Student Guide: Finding and securing property

Rule 1: Don’t Panic.

Many agents & landlords (and sometimes the University) will try to rush you into making a quick on-the-spot decision e.g. ‘if you don’t do this right now you will end up homeless next year’. It is true that if you sit around and do nothing, you could miss-out on the better properties. However, as long as you are pro-active and diligent you can give yourself every possibility of finding a suitable home for next year.

Rule 2: Select your house-mates carefully.

It is important to get to know these people outside of the student’s union bar! It is not always the people you enjoy going to the pub with that are going to make the best house mates. Importantly, you need to trust these people: you are going to be signing a ‘joint and several contract’ with them! This means that if, for any reason, one of your group cannot make their payments (e.g. because they have decided to leave University or they are not good with money) the rest of the group must make the payments on their behalf. This cost could be £1000’s of pounds. Therefore, make sure you know and trust your potential house-mates well.

Rule 3: Check guarantors.

Make sure each member of your group has a guarantor ready to sign documents. A guarantor is a person (or company) who makes a legal promise to be responsible for a debt obligation of a borrower, i.e. they pay the bill if the borrower/tenant defaults on payments.

Rule 4: Get organised.

Different letting agents and landlords will market their properties at different times, so make sure you are aware of when their lists are due out. Some will have already started; some will not bring them out until December or January. Also, there will be properties on the University Privet Sector accommodation list Database from November through to and June. Be organised and book your viewings!

Rule 5: Ask questions.

To help you compare properties, have a brief set of questions to ask at each property you view. There is a lot you need to know and isn’t always in the marketing material for the property. Aberystwyth University private accommodation guide has some useful forms/ prompt sheets that you can take with you to remind you.
Here are some basic questions to compare properties:

  • How much is the rent?
  • How much is the deposit?
  • What’s included in the rent? (Water, gas, internet?)
  • Is there an application fee and if so how much? (this can be anything from £10 to £100 each)
  • How long is the contract for? (12/10/6 months?)
  • Is there any reduced rent during the summer? (If so can you still store items at the property?)
  • When is the rent payable, per week/per month/per term?
  • When does the contract start?
  • Which deposit scheme is the deposit protected under? (There are three types of deposit scheme: DPS, TDS or MyDeposits. Every deposit has to be registered. Registration with any of the three schemes will protect you and help you get the deposit back at the end of the  tenancy.)
  • Ask to see the Energy Performance Certificate. You have a legal right to see the EPC of the property this will tell you what the expected energy costs will be and how green/energy efficient the property is. Remember to look at the date it was done as energy costs have gone up lots so you will need to adjust the figures to reflect this.
  • Ask to see the House of Multiple Occupancy certificate. The HMO will ensure that the property is safe; it will mean that it has been inspected by a housing officer and that all the correct safely certificates have been issued on it. Every property that has three or more unrelated people in it has to have one of these. If the property hasn’t got a HMO certificate then chances are it’s not up to standard.
  • Ask to see the agreement you will be asked to sign and read though it! This is like any other contact it will tell you what you will be expected to do and what you can expect the landlord to do.
  • Ask about the procedure if there is a maintenance issue at the property, who will you contact? Is the landlord a builder or workman, or do they have workmen? This will tell you how long you are likely to have to wait to get things fixed anything breaks-down.

Rule 6: Look carefully.

Remember properties are rented ‘as seen’. This means that it is rented as you see it at the viewing. Once you have signed the contract, you have made a promise to rent the property: tough-luck if you have chosen a property that doesn’t suit you! Therefore, look at the property with a critical eye. Does it have everything you need? Look at the decoration, can you live with it? If the bathroom does not have a shower, or the lounge has a leather settee, can you live with that? If not, select another property because landlords have no obligation to change anything for you. If the landlord or agent makes promises (e.g. ‘we will be repainting this’ or ‘this carpet is being replaced’) then make sure you get these statements in writing before you sign a contract. You will be amazed how forgetful landlords and agents can be. For example, six months later when you are moving in and that dirty carpet is still there, and you get the response “no, we would never have promised to replace that!”; without it in writing, you have to put up with the dirty carpet for the whole year!

Rule 7: Check everyone is happy.

Make sure everyone in your group is happy with the decision about the house – including any thoughtful or quiet members of your group! It is best to ‘sleep on it’, i.e. take 24 hours to think about it, and have a chance to talk to your guarantors to make sure they are happy with the decision as well.

Rule 8: Act promptly.

Contact the landlord to say that you would like the property, and ask so sign a contract. Have the deposit ready (cash is normally needed). Sometimes you might need to pay a ‘holding fee’ or ‘application fee’. This might hold the property for you whilst the landlord (or their agent) runs some reference checks on you (and possibly on your guarantor as well). If they have asked for references, make sure that your referees write these as quickly as possible. If your guarantor needs to fill in a form, check that they have received the form, and are completing and  returning it promptly. With a few days, call the landlord and ask if they have everything they need. If not, chase up the missing documents – otherwise the landlord might decide to offer the property to someone else!

Rule 9: Check your deposit certificate.

Within 14 days of paying the deposit, your landlord should has been registered properly. To check it has been registered properly, look for telephone number (or web address of the scheme that is being used) and telephone them (or log onto the website) to check it truly has been registered. (Not all landlords are honest about this.)
Once you have signed that contract that is it: the property is yours and you can be reassured that you will have a home for next year. Keep in contact with the landlord – and your house mates – so that you all know when you’re going to be moving in.

The Courier would like to thank 1 Stop Lettings (Aber) Ltd. for compiling this list of tips.