As first year is drawing to a close (eek!) you may be thinking about moving into a rented flat with your friends. If you haven't already, and aren't too bogged down with revision, now's the time to get started!
When to look?
At some universities and cities, looking for a rented flat traditionally starts early, as early as January, while other unis leave it much later. However, even if you feel as though you've missed the boat, there are always plenty of properties on the market and generally a steady stream of properties throughout the year.
Before you start looking you need to find some flatmates! Most people have a close group of friends they'd like to live with and the majority of students live with two to five other friends.
Where to look?
Your university accommodation office should have a list of places to recommend to you. Their properties will be owned by accredited landlords meaning that the properties are managed in line with agreed standards.
If your accommodation office doesn’t have anything suitable or that catches your eye you can register your interest with local letting agents. There maybe something in the window that catches your eyey, but if not, go in and explain your situation - where you would like to live, how many bedrooms you want, and your price range - and they will get in touch with you whenever they have a suitable property. Make sure that the letting agents are accredited by the National Approved Letting Scheme or that they belong to a trade body such as the Association of Retail Letting Agents or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
If you still can't find anywhere, or on top of your other searches, you can look independently via websites such as AccommodationForStudents and Rightmove Students. Once registering, if you find a flat or house suitable you can contact the agent to arrange a date suitable to look around it.
Setting your criteria
You and your friends will have certain criteria you want from the property. Before you start visiting you may want to devise a list so that you can refer to it when you are looking - it's especially useful if not all of you are able to view the property before you sign the lease. Your criteria might include:
Does everyone need to have a double bedroom or will some sacrifice a double room and pay less rent? If you are willing to compromise with your bedrooms you'll have more options.
Do you want a separate living room or a kitchen which you can also sit around in?
Between you how many bathrooms, toilets or showers would you like?
Where would you like to live? How near to the university or town would you like to be? Is the location safe? Can you walk home from a night out? Most of you will probably be looking in the typical student area, but between you you might have to walk to different campuses and might want something that's a compromise between you.
Do any of you need a car parking space and is there one outside or that comes with the flat?
How much are you each prepared to pay (this will depend on your location and the quality of the flat and you need to decide between you what’s more important). You might also choose to split the rent in unequal ways depending on the size of the rooms.
Looking around the property
Before you sign any contract or agreement you'll want to see whether the flat or house you've chosen actually fits your criteria. This means that you have to arrange a date with the agents to look round the property. It's likely that you won't all be able to view the property, so take a camera with you so you can take photos for the others to see. For safety reasons always view the property with a friend.
If you've got any problems, don't hesitate to ask questions.
You need to refer to your criteria, while you also want to look out for:
Dodgy sockets and appliances
You don't want to live in a flat with the chance of waking up and being electrocuted.
Are there enough between you? For example, if there are six people is the fridge and freezer big enough? Is there enough cupboard space?
Disrepair and dampness
Student accommodation can be known to be very messy - students often leave food out which can lead to mice, while you also want to check for dampness. How well-maintained is the flat or house?
Is the furniture and all the fixtures and fittings included?
Does the property have fire alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets? Is it situated on a well-lit and safe road if you are planning to come back late on your own? Are there locks for the doors and windows?
After the viewing
If you like it, let all your friends know about it as soon as possible so you can get the ball rolling. You'll then need to:
If you all agree let the agents know that you are interested in renting out the property as if you don't someone will there before you.
If there is more than one group of students wanting the same property if you are polite the landlord and agents will be more willing to choose you as they feel you'll be less hassle throughout the year.
If you like the flat but want the landlord to increase fixtures and fittings or make any repairs (for example fixing a damp patch) let the letting agent know to make sure they will agree to these before you move in. Make sure the works are written in your contract. If the landlord doesn't agree to your requirements, and you feel they are important, turn the property down and look somewhere else.
Understand the costs
Work out how much the property is going to cost you as well as how much the deposit and agents fees might be, as well as how long the contract is.
If you are happy, sign the tenancy agreement!
If you don't all agree to the property, contact the agent and let them know you are still looking. Here's to starting the process all over again.