Negotiating the minefield: The basic dos and don'ts of picking your new student accommodation

The world of estate agents and student flats is a tricky one - but these simple rules should see you right

The Christmas cake is all gone and the bottles for recycling from New Years have finally been collected; it must be January. For those of you that are organised, you may have already started thinking about where you’re going to be living in the next academic year.

If you’ve never looked for somewhere to live without your family before, it may seem a bit of a daunting task, but never fear! Here are 5 simple dos and don’ts for you to keep in mind when you start searching:

Do…

  • View the house before you put down a deposit: This sounds like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it! Make sure all of your prospective flatmates see the house before you agree on anything; you don’t want arguments a few months down the line.
  • Check for damage: Estate agents and landlords tend not to take us students very seriously. When viewing the house make sure you check for mould and damp, that the windows and doors lock properly, even give the taps a go! There’s no time limit, so take as long as you like.
  • See lots of properties: Unless it’s your dream house, you probably shouldn’t go for the first property you see. Try and see between five and 10 houses in varying locations before you make any decisions.
  • Check for hidden costs: Most estate agents will charge you an agency fee. The amount varies massively, but you should expect to be paying anything up to £200 per person for this. If you go via a private landlord you may be able to avoid this, but most people will charge you a deposit. This is usually a month’s rent per person. Make sure you check these amounts before you sign any contracts. Costs aside from these are unusual so be wary of them.
  • Check out your estate agent/landlord: Before you start house hunting, have a look at the local estate agents online. See what kind of ratings they have and try to avoid any that are less than four stars. Your student union can also provide you with housing advice and most even provide listings of accommodations suitable for you. Don’t be afraid to go in and have a chat with them if you’re unsure about anything.

Don’t…

  • Put up with second best: Don’t let people take you for a ride just because you’re a student. You’re still paying them thousands of pounds a year, so make sure you get what you want. Polite persistence is the key.
  • Forget receipts: Make sure you have receipts of everything you pay, even the agency fees. If you’re worried about anything with your landlord, keep a record of your emails/letters and inventory. These might come in handy when your deposit gets wrongfully taken off you! It’s also a good idea to take photos of the house on the day you move in and save them to your computer. That way you have even more evidence.
  • Leave the bedrooms to the last minute: Most houses don’t have equal sized bedrooms, so make sure you agree with your friends beforehand about who gets which room. If one is much smaller than the others, it’s probably best for that room to have slightly cheaper rent.
  • Forget about location: You may be swayed by a pretty house or a big bedroom, but don’t underestimate location. When you’re staggering home from a club or are late for a lecture, it’s good to know you’re not living miles away.
  • Hurry into things: You shouldn’t just take your time when deciding on the house, but also when deciding who to live with. Don’t feel you have to rush into anything; if you starting thinking about things soon then you’ve got plenty of time to find somewhere great to spend your next year of university.
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