course, everyone will have to compromise at some point.
There are ways to do it fairly too. Room sizes could be picked out of a hat, or the person with the most hours at uni has more of a say in location. Perhaps someone is willing to have the smallest room in return for someone covering part of their bills. If you are friends and are willing to negotiate with each other, it’s possible to make sure everyone’s happy.
10) Check the contract – and then celebrate!
So you’ve found the perfect house. Now what? Many students’ unions offer a contract checking service where they’ll take a quick look over the contract and check that there’s nothing icky in there. It’s a free and simple way to make sure that you start the relationship with your new landlord off on the best foot, and that you understand exactly what you’re signing.
While looking over all of the legalese in a contract can be a little dull it’s important to read over it carefully before you sign. Check how many weeks your contract runs so you know if you’ll be able to spend summers in the house and what other rules there are. Equally important is to check the inventory and make sure you know what should be in the house, so you’ll know if something is missing or damaged when you arrive.
It’s easy to get caught up in buying things for your new student home. Before you do, make sure that what you’re buying isn’t already included and that your housemates aren’t bringing anything too. A house can only use one electric whisk after all…
11) Make sure to pick somewhere you’ll be happy to spend the year
Perhaps the most important student housing tip is the one that’s easiest to forget. In the midst of contract signing and the chaos of trying to find somewhere that meets everyone’s expectations, just take a moment to make sure the house is right for you. When you go for a viewing ask the current tenants questions and see what they have to say, as they’ll often tell you about little bugbears that might not be easy to see. Often these are only tiny issues that any house can have but sometimes there might be something more significant to think about. While it’s important to choose within your budget, don’t agree to live in a house that you’re unsure of even before you pick up the keys.
A good way to make sure that your new house unlikely to have any nasty surprises is to choose somewhere that’s recently been renovated, as you’ll be one of the first people to move in to it with it’s brand new kitchen and sparkly clean appearance. When you get your keys take a look around and make sure the house isn’t dirty. The house should have been professionally cleaned prior to you moving in, so that any less than ideal cleaning habits by the previous tenants don’t affect your enjoyment of your new home.
There are always some great houses on the market for students, it’s just a case of going out there to find them. Good luck!
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