Students are notorious for living in pits of hell, the archetypal image of a student house comprising of mountains of washing up, cigarette-burnt sofa cushions and mouldy walls.
But it doesn't have to be this way! You can break the mould and find yourself living in a house that your parents would be proud of – and actually enjoy visiting! Having ourselves experienced carbon monoxide leaks, sluggy sinks, aggressive neighbours and shower mushrooms (to name a few) during our love/hate relationship with student houses, we know what you need to look our for. Here's how to avoid the classic student renting traps.
1.) Remember, there is no rush!
It’s very easy to panic-rent the first house you see. Letting agents like to push students into signing early using the scare-mongering tactic of ‘all the good houses will get snapped up’ – not true! Houses pop up all the time, some even being rented as late as August. Taking your time to sign a contract means that you can really consider whether a house is right for you, also giving you a chance to cement a group of friends that you would be happy living with – so so so necessary if you want to enjoy your time in the house!
2.) Have a checklist when viewing houses
Make sure you have an internal (or external, if you’re into lists) checklist of warning signs that the house may turn out to be a bit of a pit. Look out for mould – often painted over by the landlord but persistent and hazardous. This can pop up everywhere, but especially in badly ventilated bathrooms – there isn’t a lot more demoralising than scraping mould off your bathroom ceiling. Other things to look out for include double glazing (single glazed windows can make a house very expensive to heat), infestations (slugs in sink), broken lights (dodgy wiring) and damp patches – the latter being important if you’d rather not wake up in the middle of the night with water streaming through your fire alarm.
3.) Make sure you know what you want out of a house
Before you view, assess what you want out of a house. Take into account the amount of tenants and how big you need communal areas to be. Are you prepared to pay more for more space? Do you have bikes and need somewhere to keep them – squeezing past 6 bikes packed into the hall on your way back from the pub is a recipe for bruises. Houses with living rooms will cost more, however they are a valuable social space. Basically, imagine what it will be like living in the house, and if it doesn’t offer what you need then don’t take it!
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4.) Go snooping…
A great way of getting information about the house, the landlord and the lettings agency (without it being the gilded waffle you are given by the estate agent), is to ask the current tenants during your house tour. If the landlords or the agency haven’t been doing their duties satisfactorily, or have been downright rubbish, then the tenants will not hold back on telling you their every fault. Same goes for the house – if you want to know about the summer ladybird influx then ask the tenants! They can also give you valuable information about how to keep the neighbours sweet…
5.) Location, location, location
A good location is vital in getting the most out of your property. First off, make sure it is easy to get to or from – either in a convenient location itself or close to a bus route. It is useful to have plenty of amenities nearby, even if it is just for nipping to the shop on a Saturday lunchtime for a Co-op pizza. Check to see if your house has a washing machine/tumble dryer, as if not then having a laundrette nearby is very convenient. Make sure the rent is right for the area, landlords will often take advantage of first-years by offering them a house in a crummy location for the price of one in the centre of town. Finally, try not to irritate your neighbours early in the tenancy as you will have to live with them for the rest of the year and you don’t want them egging your windows.
6.) Create ambience in a beautifully furnished home!
Houses can come three ways – furnished, part-furnished and unfurnished. Depending on how much (and the quality) of furniture that comes with the house, you may have to do a ‘Changing Rooms’ and turn your home into the haven that you deserve. Charity shops, car boot sales, Gumtree and Freecycle are your best friends here, giving you the option to furnish your house for very little – or no – cash. Occasionally you can pick up great items from the side of the road that others are throwing out – super thrifty! In terms of ambience, fairy lights, bunting, wall hangings and flower garlands are all good for turning your living room into a den that you actually want to hang out in. Get a beanbag if you’re feeling excessive.
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7.) Bills, bills, bills
Organise the splitting of bills with your housemates early on to avoid people being out of pocket in the long run. The easiest way to do it is for every housemate to pay a different bill, and have the rest give them their share. Direct debits are the best idea here, as no student/human can be expected to remember three or four different payments a month. It also means that the risk of late payment is lower – you don’t want the water going cold half-way through a shower because someone forgot to pay the gas bill. If everyone chips in it also means that house conflict will be lessened, as it can cause tension when one member of a house is taking all the weight.
8.) Sort out your kitchen
It can be lovely in both a social and financial way to cook as a household – either all chipping in with the cooking or having a rota where a different member of the house plays chef each evening. This also means that you can keep track of your food easier – the majority of it being communal. In terms of food, the fridge should get a weekly sort-out. If you forget something in there and return to it months later, you could easily accidentally breed an alien life form. It is also fairly unsanitary. Cleaning rotas work well, as long as you can fit it around the hobbies and social lives of those involved. Don’t bring kitchen equipment with you, buy it as a house. Otherwise you will end up with six cheese graters and no potato masher. How will you cope?
9.) Stay safe!
Student houses practically have a massive arrow pointing at them saying ‘burgle us, we’re irresponsible’. A few simple safety measures can prevent you becoming another crime statistic. It sounds obvious, but lock the front door and don’t forget to take it off the latch when leaving the house. Always make sure the back door is locked, even if your garden is inaccessible from the road. Keep windows locked and shut when you leave the house – remember that every time you clamber through your window because you forgot your keys, you are showing people how to get into your house. Get contents insurance just in case – sometimes these things can’t be helped. In addition to burglar-proofing, you should also death-proof your house by checking fire alarms regularly and buying a carbon monoxide alarm (very cheap and potentially life-saving).
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