House hunting as a student can be an overwhelming experience if it is your first time. When my friends and I were looking for a house second year I had absolutely no idea what we were doing (none of us did) and in the end we went for a cheaper house to fit our budget. It was an okay house, but had we known more about houses we may have chosen differently. After living here for three years now I feel I know at least a little about house hunting, so here is some of my experience with houses in Portsmouth.
As a 1st year student you can apply for Halls of Residence, which seem to be the most popular living place for freshers. I had a good experience with Halls. It is so easy to apply for a room, and once you have your confirmation letter all you have to remember is to pay your rent on time. All the bills are already included, and there is always someone around to ask for advice whenever you need it. On Freshers’ Facebook groups I always see people asking which Halls are better and which you should avoid, but to be honest I think no matter which Halls you end up in you will have the full Halls experience, so don’t worry (and if you do end up in Langstone, there is always the free uni bus to get to lectures on time).
On the same Facebook groups I have also seen people writing that if they don’t get accepted to Halls they will not go to university. Of course you can have a great student experience if you live in a house! Rooms in houses are often bigger, you can have a double bed, a living room, a garden, and you won’t have to worry as much about noise levels and 5AM fire alarms. So please, do still go to university even if you have to live in a house.
Second year is when most students get into the whole house hunting business. Hopefully you will have a group of friends by then, and you have a few of them in mind as future housemates, or you can live with strangers. So… now what to do? How do you find a house?
1. Pick your housemates wisely
I cannot point this out strongly enough. Being friends with someone and actually living with someone are two very different things. If you get sick of your mates, you can always avoid them for a while by going home. But what happens when you live with them? Not so easy to cut them out for a few days, is it? So if you find yourself thinking ‘gosh, I’m sick of him/her today‘ too often, maybe you shouldn’t live together. It’s better to reject them and keep your friendship than end up hating each other by Christmas time.
2. Decide on details
How many people do you want to live with? How much can you afford to spend on rent every month? Is there anywhere you don’t want to live? Will you go for a private landlord or a letting agency?
It might be wise to have a general idea of what you are looking for before you start house hunting. It is easier to find 4 people bedrooms than 3, maybe get another person? Do you really want to spend money on letting agency fees or can you manage without? Yes, it might seem beneficial to go through a letting agency just in case something happens. Some agencies are very helpful and it’s easier to just phone them up and they will immediately send someone to unclog your toilet. But they often charge more, and if you manage to find a good private landlord he/she may be just as helpful.
3. Have a look online
The best place to start looking is online on Facebook groups (UoP Student Housing, Student Housing in Portsmouth), and housing searching engines like Portsmouth Student Pad. There are also many letting agency websites to check out.
Know that students have different views on which letting agencies are good, depending on their experiences, this is very individual. Ask your friends if they have any tips or check out this recently created Facebook group.
If you have any questions about finding good houses don’t forget you can also contact the university Student Housing Office.
4. Arrange viewings
Going to viewings is essential. It’s not enough just to see pictures of the houses online. When you get to a house try to look beyond the mess and personal items of the current tenants. Think to yourself ‘can I see myself living here?‘.
Make sure you go to a few viewings before you make up your mind. When we were looking for a house for our 2nd year we made the mistake of really loving the first house we went to (a private landlord) and told her straight away that we wanted the house. A few days later we went to see another house and liked it even more, so we had to make up an excuse to get our of the first house. Bad, I know.
Also make sure you check for leaks, mold and that kind of stuff. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you see a massive dark stain on the carpet, ask why it’s there. If a desk is broken ask if it will be replaced by the time you move in. Trust me, you don’t want to realise two months in that your bed is actually broken.
5. Make sure the paperwork is dealt with
The scariest part of the process can be the paperwork. If you go through a letting agency they are often very helpful and tell you exactly what they need and where you need to sign. We went with a letting agency house 2nd year and were taken down to their office straight after the viewing to sign some of the paperwork. Then during the summer they sent us the contract and asked us to sign it.
Private landlords do approximately the same. Some will want to do a credit check on you to make sure you will be a reliable tenant, and then send you the contract to sign it. You will also have to sign a guarantor form and have your legal guardian or a family member sign it too.
6. What if I am an international student?
Being an international student (like myself) I’ve found that house hunting can be a tad more troublesome. Landlords often require you to have a guarantor. A guarantor is a person who will pay rent for you if you are unable to. This is mostly just to make sure it is not going to be a hassle for the landlord getting his money every month, making sure some students don’t run back to their respective countries without paying. And most of the time the guarantor have to be a person based in the UK, which many international students, including me, don’t have access to. But again, this really depend on the person. Some landlords are happy with an international guarantor, some are not.
In Halls this was not an issue. I paid rent once a semester, and it was all online through the university website. I didn’t even have to transfer the money into pounds, I just used my Norwegian bank card and they calculated the currency for me. If I hadn’t paid I could have been kicked out of uni, and I didn’t want to risk that!
2nd year we were with a letting agency. Three of us were foreign and we asked them at the viewing if it was okay for us to rent because it would be troublesome for us to get a guarantor in the UK. To solve the problem they told us we could pay 6 months rent up front in September and January. I know many students don’t have that amount of money saved up, but for me it was not an issue since my student loan for the whole term comes in August and January, so I could happily pay straight away. It was actually beneficial for me because I didn’t have to worry about rent for the rest of the term. So don’t be afraid to suggest this solution to your future landlord.
This year my landlord (private landlord this time) required me to have a guarantor. He found a company who acted act as a guarantor for me, although my legal guardian in Norway had to sign the form as well. One guarantor company the university works with is Housing Hand, although I have no personal experience with them.
7. House hunting whilst on your year abroad
I was in China on my year abroad last year but I was so incredibly lucky. One of my friends at university already had a house from the previous year and we agreed that when I came back from China I would just move in with her. I kept most of my stuff with her whilst abroad, and I didn’t have to worry about house hunting at all. I met up with the landlord to sign the paperwork when I went back in February, and I couldn’t be happier that it has worked out this well.
So my advice is: if you know someone who will still be in Portsmouth when you come back, team up with them! Ask them if they will have a room free for you when you are back and save yourself the hassle of house hunting while abroad.
For some students this might not be as easy, so you will just have to house hunt the traditional way. Maybe you have some free time to go back to Portsmouth for house viewings, or ask a good friend or a parent to go for you.
All this aside the main thing is to enjoy university and have fun with your housemates. Student house hunting is a good way to get some experience on the house hunting front, and hopefully get on the good side with your land lord so they can act as a reference for you in the future (our land lord at the moment brings us cake and breakfast when he comes over. I love him).
Good luck on your house hunt, hopefully this has been a little helpful.