TNS guide to house hunting
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When you decide who you are going to live with make sure you know them on a personal level, not just someone who is great fun on a night out. As much fun as they might be you need to trust them and know they can look after themselves. There will be nothing worse than finding out one or two of your house mates are unable to pay the rent/clean up after themselves, have a habit of eating your food, are late with paying bills and/or are unaware of what a decent sound level is.
Work out your budget
From personal experience of house hunting working out your budget is the first step you should take by setting out how much you are willing to pay each month. A budget helps you when you’re searching for houses because it will be the first question the estate agent asks you and if you don’t know how much you can pay monthly is not only slows the process down but it opens the opportunity for the agent to rip you off. When you walk in unaware of your budget this gives the estate the chance to show you the more expensive houses in hope that you take them and they get more money out of you.
Make sure it’s close to shops and transport
Having a house near a bus or a train stop is essential, because let’s face it, the precious extra few minutes are crucial for us students. The same goes for a decent supermarket in close proximity. It is not only a plus that a shop is mere minutes away but if you end up living closer to a corner shop you will pay over the top prices for your food and it goes without saying how important a budget is to any student.
This is the most essential part of getting a house. As students you have no real income, no credit rating and as nice and honest as you might be, no leg to stand on. For those who are unaware of what a guarantors role is they are a finical back up set in place if/when you are unable to make rent.
There are two types of guarantors an estate agent/landlord require. The first type is a home owner; this is the easiest type of guarantor to find as you will see with the next one. The second, and most common, is someone who earns three times the amount of YOUR yearly rent. I know some people reading this will have no problem with that but keep in mind your friends might not be on the same boat. £15-18K is the typical amount your guarantor needs to earn for them to be eligible for the role. If this is a problem there are some places that offer a collective agreement where everyone’s guarantor is pool together, this basically means that if your guarantor earns £12,000 it's ok, just so long as someone else can cover the extra £3,000.
Trustworthy estate agents
There have been far too many horror stories of people putting a deposit down only to find out that the person they thought was an estate agent was nothing more than a crook that has ran off with £1,000+. The agents working for 21st Century, Foxton’s, Keaton’s and more can be held accountable for any wrong doing and, I use this work lightly, can be trusted.
From a personal point of view I had dealt with some unofficial landlords through paper ads and Gumtree and had a horrible experience. In one case within ten minutes the guy had changed the rent four times, changed the deposit almost every minute and just seemed clueless about everything we asked. So stay away from these if possible.
Ask about bills and deposits before you make a decision
The most important part of the process: paying your deposit and rent. There are a number of ways bills can be paid and this also ties in with living with someone you know personally. Some estate agents want the rent to come out of one bank account, so chose the most trustworthy and sensible person of the group. Others will accept separate payments from each person’s account but don’t bank on it, so if there is someone who is irresponsible with money stay away from them. Bills are tricky as everyone I know who has a house have different payment dates. There are weekly, monthly or quarterly bills so be careful with the heating and hot water until you get your first bill, and remember to budget for the first few weeks or months.
The other thing is to keep an eye on deposits. Obviously there will be one or two without jobs that live on their student loans and will have trouble with paying the deposit before university starts, so save some of your final loan to go towards this. Most deposits are six weeks rent so be ready to pay a couple of hundred each when you sign the agreement.
Make sure to get an inventory
Most landlords will want an inventory before you move in but in the case they don’t mention it, ask for one. There would be nothing worse than moving in, seeing something is broken and being held responsible for it later. If they, for some reason, refuse to take an inventory make one yourself, and print in out with a date.
A get-out clause
The get out clause is great to have for obvious reason. One being that if you find out after a month or so you hate the people you're living with you will have solace knowing that you can leave after six months. Another could be down to money, if you realise that the house is too much or you find a house that suits better again you can opt out of the contract mid-way through.
Some houses will not come furnished so make sure you get a house with at least beds, tables, chairs, couches, so if you have to buy some furniture it won’t be much.
When searching for a house make sure everyone looks. There is nothing more frustrating when only half the group are looking and the rest sitting back. One the plus side though if this does happen there will be no arguments over who gets the biggest/nicest room.
Especially for Londoners make sure to set aside money for travel and food, viewing houses is tiring and between viewing you will need to eat.
Expect knock-backs! I am a second year student living back in halls because we did not plan for this. When you view the house and decide to put a deposit down DO NOT assume the house is yours! My friends and I had struck lucky and found a house where the landlord was willing to hold it for us over the summer break, but sadly a month before we were due back squatters claimed the house and we were back to square one. This meant more call to pretty much every estate agent in London, and for the most part when student was mentioned they said there were no houses available.
When we thought luck was on your side when got knocked back each time, getting knocked back at the final hurdle. Each time we put deposits down we got a call a few hours after with t excuses that ranged from ‘Oh sorry the landlord just informed us he sold the house while you’s were viewing it’ to ‘Sorry the landlord did not know you’s were students’ (Then why let us view the house if he didn’t want students!!!)