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A guide to renting at university

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Are you ready to rent?

Image by Jenn Vargas via Flickr Creative Commons

For most students in the UK, the first year of university takes place in halls of residence. With your flatmates already picked out for you and a limited choice in location. As such, the struggles of renting as a student are yet to become known. As the prospect of second year rolls around, the pressure of finding a suitable house to rent is on. With so many different factors to consider, it's difficult to know exactly where to begin your search.

Arguably more important than the roof over your head, the people that you are going to be sharing your house with are a major consideration. You may think that you’ve already got a good group sorted, but make sure that you would be comfortable sharing a house. Although you may be good friends with someone, it might still be the case that you struggle to live with them. Perhaps you both have different standards of how clean your place should be. Additionally, if your housemates all have very busy lecture schedules and you don’t, remember to consider that you may be in the house a lot on your own, which can get lonely.

Once you’ve gathered a solid group of mates, it’s time to start browsing. StuRents is a great first place to look, with a vast selection of different sized houses in university areas across the UK. You can also order your selection by price to find something suitable for your budget. Of course, there are other online sites and looking at a variety will help you find a range of potential properties.

It might be tempting to just go with the nicest looking house or even the cheapest, however, the location of your house is crucial. If you’re used to having the luxury of rolling out of bed five minutes before your lecture, then you might want to choose somewhere that’s close to campus. Alternatively, it may be wise to live closer to town and nightlife areas, giving yourself a shorter distance to carry heavy shopping bags or walk home safely after a night out. If living close isn’t an option, either due to availability or budget, then make sure you look up public transport routes to see if there are any buses and where the stops are located.

Generally, student houses are either rented out by private landlords or through estate agents. Sometimes renting from a private landlord can be better because estate agents may charge you an additional – sometimes quite expensive – one-time fee for using their service. However, estate agents can sometimes be more reliable and proactive when it comes to helping you fix a problem in your house.

It is also crucial to go and visit the property – pictures online can be very misleading and often can be photographed in ways to conceal faults or damages. Try and get all of your future housemates to come and see the property so that everyone has a good idea of where you might be living. If you are shown round by the current tenants, then make the most of their honesty as they are not profiting from renting it – ask them important questions, like if there are any disadvantages to the house or how they have found the landlord.

It’s likely that each of your housemates has a different idea of how much they’d like to spend per week on rent. Try to be considerate of other people's budgets, and make sure that everyone is comfortable with the price of the places at which you're looking. If conflicting budgets are a problem, then you could re-calculate the bills yourself, so that the person who takes the smallest room pays a little less each week.

Some houses have ‘bills included’ packages, where your weekly rent will include your electricity, gas, water and wifi. This means that you don’t have to go through the process of setting up your own bills at the start of the year. However, setting up your own utilities isn’t always as much hassle as you might think. Make sure you look at student contracts, which usually offer contracts that last during term time. Watch out for packages that have cancellation fees, where you have to pay a fee (usually around £50) at the end of your contract. Although they can be a bit more expensive than setting your bills up from scratch, there are companies like Split the Bills that help you organise your providers and payments for you.

Whilst it’s important to bag yourself a home that is secure, comfortable and affordable, try to remember that the perfect house doesn’t exist – especially on a student budget. Whether it’s the price, location or another factor that you believe to be most important in finding a place to live, try to come to an agreement with your housemates about what you should prioritise when it comes to house hunting.

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