Their new home from home

From halls of residence to private homes, students have a wealth of housing options. Beryl Dixon reports
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The Independent Online

They've accepted their university or college place. So next comes the question: "Where are they going to live?" If they've gained their place through Clearing, then by now most accommodation is already booked. However, more is around than you might suppose - including rooms left vacant by students who have withdrawn their places.

The most popular option for first years is a place in a hall of residence. The advantages are obvious. The rooms are of a decent standard; meals or self-catering kitchens are provided; and students have the opportunity to make friends. Many halls are owned by the university, but some are owned by private companies that own halls in major cities that are open to students from several institutions.

There is a bewildering array of choices and charges. Students at the top end of the market may choose from rooms that are let to tourists in vacations and are furnished to high standards. Those needing to economise can still share a room at some places.

Rooms range from the deluxe en suite, to the room with or without handbasin and shared bathrooms down the corridor. Prices vary according to the standard of room, number of meals provided, whether contents insurance cover is included, and what other facilities are offered. These can include individual internet and phone access, TV rooms, games room and laundry room. Cost can also reflect distance from the campus. Saving on hall rent can mean longer daily journeys. Some halls provide bed and breakfast daily, plus weekend lunches. Others provide full board (rarer) and many halls are entirely self-catering.

Prices fluctuate not only according to area, with London and other major cities usually being more expensive, but also within universities. The self-catering halls for 2005/2006 at one Midlands university vary from £54 (basic) to £98 (deluxe en suite). Include most meals and prices rise to £87-£120. In London, one institution is able to offer self-catering single rooms, without private facilities, for £112 per week. Another point to watch is the length of rental period. Some places stipulate 32 weeks; others 38.

Hall is not for everyone (especially after the first year when many students like to move out). Even initially, some students use the private sector. For them, the options are renting a room in a flat or house, sharing a property with other students, or living with a local family. If they are going to take on the rent of a house, they should still ask advice from the university's accommodation office. Staff there will know which properties have been inspected and given safety certificates by the university and can provide advice on tenancy agreements and the rights and responsibilities of both landlord and student.

For parents of students in this position, buy-to-let is a possibility. The son or daughter lives rent free; there is the rental income from housemates; and a potential capital gain. If a mortgage is required, a deposit of 15 per cent is the norm and lenders will want to assess the likely rent the property will bring. It is probably best to act like a private landlord and demand rent by regular bank payments rather than make the son or daughter responsible for collecting it from their friends. Another option is to hand over management to a letting agent. After graduation some parents keep the property. Others sell to other parents. Peter Bryan, of Fox and Sons estate agents in Southampton, warns potential buyers: "Make sure the property is in good condition. Students are more picky these days. Also, look at the number of bath and shower rooms if you are thinking of having more than four tenants. Before buying, research the area by postcode. We often see parents from London and the home counties paying over market prices because they don't know the area and think they are getting a bargain!"

Many universities are now putting details of their vacant hall accommodation on their websites. You should find information on other types of accommodation available locally, too. Some research there could pay off, followed by a call or e-mail to the accommodation office.

How to survive without mum: the first term away

* Eat five portions of fruit and/or veg per day. There really are proven cases of students whose diet of junk food has led to them developing scurvy - a vitamin C deficiency that causes swollen and bleeding gums, soreness, stiffness and anaemia.

* Stock up on teabags. Most students become committed tea-drinkers, and it's the second best drink, after beer, for making friends over.

* Eat (and drink) in. It almost goes without saying that cooking your own meals is cheaper than eating out, but it's always tempting to take the easy option when you're not used to looking after yourself. As for drinking, sink a few at home before you go out of an evening and it will make the first term's bar bills far smaller.

* Don't go out at weekends. It sounds ridiculous, but think about it: student nights generally fall during the week, so bars and clubs are inevitably more expensive on Saturdays.

* Buy second-hand books. Most universities have a second-hand bookstore that's filled with last year's students' textbooks (also check out Amazon.co.uk's "Used and New" section).

* Buy a block of cheese. You'll inevitably produce some overdone, under-seasoned, or just plain burned meals in your first few weeks away from mother. And grating some cheese over them is the one sure-fire way to save them from the bin.

* Fabric-freshening sprays - a student's best friend, allowing your T-shirts and jeans to avoid the washing machine for at least one extra day.

* Iron your shirts (but nothing else). You can get away without ironing most of your clothes, but collared shirts (and blouses) are designed to be crisp and well-ironed. They are the one item that you must learn to press.

* Keep the kitchen and bathroom clean. These are the only rooms in the house/flat/halls that you absolutely have to keep clean. If the kitchen's dirty, you'll end up with extra flatmates - small, furry ones - and if the bathroom's dirty, you'll never have anyone coming round for that cup of tea again.

* Join a sports society. With all that extra alcohol and junk food entering your system, you'll need a way to counter-balance the ill-effects.

* Join any society, actually. Sports societies are great for keeping fit, but if you're not the sporty type, the best way to meet like-minded people and make friends fast is to join a society that you're interested in.

Tim Walker

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