It’s the depths of November. The weather is closing in, deadlines are looming and hall food is deteriorating into mush. And lo! Through the gloom, a chirpy acquaintance from Freshers’ Week whispers in your ear: “Have you not found your house for next year yet?! Oh my goodness! I found mine three weeks ago!”
Within hours friendship groups are torn apart, Lenton is swarming with desperate Freshers and the countdown to Zero Hour has begun – the day, according to your friends, when all housing will be gone (probably sometime around mid-November).
These people are however the people who around October in your second year will be regretting such drastic behaviour. No matter what Unipol, your friends, your halls or even your relatives tell you, there is absolutely no rush to find a house. Instead of signing a binding contract with people who you met a mere month prior, why not wait until the second semester when you have managed to maintain a friendship past the initial highs of your first term?
“The first and most important thing to make sure is that you find the right group of mates to live with”, says Natalie Tomalie of Shields & Co. Student Letting Agency in Lenton. There are countless examples of people who signed early and now barely communicate with their housemates, let alone want to pay for the extortionate rent often pressed upon the early birds in the housing search.
Your mate with the taste in music that leaves a little to be desired, or his girlfriend that seems loud in halls, believe you me, they will be all the louder in the enclosed environment of a suburban house – perhaps they should be avoided in your housing considerations. Equally, your ultra-tidy friend whose OCD tendencies, while quirky at first, may not take so well to your ‘eat first, wash a week later’ ethos.
According to ‘M-S’ and ‘Shields’ , both student letting agencies, the average house price a student should expect to pay is approximately £67 per person, per week. However the range varies from £40 in some of the cheap, less popular areas to approaching £100 for a fully refurbished Victorian mansion in The Park. It is also true that the earlier you try and find a house, the more likely it is that you will end up paying through the nose for a mediocre pad, the likes of which you could find for a much more student-friendly price later in the year.
Quite apart from this, you are far more likely to find a warm reception at the houses you wish to view if you wait until the January exam period has ended. The last thing all second- and third-years want to hear while preparing for their looming exams is the incessant knocking and echoes of “Shotgun not me” from outside; believe us, you will appreciate this next year.
Having said all this we, along with almost all of our friends from halls, fell into this exact same trap last year. The dramas unfolded as we held group meetings to discuss housing, perhaps some of the most singularly awkward situations any of us have ever had to go through. Houses fell through, people fell out, and for a few days an almost Eastenders like quality touched our lives. It is a similar situation for many thousands of people in their first year and something that, looking back, was completely pointless!
Speaking from the experience of having lost my house over summer and starting the process from scratch in early August, I can assure you, it is not, as I was quoted at the time, “the end of the world”. As is transpired my landlord gave my house away to another group of tenants from whom he could make more money, leaving us potentially homeless. But upon looking online it was clear that not only were all the houses we viewed in August cheaper, but they were bigger and nicer than the house we’d lost.
Thus while Unipol dealt with our complaints concerning our ex-landlord, I discovered that some houses aren’t even considered for letting until mid-April, when landlords are dramatically lowering the rent. So lucky for me, this story has a happy ending. A nicer, more centrally located property was found, using the help of a managing agency which is located less than 30 seconds away from the house (so they cannot escape us tenants if there are any house complaints to be made!) Very few if any of you will have to go through this worst case scenario, but it clearly demonstrates that there is no need to hasten into renting a house.
This also shows the importance of making sure your landlord is the genuine article. While Unipol provide guidance, let us impart some of our acquired (and in our humble opinion, far greater) wisdom onto you on dealing with the ever-feared landlord:
1. Get EVERYTHING in writing – make sure that any promises and commitments are signed and dated (in blood if necessary) as many landlords, no matter how pleasant they seem at first, have very little intention of making your life any easier.
2. DON’T buy your house on the premise of the lifestyle created by the landlord’s vivid imagination or its current tenants. Our house was basically a stoner’s den when we first viewed it, so this doesn’t apply to us, however many see the current luxuries owned by tenants and don’t realise that, come August, all of these will be gone.
3. Be prepared with a CHEQUE BOOK and PEN for quick signing in case you happen to fall into your dream scenario of love at first sight and don’t want to be passed over by the keen beans who have already bought your potential landlord chocolates and a holiday in Spain.
4. If you can, try and build a relationship with your landlord (although you don’t necessarily have to buy him/her an exotic trip). He/she will very possibly have to get you out of some sticky situations in the coming months and can provide a valuable lifeline when boilers, pipes, ovens or housemates explode.
5. Check for – burglar alarm, fire alarm, washing machine, dryer, fairly equally-sized rooms, well-maintained furniture and any damage caused by previous tenants which your landlord may suggest you shell out for.
Of course, it is often the case that dealing through an agent removes the need to be so careful when dealing directly with landlords. If you do choose this path, then it removes the need for you to examine in detail every little aspect of your potential abode, but don’t forget the agent’s fees! (You may also get a tour from the agency hottie of the office.)
In short, your chirpy little acquaintances from Freshers’ week may soon not be as smug as they seem at the moment. We advise a short smirk, a toss of the head and the response “I look forward to seeing your overpriced hovel and listening with delight to the stories of your horrendous housemates”. Savour their response. It will give you hours of pleasure in the months to come.
Pros: Amazing location for shops, students and pubs
Cons: Slightly higher crime rate and prices
Pros: Cheaper than average, local shops
Cons: Miles away from town and the hustle and bustle of Lenton.
Pros: Nice neighbourhood area, near the lovely Wollaton Park
Cons: On the opposite side of campus to all other student locations
Pros: Ridiculously close to campus, particularly the hospital for the medic in you
Cons: A long distance from town = expensive taxis!
Pros: Very cheap, quite close to town
Cons: High crime rate, a long way campus
Sam Booth and Laura McKeith