Moving house for the first time as a student can be a scary prospect. I remember feeling very intimidated by the prospect and had no idea what to look for or what I was doing! I have now moved 6 times since I started university in 2011, so know a bit more about whats involved. I've put together my advice based on what I have learnt over the past few years and hope you find it helpful!
When it comes to moving house, some students get more help than others. It is essential to be clear about your budget and stick to it. Ask around to find out what the usual rent is in the area, and make sure you aren’t paying over the odds. Set aside deposit money based on this (I’d recommend 6 weeks rent to be safe – just in case!) and do not sign for something over budget relying on overdrafts to help you. Other expenses to consider (which can sometimes all come at once!!!) are; bills (water, gas, electricity, internet, TV), TV license, furniture if you do not choose a furnished property, cleaning products, household essentials such as toilet rolls, bin bags, washing machine tablets etc…and even delivery costs of items such as internet routers and furniture. Personally, I always round up estimated costs when planning ahead, to ensure there is enough left in the pot at the end of the month.
Another expense which can come as a shock to first time renters are ‘letting agent fees’. Whilst these are now being made illegal, you can be charged for signing for properties. Often, it’s unavoidable and you do have to just go with it, but be prepared to spend anywhere from £70-240 per person for these depending on how many of you there are and the agency itself. Overall, bills and rent need to be prioritised, leaving left over money for you to spend at your leisure. Your letting agent is likely to ask for a guarantor, someone that agrees to cover your rent should you fail to pay it yourself. Often this is a parent or guardian, though there are other options available and it is best to contact the letting agent direct to arrange this.
When it comes to finding your first house at university, it is understandable that a lot of people begin to feel anxious and often even a little bit left out. What if no one wants to live with me? What should I do if I’m not in a group yet? In general each year we left house hunting a little later, perhaps because we were more relaxed at this point and used to the process. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend being last minute with this, in general big cities with universities will have plenty of properties coming available throughout the year, so this should not be a stress you allow in your life. Below are a few things you could do if you were struggling to find people to live with:
Suggest splitting up in to smaller groups. There are likely to be more properties available, fewer people to please and it can also reduce the chaos of house hunting. You will likely have a cleaner/tidier living space and a smaller group is probably more conducive to studying during exam time
Spareroom.com is a great website where you can find people in a similar situation. I would recommend meeting anyone from here in a public space, even take someone with you and never give out personal details before meeting
Remain in university halls (if possible) or enquire at the Student’s Union about house-share schemes available
Make use of social media – Post on websites such as Facebook asking if anyone has a spare room or is looking for a ‘buddy-up’! There are often groups of people in the same situation who may feel anxious to admit it
Don’t take it personally. It is common for cliques to form and to feel left out. Don’t let this get you down – easier said than done I know, but you aren’t on your own
Don’t rule out professional house shares – some (not all) letting agents may allow students to join a house of professionals – if you don’t ask, you don’t get
Location, Location, Location
When moving house, it is crucial to be clear on what you want out of the property. With your housemate/s (or by yourself if living alone), draw up a list of things that are important to you. For a large group, listing your top 3 priorities can be a good way of ensuring most people’s essential requirements are met. Think about the following and how important they are to you; location, cost, ensuite facilities, living/dining space, storage (personal and kitchen), how modern/recently renovated the property is, transport links, local shops and amenities, parking (even off road parking), equal sized or a large bedroom and finally outdoor space such as a garden. In second year my priorities were modern, ensuite bedrooms with nearby shops and bars. By final year I wanted to be close to the university and libraries, have a parking space and save a bit of money. Therefore ideally look to share with people after similar things to you, or at least establish early on what you are/aren’t prepared to compromise on.
Now, a little about contracts and what to look out for. It is important to read through the contract carefully before signing it. Check for hidden charges such as compulsory cleaning costs and inventory clerk charges and be clear on what fees you can incur during the tenancy. Ensure you know what is considered the tenants responsibility and what that of the landlord is. This could include things such as repairs to the property (even wear and tear in some cases) and replacement of items such as appliances, light bulbs and carpets. Decide what is reasonable to you and be clear on whether this is represented in the contract. For example I was happy signing to replace my own light bulbs, but not appliances. It is useful to know what day you can move in to the property and plan ahead for this as often your current lease can expire the day before your new one commences. Work out where you are going to store your things or even liaise with the letting agent and see if you can arrange an alternate end/start date of your tenancy.
It is normal for a deposit to be taken by the landlord at the start of the tenancy, usually between 1 month or 1½ months rent. This acts as a safeguard should damage be caused to the property by the tenant. Since 2007 landlords or letting agents which take a deposit from an assured shorthold tenancy need to protect this under something called a ‘tenancy deposit scheme’. This aims to keep disputes between tenants and landlords out of court. In the UK there are 3 companies authorised by the UK government to run such schemes. These are the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS), myDeposits and The Deposit Protection Service (The DPS). When you sign for a property, check the deposit is protected under one of those companies. I would also ensure you know how soon issues have to be raised by the landlord following the end of your tenancy, for reductions to be made from your deposit.
There are plenty of bill splitting websites and apps which can be used these days, some providers even allow separate tenants to pay their portion individually. However, if you’d rather organise bills yourself there are a few ways this can be done. Whether you set up a joint account or trust one housemate with the bills, I’d recommend an agreement in writing that all tenants sign. This should specify dates and amounts of payments, as well as conditions of the agreement between you all. As a house we paid the same amount each month into one person’s account (estimated bills rounded up a little), then all bills were in that person’s name. Whilst it was more pressure on one person, the bills were covered and there was never an issue chasing up money. This does depend on trust to an extent however a written agreement (provided the correct information is included and signed by all housemates) can prevent some problems occurring.
This is something which has certainly caught me out in the past. In our second year of university, a £90 charge was deducted from our deposit at the end of the year for a ‘tubchair’. The footstool in the living room had not been on the inventory and we had assumed this is what was meant by ‘tub chair’ on the inventory. We therefore signed for something that wasn’t there. Moral of the story? Clarify anything you are not sure of on the inventory. On arrival at the property photograph and record all minor details including scuffs on walls, mould, broken items/latches/handles/hooks, nails in the wall, drawing pin and blu-tack marks, chips, scuffs – everything. Email these details including photographs to the letting agent as soon as possible – ideally within 48h, if not 1 week. Therefore at the end of the tenancy it cannot be claimed that you had only just taken these images.
Another thing I would recommend is cleaning the property at the end of the tenancy and taking detailed photographs of the condition the property was left in. We were once charged a £36 cleaning fee for a pea left behind the freezer (I am not joking). I have been charged in the past for rising damp and mould on the ceiling however this fee was then waived once I demonstrated photos of these issues had been sent to the letting agent early on in the tenancy and it wasn’t damage I had caused.
My final recommendation in this area is do EVERYTHING in writing! Even small issues, these must be emailed to the letting agent to protect yourself in the future. For example you may see the agent during a viewing at your property and have an issue to let them know about (such as a broken boiler). Whilst it is sensible to let them know about an issue because they are there and it may speed up the process, do follow this up with a quick email; ‘just writing to confirm that someone will be coming to look at the broken boiler I mentioned to you today…’. This means at the end of the lease you have a written record of all promises, issues and conversations that have taken place throughout the year.
I hope this was useful! Any questions feel free to email me via the 'contact me' section on my homepage.
Dr Bethany Rushworth