Den's Guide To Choosing A House!
OK - you have done your first term, moved out of home to campus but realise you will soon have had enough of living in a room in a block with rules about putting up pictures and fines for not cleaning the kitchen and are looking forward to a less boarding school, more independent environment in the real world.
Moving into a shared house is great and we think should give you the independence to have the best, most enjoyable year of your time at Uni.
So what should you be looking for (or looking to avoid) in a student house?
- Location, location location. You will have to travel from the house to campus. A lot. In the cold. Sometimes urgently to meet deadlines. Sometimes late at night. So live somewhere safe and nearby. If you save travel every day for a year, think how much that time is worth to you. If you can walk to the supermarket that's a big plus.
We like Thief Lane as it is a few minutes from campus and right by the supermarket, but on the way to town and near the bus. It is also a nice mixed area with students and locals, mostly semi's and wide roads with parking.
- The House itself: Communal areas matter. No longer do you inhabit just your room - if tenants all lived in their rooms they wouldn't have any fun at all. So go for communal space not just bedroom size. Kitchens and sitting rooms and whichever is the largest bedroom on the floor is where you are going to spend your time. Think about whether you want a large room or a small room which may be cosier and cheaper. If an occupied house is very clean and tidy with immaculate new furniture consider how well you will be able to look after it, how often you will be inspected and how at risk is your deposit.
- Look at outside space. York is warm in the summer and the garden is good for barbecues and even revision. In January you may not care but come the summer a garden is much nicer than a yard. A driveway is a plus, not just if you have a car, but also if you or your visitors have bikes that you would rather not leave in the house.
- Landlord or Agent: Think about what makes a good landlord. Key is attitude, experience and ability to deal with issues. You should get a feel for this from the current tenants and from asking questions. An experienced landlord should have seen everything before and respond quickly and calmly to issues. You don't want a new landlord who is going to be unrealsitic about student life or blame you or charge you. If you or your visitors mess up are they going to blame you and demand money or help you to sort it out? What happens about late rent? Do you get charged?
The best landlords will act as a resource to help you over the year. The worst will view you as a return on investment so will try to avoid costs or pass them on to you at every opportunity. Ask the curent tenants about theirs.
- We think there are two very distinct approaches to managing a student house, leading to two very different experiences. Have a look at our What Makes Us Different page and see what you think.
- Ask about charges for small things eg changing tenants. If there is an admin charge for minor issues then you might reasonably wonder whether the landlord is on your side or just after some extra income at every opportunity. How will this ethos translate into their approach to the rest of the tenancy?
- Maintenance. Things will break. Will the landlord respond? Will they want to help? Who will actually do the work - a qualified person or a handyman or even the landlord themself. Do costs usually get passed on to tenants? What timescales does the landlord expect for repairs? Who has to approve the repair? Typically the voluntary codes of practice (ie best practice) expected 3 days for urgent repairs and 28 days for most repairs.
- How many houses are they looking after? Will your problems be a priority for them? We stoppped at ten because we think any more woudl compromise our ability to respond promptly to problems.
- Deposits. It is entirely likely that you will break some things and make marks on walls and carpets. It is entirely likely that the landlord would be able to justify keeping some of your deposit, if they are inclined to. If the house has paid several thousand pounds of deposit then a retention can make the house rent look a lot less affordable. Try and get a feel for how enthusiastic the landlord is going to be about retaining the deposit. Ask when they have retained deposits last year, how often and what for. We had an agent tell us that if we put up pictures then we would have to pay to redecorate. Nouse (23 Jan 2018) recently reported that 44% of York students lost their deposits altogether in 2014. If the landlord or agent has a habit of keeping deposits you should factor this in at the beginning.
- Fees and Bills. There shouldn't be any fees. Surely admin for contracts and changes should be included? When bills are incuded are they capped or can you actually heat the house? Is WiFi unlimited and is it fast enough?
Best of luck with your house hunting. Ask lots of questions but when you find a good house be decisive. The good ones go quickly, in our experience ours often go to the first group that sees them!