There are so many guides to choosing the right student house/flat. But actually how useful are they?
So you have made it through your first couple of months at University and things are generally going well. You like your halls, you’ve joined some societies and you’re passing your modules. However, murmurs are beginning to spread around campus. You hear people saying ‘groups of students are starting to put deposits down on houses’, and ‘all the good ones will be gone by the end of November’. A mad panic begins as everyone rushes around to find people, locations and letting agents. Even the most chilled-out party loving fresher becomes embroiled in the ruthless search for that perfect house.
But should you be panicking?
The simple answer is no. Sure, it's good to have a little look around and maybe ask a few people in older years about their experiences. However, this is accommodation that you won’t need until next September. Plus, agencies and private landlords do not just run out of houses in November and December. These agencies are businesses, receiving commission based on renting houses on behalf of landlords. They cannot run an effective business with a cash-flow in only two months of the year. New accommodation will become available regularly, even in university towns/cities which supposedly have insufficient student accommodation.
Furthermore, if you panic into putting a deposit down within two and a half months of starting University, you are taking a bit of risk. You have only known the people who you’re committing to live with for a matter of weeks. They might turn out to be ‘rare characters’ by January! You want to give yourself the best opportunity to get to know people before committing. Plus, if you get yourself in a fluster you may not make the best decision about the house. A pushy estate agent telling you ‘well… at the price you are looking for there is very little left’, can pressurise worried students into committing to a house which really isn’t what you want.
Other than not rushing and doing a bit of background research, there is not much more advice that anyone can really give. Sure, read the contract and make sure there isn’t mould growing everywhere but that should be fairly self-explanatory.
Plenty of student websites, Student Unions and Universities themselves produce lengthy guides about renting houses/flats. My aim is not to belittle them because much of their content is definitely worth a look. However, they almost exclusively fail to mention that some people are lucky and others aren’t. You can do everything that the guides tell you, do all your research and believe that it is the perfect house for you, but that does not guarantee you won’t have problems. Everyone knows people who signed up for the first house they saw and got a great house that had no problems. At the same time, you could end up with something that was not as good as you expected after doing everything as per the guides. Realistically, you’re not going to get a structural survey of the house done and get in-depth background checks on the landlord. So, unfortunately there is a chance of ‘it happening to you’!
So the best advice is to take your time, find a group of people you work well with (these may not be your best friends) and just relax. If you look at a house and everything feels right, that’s great. If not there will plenty more to choose from in January or February or, believe it or not, in the summer! You’re in Freshers. You shouldn’t be stressing about stuff. That’s for third year.
Oh and remember to check how good the bathroom facilities are. Nobody likes waking up to a cold, pathetic dribble of a shower!