Looking for private accommodation
As university ‘halls’ accommodation is only provided for my first year, I have been busy searching for places to stay in for next year, which means venturing into the unknown of renting private accommodation. Since I have picked up a lot of things along the way, I thought I might as well do a blog post and hopefully there will be some useful tips for others in similar situations.
First off I would say decide what type of house/living arrangement you want. This will be important in determining who you want to live with as well as ideally you all have a similar plan. At the ‘top end’ there are one bedroom flats or apartments as well as studio flats – these would be ideal if you want your own private space to chill out and live in without the hassle of having to worry about other people. Then there are the ‘typical’ student houses/flats which can range from 2-12+ bedrooms so deciding how many people you are happy to share with is important. If you need storage for a bike or a car parking space, then you might need to take this into account as it is more likely houses rather than flats will be able to provide you with this.
Set a sensible budget based on your maintenance loan and/or grant and any other money you have available for your accommodation and try to stick to this. It might be worth working out what you maximum monthly/weekly rate would be and set it as your top budget when searching on the internet. Also remember to check what bills (internet/electricity/water/gas/tv licence etc.) are and aren’t included as you may need to set money aside for that.
Start searching early – this isn’t so important but I started looking online at the end of my first term so around December time just to familiarise myself with the types of accommodation that were available to me and also what the average prices were. Obviously some private landlords will not be advertising accommodation for September until maybe a few months beforehand so bear in mind that you don’t need to have it all sorted early.
Find what searching techniques work for you. I personally wasn’t too keen on a lot of the advertised student agencies that shove flyers in your face every time you try to get to class – after looking at their websites, many charge administration fees and other hidden costs so do be careful. Also a lot of emails/requests for viewing were ignored – their main priority is just to fill the houses so I don’t think they necessarily care too much about who occupies them. Gumtree is worth checking out for private landlords (they normally post a bit closer to September) or local newspapers/websites. However I tended to find that private landlords not catering to students charge 50 week/ 11 months+ leases which is a lot more than I realistically need. Eventually I ended up finding my accommodation on the university ‘approved accommodation’ website (many will have these) which had more tailored 42-48 week leases for students, the houses/flats also have to undergo checks so that they are fit to advertise on the university pages so they are definitely worth a try – and the prices were decent too! So make sure you do check how long the lease is for as well and whether the dates are flexible.
Make sure you leave time to view the property and surrounding area. Obviously where you choose to live is entirely dependent on your circumstances, some people limit themselves to a 5 minute walk to the university because they want easy transport for classes, but those properties may well be the most expensive. If you are trying to balance your budget, it is worth looking at areas within a 20 minute walk bearing in mind access to supermarkets and other amenities you need. If you have a car or bicycle etc. then you may be more flexible in your location. As well as viewing the property I would also advise going to ‘scout out’ the area if you don’t already know it, particularly in the evening etc. to get a general sense of the community and how safe it is.
If sharing with friends it is also important to agree on budget when looking or if rooms are priced differently, the allocation of different rooms (as some may be larger or have en suites). Also try to think practically about whether you would actually enjoy living with these people, friends for partying do not necessarily make great house mates!
Try to imagine living in the space - imagine your things in the bedroom, would they all fit? (I have seen some titchy rooms!) Is it a good learning environment? Is there space to dry your clothes? How many radiators are there? Is there room for your bicycle? The list is endless, whatever your needs are – try to see whether they would be accommodated.
My top tips for viewing properties:
- Get there on time to give a good impression
- Check/confirm the price pw/pm (inclusion of bills or not), length of lease, flexibility, deposit needed?, how rent is paid during the year etc.
- Quite often the landlord/agent will show you around but if you can chat to some people already living there, they can hopefully give you more of a sense of the house/flat
- How to go about securing the place if you are interested
- Contact details for queries
- Furniture included and other appliances
-Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
It is worth mentioning if you are really interested in a property whether you can have a look at the copy of the tenancy agreement and any other paperwork before you make up your mind. Once you have paid your deposit (if applicable) and secured the property, you can then think about the practicalities about what to bring for next year. For example I have yet to check whether an iron/ironing board are included and though they are very minor things, another viewing making a detailed list of things like this will just make packing for next year a lot easier (as it is likely you will not contact the landlord again until September).
I think that’s all I have to say really, thank you for reading the ramble is you’ve got through it (I can’t even count how many times I said a word deriving from accommodate) – I guess the most important thing is just to take your time in making a decision. It is a relatively major decision financially and socially and students don’t really come across many of those so choose wisely…although if you’re lucky enough to already be in plush accommodation you can just stay put I suppose!