The Do’s and Do Not’s of moving into private housing

‘TIS THE SEASON for students to start deciding whether or not they are going to live in halls or if they’ll rent a place to live next year, either on their own or with friends. If you decide to live in halls, find and talk to people who have lived in those halls before and find out what to expect when you move in. Keep up with any changes the Accommodation Office may make to their agreement packages, and make sure that you’re still okay with any and everything required of you when you are living under a university-owned roof.

If, on the other hand, you make the decision to stay in private accommodation, be it on your own, with friends, or with strangers, there are many things you will need to consider. We’ve come up with a few basic Do’s and Do Not’s for if and when you move into private accommodation, which may slip your mind in your excitement to find the perfect house.

DO:

Talk to your landlords.
Many of the houses aimed at students are privately owned and rented through agencies. If you can get in touch with the people who own the actual house, have a chat with them. They’re the best people to call if something goes wrong in the house, and the better your relationship with them, the less upset they’ll be if you call them at ten in the evening to say your bed-frame just broke. Another positive is that, if you don’t go for the first place you look at, they may have another house which suits you better that you can get first dibs on.

Talk to people you’re moving in with.
Odds are, they’re going to be looking for a lot of similar things to what you’re looking for in a house, but they may have a few other things in mind. This is especially important if you don’t know them very well, as this is an opportune moment to get to know them better. After all, you can tell a lot about a person by what they value in a home. It’s also good to decide on bedroom allocation before you actually move into the house, otherwise you might end up three steps into the house arguing over who gets the biggest bedroom, or the one closest to the front door.

Look at options.
Be it from the same agency, same landlord, or along the same street, you want the place that suits you best. Just because the first house you walk into has a certain je ne sais quoi which rings true to you, doesn’t mean it’s the perfect one. Some similar houses may have significantly different prices or bill payment methods, so find the one which suits you the best before paying your deposit and signing your contract.

Visit the house at least once beforehand.
Sure, most of the details you can get from the people you’re moving in with, and the agency will give you an honest account of the number of rooms, how much it costs, and all the rest of the numbers regarding the house, but you need to see it for yourself to imagine yourself living there. It also means you can get a fair choice in which bedroom you get.

Consider how you’ll get to your lectures.
Just because the house you’ve found is the cheapest on the market, doesn’t necessarily make it the best option for you. One of the most important things to keep in mind when looking for a place to stay is location, location, location. How far is it from campus, from the shops, from the bus station? If you don’t have money for the bus or a taxi, how long will it take to walk to your lectures? And if you’re going to be driving, is there anywhere nearby where you can park your car? These are all important questions that need answers before you pick out where you’ll live.

Make a note of the state the furniture is in when you move in.
Seriously, this will be a godsend when you’re moving out at the end of your lease. Some agencies have a rumoured reputation of clinging to your deposit, so may look for any reason to keep it. One of the easiest ways they can do this is by charging you for damages to the house and the furniture when they inspect upon your departure. By making a note (photographs are ideal) of how everything looked when you moved in, and updating the inventory they gave you when you first moved in, you can ensure that any costs taken out of your deposit are only the ones you deserve to have taken out, and not carried over damaged from previous tenants.

Set up a rota for chores.
This will be a saving grace later on in the house contract. If you set up a rota of who cleans the bathroom, does the dishes, takes out the bins, etc., you can save so much time and frustration over arguing about why there are no clean forks left in the drawer, or why the bins haven’t been taken out in a month and a half, and prevent unnecessary animosity from building up between housemates. Plus, that little bit of structure can really help with the way some people work best.

Learn how to cook.
Even if it’s just the bare minimum of a fry-up, a few other eggy dishes, and pasta, knowing how to cook means you’ll save a huge amount of money in the long run by just buying the basic ingredients. More complicated dishes are for when you need to show off, and could be done as a house project – after all, Christmas dinner is best when everyone’s chipped in for it, so even a little knowledge about how to handle a knife and a spatula can really help your popularity in the house.

DON’T:

Assume it’ll be “just like home”.
Not only is home subjective, it’s also impossible to replicate in student housing. You’re going to have to be completely responsible for everything – rent, bills, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping… there’s not much that your parents will be able to help you with, bar sending money to help with rent and bills when you really need it, and even then, you need to make the responsible choice to spend it wisely on the two months of rent you owe, instead of on those shoes you saw the other day and on a couple of nights out, like you really want to. Being a grown-up is hard, but we have to start somewhere.

Assume nothing will go wrong.
Anything can go wrong at any point in time. Be it your bed breaking when you reach to unplug your phone, or your washing machine suddenly showing previously unknown error messages while leaking water all over the kitchen floor, you need to be as prepared for the worst possible outcomes as you are for the best. Which is to say you need to take the hits, and roll with it like water off a duck’s back, before looking for a solution as calmly as possible. Things are, unfortunately, bound to go wrong at some point, and as long as you remember that it won’t be as hard a pill to swallow when the time comes.

Leave it for the last minute.
The housing market works on a first come, first serve, basis. If you only start looking for a place to stay three months before you need to move out of halls, you’re unlikely to find a place you really like. The earlier you start, the better your chances for finding a place you really like for a decent price, and in an area that suits you. And, the earlier you start, the more places you can see, compare and choose from.

Assume the others are moving in until the contract has been signed.
Your friends may have shown interest in moving in, and they may have liked the house as much as you did, but until you’ve all signed the contract and paid your deposits, there is no guarantee that they will actually move in with you. Don’t hold it against them if they change their mind – they’re well within their rights to do so – but chat with the landlord about if they have any other properties with fewer bedrooms, or any other details.

Assume it’ll be easy because it was last year.
Just because you may know these people, or even lived with them last year, doesn’t mean that things are guaranteed to work out amazingly after you move in. There’s a huge difference between knowing what someone’s like as a person, and knowing what someone’s like as a housemate who is unable to help clean the bathroom.

Forget about the bills.
Some contracts have the bills included in the rent, so it’s not really a thing you need to worry about with those properties. However, some houses require you to pay bills separately, be it only some of the bills or all of them. This means you need to make sure that you’re keeping an eye on how much gas, electricity and water you’re using more so than if your bills were included. You may want to nominate someone responsible to take care of the bills, but make sure everyone in the house knows how to top them up in an emergency. A house bank account may help, and everyone could set up direct debits to this account. This way, all of the bills can be paid from a single account, and people can track when they’ve paid their share.

Forget that your housemates are only human too!
They’re just as likely to forget the little things as you are, and are also susceptible to stress and emotional outbursts. Keep that in mind before you start a house war over the unwashed dishes, and try to keep both an open mind and an open line of communication – if you’re willing to listen to them and help them when they need it, odds are they’ll return the favour when you need it.

Get a pet.
This one may just be a personal thing. I don’t know of many students who are able to keep up with a full time degree, social life, clubs and societies, and still have the time and energy to look after a pet. On top of this, most agencies and landlords have a clause in their contracts stating that pets are a no go. If that’s the case, getting a pet is a violation of your contract, and some more extreme enforcers may either try to kick you out or take it out of your deposit if they find out.