In the coming weeks, endless student housing companies will be plastering your campuses, social media pages and college notice boards with images of their glossy abodes in an attempt to coerce you into moving away from the safe haven university halls.
The idea of living in town, away from sterile university kitchens, combined with having a sofa to sit on may appeal, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you're the ones winning at the student housing game.
Don't pick too early
Students rush out in mad hoards in the first few weeks of university attempting to snap up the best houses in town, purely because "everyone says you should". But don't get caught up in the hype. If a landlord is telling you five other groups are looking at the same house so you should definitely pay the deposit now, then chances are they're not. If you're not sure about the house for any reason, don't be pressured into signing the contract through fear of missing out, there will always be an alternative.
Don't pick too late
That said, don't leave it until third term as chances are there won't be anything left, let alone anything decent. If there is, it'll be in the slug-ridden, carpet-stained hell hole part of time of town. Give yourself time to look around and really assess the housing market in your area, just don't leave it too late.
Don't pick the fanciest house you see
Most students are easily wowed by leather sofas, hardwood floors and flat screen TVs. But try and think of practicality over panache. My second year house was the epitome of style over substance, black leather sofas (which weren't large enough to seat everyone in the house), shiny black kitchen cupboards (which weren't big enough to hold everyone's food) and excessively large double beds (resulting in your desk being the size of a postage stamp). Think about what you really need from a house, good seating, good storage, a big fridge-freezer, an adequately sized desk and preferably more than one bathroom. Try to look past the shiny surfaces, spotlights and fancy gizmos - think necessity.
Don't pick the cheapest
Again as before, don't go to the opposite end of the scale. If a house is £50 per week, bills included, there's a reason for it. Either it's in a bad area or the house is just not up to scratch. Again refer to the rules above; will it be practical to live in and fill your student needs? Or is it just a cupboard with a mattress and camping stove?
Do pick your future housemates carefully
Someone who might be your best friend in first term may be your worst enemy by the third. Don't pick to live with the first people you make friends with; this goes hand in hand with not rushing into the first house you view. If you meet someone who is clean, friendly and easy-going, live with them rather than your crazy flatmate who goes out every night. You'll be glad of it when you're trying to do your second year coursework and you're living with someone who likes nothing better than coming in screaming at 4am.
Do speak to the previous tenants
Get onto your university forums and Facebook groups and ask around about the landlord and company to find previous or current tenants. Alternatively, ask your landlord for the contact details of the current students in the prospective house. Googling the landlord is another good trick, to see if anything fishy comes up; you'll be surprised what you can find. If you get a bad vibe then run away, and fast.
Do make sure you familiarise yourself with the area
Check out the surrounding area during the day and at night. It may seem like an alright street at 3pm, but by 2am it may not the best place to be walking back to after a night in the SU. Also think about distances, like to the supermarket (priorities) - uphill climbs with your shopping will be a killer after the first few weeks. And to uni, whether it's to the closest bus stop or the actual campus, think about your travel costs and walking distances for those 9ams.
READ THE CONTRACT (and barter if need be)
Once you've decided on the house make sure you read the contract carefully in full, then read it again and again. Pick out every little detail, ask as many questions as you need to, make sure you get your parent, guardian or even university adviser to take a look too. You don't want to miss some small print which will come back to haunt you at the end of the year. The landlord needs to fill the house and if there is something you're not happy with in the contract they may be willing to adjust it to suit your needs.
Do keep written proof of everything
Once in your house, or even during the summer leading up to moving in, keep written proof of every request, question and answer between you and your landlord. If they promise to do something, ask them to send it via email as well, it's impossible to prove anything they have agreed to without written evidence. Hopefully you won't need it, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Finally, the council and the university are your best friends
Again, hopefully you won't need to call on either of them but if you are ever having difficulties with your landlord your university and local council are both great resources for advice. Your SU is likely to have a specific section just for housing issues, with dedicated and knowledgeable staff to help you. Similarly, your local council is also there to provide support, if things get really bad.
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