One of the most stressful things you are likely to have to undergo as a student (after deadlines and exams) is House Hunting. It’s almost as if there is something in the air come January, when suddenly everyone returns from Christmas and jumps on the house hunting bandwagon. It’s topic of conversation in every flat in halls, questions such as: ‘Have you got your house yet?’, ‘Who are you living with next year?’, ‘Which agent are you with?’ or ‘How much is your rent going to be?’ become popular dinner conversations.
I’ve put together a list of tips for surviving the House Hunting season, in an attempt to ease the panic and calm down anyone who has yet to find a house for the next academic year, (like me!)
1) Don’t look too early, and by too early I mean before Christmas. It is inevitable, particularly among the first years, that rumours will be spread such as: ‘we’ve just taken the last 5 bed in Southsea’. In short, no they haven’t. In fact, the majority of flats and houses haven’t even been put on the market before Christmas, so you will gain nothing if you start looking before then.
2) Know who you’re living with, and choose wisely. Living situations vary from group to group, many people end up living with their flatmates from halls, others from their course, as well as many from their society or sports club. Whichever you decide there is plenty to think about and questions to ask. Are they clean and tidy? Do they stay up late or get up early? Do you have a similar workload? How often do they like going out? Obviously the workload in second and third years is more demanding than first year and this is worth considering too.
3) Look at maps when searching the Internet. When looking on housing websites or lists, make sure you’ve got a map website open on another tab so you can work out how long its going to take you to walk to different places – your university building, supermarkets, the gym, the train station, the university bus stops etc. Agree between you on a length of time and don’t look at any houses that fall out of that bracket.
4) Write a list of things you want from your house. For example, you all want double beds, you want more than one bathroom, a bath, a washing machine. Everyone has different priorities, so it is important to agree on these before you begin your search.
5) Agree on a maximum rent, and what this includes. It goes without saying that everyone’s financial situation is different and you have to allow for that. Take into consideration that there are properties available which include bills in the rent, and this can be a bonus as you don’t have the hassle of organising them. However if you do go for bills included make sure you know exactly what it includes and whether there is a limit on that, for example with the heating or internet. If you don’t have bills included it’s also worth asking the landlord or previous tenants roughly what they spend on bills per month, and also whether they are on a top-up meter or come quarterly in the post.
6) Be realistic. You’re not going to be living in the penthouse of the lipstick tower, but equally don’t settle for something mouldy and falling apart. There are some lovely student properties available, sometimes it just takes some perseverance to find them.
7) Don’t let the current state of the house put you off. Its unlikely you’re going to turn up for a viewing and find an immaculate house with no mess, we are students after all. Remember the property will (or should) be clean and tidy when you move in. If you spot something broken, ask the landlord, and make sure they make a note of it so they can fix it should you decide to rent the house.
8) Check the contract length. Unless you’re planning on getting a summer job in Portsmouth you don’t need a 12 month contract, so make sure you ask the length of it and see if there is any negotiation on the length as well. You could end up paying over £1000 extra for a house that you’re not living in.
9) If you go with a letting agent, you will end up paying agency fees. These could range from £50 -£250, which is almost an extra months rent, and one of the benefits of using a private landlord (though there are less of these properties around). Remember as well that anyone showing you a house is trying to sell it to you, so ask as many questions as possible – take a list of them so you don’t forget.
10) Finally, if you like a house and it ticks the boxes – GO FOR IT. If its your gut feeling, don’t hold out because you’ve got other viewings, if the house is as good as you think, it is likely to go before you’ve had a chance to see others.