Whether it's housing for next year, a room for a placement term or summer accommodation, consider these factors before you sign any contract to avoid those cold nights, mouldy sheets and annoying housemates.
The three most important factors to consider when house hunting? Location, location, location. Do you want to be near campus? Town? A train station? The pub? Whatever it is have a checklist in your head of things you want to be near and find a house that ticks as many boxes as possible. Also bear in mind different locations will have different price ranges. You might want a sea view next to the train station but think about how that might be priced compared to the flat half an hour's walk from campus. Know your budget and be realistic about expectations.
Unfortunately, as students, the chances are you are on a rather tight budget when it comes to well, everything, including accommodation costs. Do some research to get in the know about typical housing costs in the area and work out what you can afford. Discuss with your parents how much you can afford then chat with your housemates and decide on a limit before you start house hunting. There's no point falling in love with the houses you look round if it turns out none of you can afford it.
Depending on the length of your tenancy you could be living with your housemates for a very long time. Therefore, you need to make sure you get along with them and can see yourself living together. Keep in mind that dynamics often change when you are in such close quarters with someone, so is it wise to live with your best friend? You might want to consider living with completely new people and there are loads of groups and websites for house hunters where you can find similar people to join forces with.
4. Safety standards
The quality of a house is something that can easily be forgotten or overlooked by house hunters, especially busy students. Make sure that the house is fitted with a working fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector. Check them yourself to make sure they are working. Consider other safety elements when looking round the house- does the front door have a secure lock? Are the windows downstairs double glazed, especially in the bedrooms? Does the hob have a self-ignition or will you need to use matches? Little details like this can escape your notice, but before you move into a death trap take five minutes to do a check!
5. Mould and damp
For some reason, student houses are notorious for being mouldy and damp, which is delightful. Ideally, you don't want to be moving into a wet-room, so as you are looking round check for mould or damp which looks like dark patches or black specks on the walls, ceilings and window frames. The best way to find out if mould and damp is an issue, even if the house appears to be mould free, is to ask the current tenants. Mould can be easily removed with cloths or spray and a little bit never hurt anyone, but if there is a problem it can lead to sickness. The house should comply with the environmental agency standards which you can check through your university housing office.
6. Double Glazing
It seems to be no matter how high you can afford the heating to go or how many blankets you wrap up in, if you're in a student house it will be permanently cold. One thing that can help is double glazing. You'll feel the draft in winter with single glazed windows. As you look around check the sealing on the windows too- sometimes even if they are double glazed they might have been done ages ago and gaps may have formed allowing a nippy breeze to get in. Also enquire about roof insulation which can make a big difference in the winter.
7. Furnished or unfurnished
Rented houses can either come as furnished properties, which means all the furniture- beds, desk, wardrobes etc- is provided, or unfurnished, meaning you'll need to bring your own. If you already have your own furniture you'll probably want an unfurnished property. However, if you are moving out of halls and don't have any of your own stuff then furnished is probably the way to go. Make sure you check before you sign as you don't want to end up with either two beds or no beds on move in day.
8. Additional fees
Signing for a house can involve hidden charges that suddenly spring on you. For example, a deposit is required for the house which is usually one or two months' rent upfront. You get this back at the end of your tenancy provided you haven't done anything awful to the property. To make sure you aren't charged for damages that aren't your fault, take pictures of the empty house when you move in as proof and get the agents to sign it. Additionally, you may be asked for a holding fee. The house is taken off the market once you have put this down, but bear in mind you will lose it if you then decide to not take the house. Letting agents also charge admin fees on top of the rent and deposits which can be into the hundreds. Keep a record of everything you have paid, need to pay and should get back to stay on top of the situation.
9. Private landlord or agent
Private landlords own the property and manage all of the paperwork and upkeep that comes with tenants themselves. This can be a good thing if you have a nice landlord who is efficient and helpful. However, as they do not have the pressure of an agency it means they can get away with being a bit more lax- for example leaving you fridgeless or boilerless for a week. The majority are probably lovely, but you need to be careful of the few that might try and exploit you. Ask previous tenants before you sign anything. Private landlords can work out cheaper however because you do not have to pay agency fees, something to consider if you are on a tight budget. Letting agencies do come with extra fees however you have more assurance that you are in good hands when it comes to speed of repairs etc, if you are with a reputable agency. Again, ask around to find the best providers as some companies will be looking for an easy ride.
The guarantor is someone who agrees to take financial responsibility for the rent and any other charges for all tenants. A pretty big ask as if your housemate misses a payment you have to cough up, and if you can't, your guarantor does. They also have to be a homeowner. Usually people ask their parents to be their guarantors, but if your parents rent your family home they will not be able to sign it, meaning you'll need to find another person willing to be your guarantor. Usually guarantors don't need to do anything, it's just a name on a piece of paper- but a pretty big responsibility if anyone does miss a payment. Make sure you've got your guarantor before you start house hunting to save time later on.
Written by Anna Pitts, a Marketing Assistant and Online Researcher at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau. Her work involves PR and outreach and writing informative, interesting advice based articles for graduates and students. Follow her on twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.