One of the most stressful things in your first and subsequent years is the search for accommodation. The quick start guide below gives you a rough idea of what to look for.
Much of this page was taken from FindaProperty.com
Before You View
If it's possible, try to go to a property viewing with someone else (your parents can be really handy here) even if it's just you renting. Not only is this safer but it also means a second opinion, and an extra pair of eyes to pick up on any flaws you may not have noticed.
Make sure you are aware of what you're going to view. You should clearly state your requirements before wasting your time on a pointless viewing. A key point here is to ask if the property/surrounding property you are viewing lets to DSS (Department of Social Services) tenants and work out if you will be happy with this.
As an extra precaution, particularly if you're renting from a private landlord rather than a letting agency, tell a third party where and when you're meeting, and when you expect to be home.
The Viewing Process: Take your Time
Don't let anyone try to rush you through a viewing. In the current high-demand rental market, this is probably your only opportunity to judge the place, so take your time and ask any questions that spring to mind.
Try and speak to your neighbours if possible. Ask if how they find the area, have they ever had any noise problems etc. Most importantly of all, introduce yourself so you both have a better idea of each other.
It's a good idea to be as prepared as possible before you view a property. Draw up a check list to take along: this may save you from getting so carried away by the wow factor wet room that you forget to look at the wiring.
Remember, when you view a rental property, you're generally agreeing to take it "as seen" - meaning that the landlord or letting agent is under no obligation to change anything once the lease is signed.
So, beware: if you're unsure about the heliotrope walls during an initial viewing, think carefully before agreeing to live with them for the next six months.
More crucially, if you didn't bother to test the water pressure or pay attention to the immediate vicinity, there's not a lot you can do about it once you've signed on the dotted line.
The Local Area
Try and show up slightly early to allow yourself a look around and feel for the neighbourhood, and of the exterior of the property itself.
Hoodie Haven? Is the general area well-lit? Does it look like a well-populated and safe environment or would you feel isolated and vulnerable?
Local Amenities: How close is your nearest shop, park, bus stop, cash-point, garage etc, and, where relevant, are their opening times suitable?
Parking: If you're a driver, how easy is it to park in the area? Are you likely to have to park far from your front door? Is it a safe place to leave a car?
Public Transport: How far is the nearest stop? Will it be a safe route to walk in the dark? How frequent and reliable is the service and does it operate in the evenings and at weekends? How much is a weekly ticket - have you factored the commuting cost into your monthly outgoings?
What are the neighbours like? If they are students you are likely to be able to get away with having a house party every so often. Obviously the reverse applies as well.
External Matters - The Property
The Roof Over Your Head:
Check the condition of guttering and roofing - as much as is possible short of turning up with a ladder. Are the gutters firmly attached? Can you spot any loose slates on the roof?
Doors and Drains: Look at the state of drainpipes, and the outside of the door and windows for an overall impression of building maintenance.
Peeling Paint? Avoid anywhere that needs a lot of repair work - this suggests an unreliable landlord.
Garden To Care For? Is the garden tidy and well-kept? Great, if it is - but who is responsible? If it's you, are you capable of doing it? If it's not you, is the cost included in your rent or will you be expected to pay extra to maintain it?
Landfill Site? Are there proper bins or is the entrance strewn with rubbish bags - not only is this unsightly but it can be a magnet for birds or cats to attack, depositing the contents all over your doorstep; worse still, it can attract vermin.
Desolation Row? Are the houses nearby in good repair? Avoid, if possible, moving next door to anywhere that's covered in graffiti or has boarded-up windows.
Interior Issues: The Properties overall condition
Check for signs of damp in all the rooms - typical signs are a musty smell, loose wallpaper, flaking paint and mould spots.
Rat Trap? Look for any signs of infestation such as mice droppings, traps or poison baits - don't forget to check for this in ground floor cupboards.
Flat Or Fridge? Is there central heating, and do all the radiators work? If the property doesn't come with central heating is there an alternative source such as storage heaters/electric heating? Bear in mind this will probably be more expensive than gas central heating.
Rattle And Hum? Is there double glazing? If not, this may cause higher heating bills, and will also be a noise factor if the property is on a busy road. Similarly, enquire about roof insulation - without it, your heating bills will be higher.
Decent Décor? Are the general decorations - paint, wallpaper, carpets, floorboards - in a reasonable enough condition for you to live with? If not, would you be allowed to carry out any decorations?
Will Your Stuff Fit? Is there adequate storage space in the property? Does the kitchen have enough surface & storage space for your needs? Is there room in the bedroom for anything other than a bed, and if not, can you cope with this?
Does the flat have smoke alarms? Can the landlord vouch that they are in proper working order (keeping the batteries charged will be your responsibility once renting, however).
Escape Routes: Do you have adequate escape routes if there is a fire? Do you feel confident that you could get out - from all floors of the property, if applicable - should there be a fire?
Fire Fighting: Are a fire extinguisher and fire blanket provided? Although not mandatory, it would be a good indication of a conscientious landlord.
