Well done, not only have you made it through your first term at university, you’ve also made the often-tricky decision about who to live with next year.
Now, it’s time for the fun part: choosing your student house.
Things might be a bit different this year as coronavirus has changed house hunting for everyone. Unlike during the first lockdown however, this time, during the lockdown the rental market is staying open. This means that moving to a new house is permitted and letting agents will continue to operate as normal.
Although your discussions with future housemates might be over WhatsApp rather than face to face, your house viewings might be virtual, and your meetings with letting agents might be over zoom; the fundamental ideas of how to choose your student house remains the same.
Check out our top tips on what to look out for when house hunting as a student below.
Arguably the most important factor when choosing a property is always its location, and this doesn’t change for student houses.
You don’t want to be living in a dodgy area, far from your friends or university, do you? So, make sure you and your housemates do some research to find the most suitable location.
Explore the surrounding area and ask yourselves if you would be happy to live there – are there amenities such as supermarkets or shops within walking distance? Are there good transport links? Is the journey to campus something you’re willing to do every day? Due to lockdown you might not be able to physically explore the area, but internet research can be just as effective.
Chances are you will be moving into a traditionally student area, in which case it’s a great idea to speak to older students at your university for advice on which areas or streets they recommend living in and why.
Often, the better the location, the more expensive the rent will be. So, make sure to speak to your housemates to agree on your budget and select properties to view accordingly.
Whether you’re viewing a property online or in real life, make sure you establish whether the property comes furnished or not, or you might be disappointed further down the line.
Student houses often come fully furnished, but make sure you check the inventory to confirm that everything you see will still be there when you move in and doesn’t belong to the current renters.
Think about what you need to live and study in the property – usually you can expect to be provided with a double bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers, desk and chair. Confirm with the letting agent or landlord what is included in the property, because when the current renters move out, they could be taking some things with them.
If you are unhappy with the condition of some of the furniture but you like the property, why not find out whether the landlord would be happy to make changes to the property, for example buying new mattresses or desks if they are looking worn.
Before you sign the tenancy agreement agreeing rental payments, make sure you ascertain whether utility bills are included or not.
If bills are included you might be paying a fixed price each month – depending on what was agreed in your tenancy agreement – but if they are not then you will be responsible for paying bills, such as water and electricity, directly to the utility companies.
It is a good idea to ask the landlord or previous renters how much the bills usually are, so you can budget accordingly.
If living in a green home is something important to you, why not mention The Green Homes Grant to your landlord? This new government scheme aims to help homes become more energy efficient and could help reduce energy bills.
It’s also worth enquiring about the WI-FI. You and your housemates will probably be heavily reliant on a strong WI-FI connection to complete assignments or attend online lectures. Therefore, ensure that the internet connection is speedy, reliable and able to support multiple housemates. If the house is large and the connection is weak, enquire to the landlord about installing a WI-FI booster in parts of the house.
If you can, it’s worth speaking to past or current renters of the property. This could simply be asking them when you are viewing the property or contacting them later on.
Good questions to ask would be:
The opinions of current or past renters could well change your opinion of the property, for example if they tell you that the landlord is difficult to contact and slow to fix issues within the property, this would probably put you off.
Your safety as a renter is always of paramount importance.
Legally your landlord must ensure that their properties are free from health hazards, for more information on household hazards to be aware of check out the Hamilton Fraser guide ‘Is your property safe? How to rent a safe home.’
Remember to check the property for fire extinguishers, fire blankets and functioning fire and carbon monoxide alarms so that you are confident accidents can be safely prevented. Download Hamilton Fraser’s tenant advice sheet on essential fire safety tips.
Once you have located the fire and carbon monoxide alarms, test that they are functioning correctly, and if not alert your landlord straight away. Remember, when you move into the property it is your responsibility to ensure that the alarms are working correctly. We advise that you check these on a monthly basis and replace the batteries when required.
Damp is often an issue in student properties, and it can cause breathing problems for those with pre-existing conditions. Look out for damp, especially around windows and corners but if you like the property and there are no other concerns, ask your landlord if they can clear the damp out before you move in. If they agree make sure it is clearly stated in the tenancy agreement that the damp issues will be resolved before the tenancy starts.
Condensation can become an issue in some properties and can be caused by structural issues such as poor ventilation or cold temperatures and exacerbated by poor ventilation and activities that increase moisture in the air, such as drying clothes and cooking.
There can be ambiguity when it comes to whose responsibility it is to remedy condensation in a rented property, so speak to your landlord if you have concerns, or find advice on how to identify and prevent damp, mould and condensation in your property in the Hamilton Fraser guide, here.
Unfortunately, university accommodation is often a target for criminals who are aware that security may be lax and there will be abundant technology for the taking. If you have safety concerns about your vulnerability to burglary, ask the landlord to improve the security in the house so you feel safe. Check out the Hamilton Fraser guide, ‘10 things you can do to make your home safer’.
Budgeting is vital when deciding on a new property to live in, especially as a cash strapped uni student. So do your sums!
Calculate rental costs and costs of utilities, such as electricity, water, broadband and any other bills, and try to estimate how much other outgoings will set you back to give you a realistic estimate of monthly outgoings.
This will help you to work out whether the property is affordable on your budget.
Televisions and tumble dryers might be a staple of your home life, but there’s nothing to say they will be provided by your landlord in your student home.
When viewing houses make sure you examine whether the appliances provided will be adequate for the number of people living in the property – for example, is there enough fridge or freezer space?
If something is missing from the property that you can’t live without or think should be included, such as a microwave, why not ask the landlord to provide one? As they say, if you don’t ask you don’t get.
It might not seem like the landlord or agent of a property could have much influence over your housing experience, but their efficiency and management style can have a huge impact on your time in the property. Read our blog on how to build a positive relationship with your landlord.
If a landlord or agent is very hands-on and committed to the property and they promptly reply to the concerns you raise and offer viable solutions, it will make your life much easier.
There are landlords and agents who may fail to meet their tenants’ expectations, leaving the tenants to live in unsatisfactory conditions and leaving them feeling let down.
So, before you sign a tenancy agreement, be sure to have an in-depth conversation with the landlord or agent to gauge their commitment and management style, or even better speak to the current or past tenants of the property to find out if their experience was positive or negative.