How to pick a winner and avoid the pitfalls of student accommodation
If you’re scouting for student housing, a few choice questions will get the right property at the right price. Use the answers you get to negotiate the rent or check your tenancy agreement is up to scratch.
Before you go house hunting: print this page, grab a camera, and take everyone who’ll be sharing the property.
1. What’s nearby?
Top of the picks should be a budget supermarket – ideally within walking distance – as that’s where most of your cash will go. A pub (for nights out) and decent caff (for the morning after) are also winners. If you don’t have your own transport, check you’re on a bus route to town and uni, and how much it costs / how long it takes to get to your library, gym or part-time job.
2. What are the neighbours like?
A pub or takeaway next door (or downstairs) might be the dream – but expect disruption at night and weekends. How well the current tenant or landlord gets on with the neighbours can also be very revealing, including disputes about noise or shared spaces.
3. How much are the bills?
If you’re responsible for bills as well as rent, definitely find out which ones! You could ask the current tenants for estimates, though don’t take these as gospel as your usage may be completely different. Asking how costs vary over winter can be more useful, as that’s when you’ll face the largest bills. Look for double glazing or cavity or loft insulation, too, as these should help lower heating bills.
‘All-inclusive’ rent makes life easy, but you could lose out on cheaper bills available through switching. And ask if council tax is included in calculations: full-time students are exempt, so you shouldn’t be paying it!
4. Is the WIFI any good?
Check your phone for data or signal black spots as you look around – especially in upstairs rooms. You may also want to ask who the current broadband provider is, and if the signal is strong all over the house.
5. What’s that on the wall?
Have a good peer around for damp spots or discolouration. Mouldy walls can be a pain to live with and, in the worst cases, can affect your health. Damp patches, meanwhile, could indicate a problem with leaks or ventilation – and that could mean disruption or damage for you later on. Make a note of your findings – ideally with photos – and get a response or action plan in writing from the landlord.
6. What are the highs and lows of living here?
Try to grab a private chat with the current tenants or former residents. Just asking the best and worst things about the property will give you juicy insights, though how quickly maintenance issues are resolved is another valuable bit of info.
7. Has the property been broken into?
Feeling safe and snug at home is hugely important – and can affect the cost of contents or car insurance as well. Look for working locks on windows and external doors, and ask about previous security issues (and what was done to safeguard the property as a result).
8. Does the toilet flush properly?
Firstly, check there are enough bathrooms for the people living there – you don’t want to face time-trials every morning. Then give the loos a flush and turn the taps on and off. This won’t turn you into Mario, but it will show you what the water pressure’s like. If it’s a dribble, mornings may be a challenge if several of you have showers and number twos at the same time.
9. Is my cash safe?
Always play it safe before coughing up for fees or deposit. Be especially wary of being pressured into handing over large sums of money very quickly. Ideally, check before viewing that the landlord or agent is on your uni’s approved list.
In privately rented accommodation, your deposit must be held in a Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme – this keeps your cash safe, and makes it easier to get back when you leave the property. Ask which scheme your landlord is using, then check there’s a record of the deposit.
10. Is there anything else I need to know?
Hopefully at this point you’ll know whether the house, and its owner, are a fit for you. If you’re worried you’ve overlooked something, a broad closing question should help put your mind at rest.
If something’s got your Spidey sense tingling, don’t ignore it. Get advice from you uni’s housing officer, or from Shelter or Citizen’s advice. Keep their contact details to hand, too, as their info will come in handy throughout your tenancy.
For more information on this subject, take a look at our student renting guide.
Guest blog written by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student – the UK's largest student money advice site.