Security - Safe as Houses
Does the building seem secure from the outside? It's worth thinking how you'd get in if you'd left your keys inside - if it's easy for you, it's easy for a burglar.
Alarmed? Does the property come with a burglar alarm? If not, are there any objections to you installing one?
Main Entrance: Is the front door solid enough? Does it have a door-chain? Would you feel secure once you'd locked it for the night?
Good Locks? Are there enough locks? Are they firm and in good condition? If it looks as if there are actually too many on a main door, enquire about it - this could be an indication of several attempted break-ins.
Secure Windows? Do the windows have locks, particularly on the ground floor? Are they secure and tight? Can you feel a breeze through them?
Outside Lighting: Is there adequate outside lighting? Would you feel secure getting from the front path to the inside of your home?
Electric Shocks - Wiring
Is the wiring in good condition? Look out for any fraying or if it looks particularly old. Are there enough plug sockets for your needs or would you be running the risk of overloading the existing sockets?
Dodgy Plugs? Check that the plugs don't overheat when switched on or don't have yellowy stains.
Working Lights? Switch on all overhead lighting to check that it works.
Appliances Working? If appliances such as a fridge freezer or oven are included, check that they work.
Electricity and Gas
By law, all landlords have to carry out annual gas safety inspections with a CORGI registered engineer and provide tenants with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate.
Gas Attack? Gas appliances can carry the risk of carbon monoxide - test for this by ensuring that flames burn yellow or orange rather than blue, and look out yellow or brown stains on or around appliances. Some landlords provide carbon monoxide detectors but this isn't (yet) a legal requirement. You can buy one yourself for less than a tenner.
A fixed wiring cert is needed for all properties to be let to 4 or more people. Below this, there is no obligation for wiring tests.
Any appliances provided by landlords should have a current PAT Test sticker on the plugs or a cert in the property file.
Run all the taps (this also applies to the kitchen), flush the toilet, and turn on the shower to check the water pressure is in good working order - you want a strong, steady flow of water - and check that there is hot water from the hot tap.
Down The Pan? Make sure the toilet doesn't leak, and the bath and wash basins aren't cracked.
Well Sealed? Check for clean and undamaged sealant around the bath or shower.
Bathroom Or Sauna? Is there a window or de-humidifier in the bathroom? If not, ventilation and damp may be an issue.
If you are renting a furnished property, check exactly what items of furniture will be included.
Check The Condition: Make sure you try out the bed, the sofa, the chairs, and check any other substantial pieces that come with the flat - if anything is broken, wobbly, or stained, either ask for a replacement or have the extent of the damage written into your inventory, or you could find yourself paying for someone else's carelessness.
Is the furniture fire retardant? This is a legal requirement of the Fire and Furniture Regulations 1988 and furnishings should be clearly labelled to show that they meet standards.
Pots And Pans: Some furnished flats provide crockery, cutlery, saucepans etc - again, check that this is in a good enough condition for you to use, and before you sign an inventory, ensure that the correct number of items are listed.
Making it a Home
Your Own Stuff?
Can you put up your own pictures or bring in furniture of your own?
Furry Friends? Are you allowed pets, big or small?
Only Magnolia? Are you allowed to change any of the décor? Within reason ie no zebra-striped walls, for example, many landlords are happy for a tenant to do this as it can increase their chances of re-letting afterwards but you will need to seek permission first.
What's Allowed? It may also be worth clarifying if there are any other no-nos that you should be aware of before making your decision - it'd be annoying to discover too late that your particular landlord had a ban on barbeques or an aversion to garden furniture.
Keep it Real
Paul Weller, Managing Director of Leaders, independent lettings specialist, says: "It's important to be clear about exactly what is important to you, and to be sure your requirements are realistic.
"Figures taken from a recent survey of our tenants show that almost half (46 per cent) viewed no more than three properties before choosing the one they currently live in, with a significant number (12 per cent) choosing the first property they saw without viewing any others.
"These people were all clear about their priorities - be they location, parking, size of rooms or quality of fixtures and fittings.
"However, viewing figures tended to be higher, for example ten viewings or more, when people were looking for an unrealistic combination of features, such as properties with high quality fixtures and fittings in good locations but for low rents."
And Andrew Berry, managing director of haart residential lettings, agrees that preparation is the key to finding the right rental home:
"Potential tenants looking for properties to rent should go armed with a mental check list of things to look out for and questions to ask.
"Typical things to look out for during a viewing include whether the front door has a fob and a latch lock, how secure the windows are, visible or covered over patches of damp, and the state of repair of the kitchen and bathroom.
"As with buyers looking to purchase a home, we would recommend that the tenants visit the property more than once and at different times of the day to check that they are happy with the area."
Are they approved by your university. Your accommodation office should have a list of approved agencies or a list of agencies that are generally approved by the university. If the Agency or Landlord appears on their blacklist then do not deal with them. It will be worth it in the long run.
Check over your contract with your university accommodation office. Many will provide a service where they analyse the contract. If you have any queries, do not feel afraid of asking the landlord/agency or popping into your student advice centre/accommodation centre.