The Student Housing Panic

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sorting housing was without doubt one of the most stressful aspects of first year for me. We waited, just as all the Guild-endorsed promotions told us too, until after Christmas, and then spent a nightmarish few weeks charging around house viewings, ringing up landlords 24/7 and securing our current residence by pure luck that our email arrived 2 minutes before another interested party’s.

It was not a fun time, least of all because we had no idea what to expect and what we should be looking for. Everyone had different ideas, but we quickly realised we were going to have to collectively lower our expectations. Dramatically. ‘Student living’ is a catchphrase for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy living where I am now (although I think I could be living in a shed and still have a good time with my housemates) but there’s certainly things I’ll be bearing in mind when I go looking for final year housing.  Just because you are probably going to end up somewhere a bit grotty, as is student tradition, doesn’t mean you should be sacrificing all comforts, and it’s best to be as knowledgeable as you can be.

So, from my experience here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re going about choosing and securing your student house:

  • Collectively decide on your requirements/wishes.  Getting together everyone you’re going to be living with and having a good ol’ discussion about everyone’s personal requirements and wishes for the house before you even start viewing is the best way to go. You might have to compromise later on, but it’ll help you make a shortlist out of the vast number of possibilities for housing in Exeter.
  • Living space. Look for a nice kitchen/living room living space. Unless someone has a big bedroom they’re willing to host communal gatherings in, you’ll quickly miss the kitchens and wide corridors of halls. We weren’t a fan of homes where the front downstairs room had been converted into an extra bedroom (as a lot of houses in Exe have done) but as long as you’ve got a big enough kitchen I imagine you’ll be fine.
  • Double glazing. A biggie. No one wants to wake up with a damp duvet because of condensation. Also along this vein, ask about the house’s insulation. It’ll save you a bundle on heating bills.
  • Look for mould/damp. It likes to lurk in the corners of ceilings and under stairs. A little bit won’t harm you for a year, but excessive mould can be a health hazard.
  • Ask about furniture. This was a big one for us- we had no idea how much of the furniture was the property of existing tenants until we moved into a far sparser house than we were expecting.  This leads me onto what I think is my most important point-
  • Talk to the current tenants. Preferably alone. To get a real feel for the house without the estate agent glaze, it’s best to get a chance to chat to the current tenants. Ask how they’ve found the house, if they’ve had any problems with the landlord, how much their bills have been on average. If you’re short on time, ask for a tenant’s email so you can contact them later on with all your questions. Most tenants will be happy to help (we’ve all been there with you) and I guarantee it’ll be the most honest and helpful review of the house you’ll find.
  • Get promises in writing. When it comes to putting your signature on the dotted line, actually read the contract you’re signing up to thoroughly. I’ve heard lots of stories of landlords who on house viewings promised to redo kitchens or bathrooms over the summer, and then never ‘quite gotten around to it.’ If the landlord makes you a promise in person, ask for it to be included in the contract- otherwise they’re not legally obliged to do anything.
  • If in doubt, go to the Student Advice Unit. That’s what they’re there for! Any concerns or queries about your rights as tenants or the fine print in the contract etc, it’s best to check it out with the Uni first.

This might all sound a little doom and gloom, but although I’m sure there are plenty of reasonable and fair landlords out there, it’s best to be aware. Ultimately, they want to sign away their house for the coming year and will be happy to tell a few white lies to do so- but don’t let that and panic about finding somewhere make you rush into decisions.  Where you’re living isn’t the be all and end all but it doesn’t hurt to try and find somewhere nice. So don’t be afraid to ask hundreds of questions, talk to the current tenants and remember the Uni is there to back you up. Best of luck!