student guide to renting a flat

So I’ve just moved into my new student flat that I’m sharing with three others girls…it wasn’t too difficult to find a flat, but we were all a bit apprehensive about where to actually start. So I’ve decided to put together a wee guide on the things to look for when trying to find a flat to rent.

Decide what you all want from the flat

You need to all sit down together and create a list of “needs” and “wants”. In the end a student flat isn’t going to be amazing, so you all need to be aware that you’re not necessarily going to be having laminate floors and bouncy carpets (although there are a few flats out there that are really nice!). Things like “furnished” would probably go under “needs” as it is going to cost a lot of money if you all have to buy your own bedroom furniture…most flats are furnished. Things like “double bed” is a “want” because even though it’s nice to have, ultimately, any bed will do.

Decide on a budget

This is essential. You should probably even do this before step 1. We have a 4 bed flat in the West End of Glasgow (which can be quite expensive) and we pay £1200 (£300 each) a month, NOT including bills (so factor this in…we pay about £40 each a month for heating, electricity and internet – remember, council tax doesn’t apply for students, but you do need to fill out a form to exempt yourselves from it, otherwise you’ll get charged. Contact your local council for more info). Student halls are usually more expensive than living a flat because you have everything included. Look around and you’ll get the general idea of how much you’ll be paying. It differs from area to area too, so bare that in mind. Work out what you can afford while thinking about everything else you’ll need to pay (bills, food, nights out, uni books etc). Likelihood is, if you’ve been paying for students halls you shouldn’t have many problems affording a flat. Do the maths first, though. Do NOT go over your budget, even if it’s only £10 each – that’s £10 less a month you’ll have for bills etc.

Start looking for flats with a HMO license 

Use websites such as Gumtree (that’s where we got ours!) because that’s where private landlords post their flats. The more description in the ad the better, because you know it’s more likely to be genuine. There’s always going to be a risk of a flat/landlord being dodgy, but hopefully you’ll realise that before signing anything. Trust your gut instinct. For students living together, you need to have a HMO license. I’m not entirely sure what it’s all about, but all I know is it’s essential. Something about more than two non-related people living together…google it and it’ll tell you everything. I’m also not sure if that differs in England/Ireland, so check that too. If you know you need it, do NOT be tempted to go for a flat that doesn’t have it, because if you run into difficulties it’s going to be a lot of hassle to sort. My advice is to not even consider non-HMO flats so you can’t “fall in love with them”. My advice is to also get a flat through a private landlord, and not an estate agency. The first flat we viewed was listed through Gumtree, but when we went we realised it was all being sorted through an agency, and they were going to charge us “admin fees” if we decided to go for it. I don’t just mean twenty quid, either. They were asking for a couple of hundred quid for general processing fees, which is frankly, ridiculous. Someone told me it was illegal, but I’m not sure about that, anyway. Also, be aware of the location you’re looking in. If you’re not sure about it, keep an eye out when you view the flats for any obvious signs of crime. Ask around friends too, and use the internet.

Contact landlords and set up viewings 

Make a list of lots of flats you want to have a look at. Maybe find two each and take responsibility for contacting your two about viewings. Phoning is better rather than emailing or clicking the link on Gumtree, as I don’t think I got even one email response. I hate making phonecalls, so did another girl I’m sharing with, but it’s something that you need to do, so just get on with it. Make sure you know the exact address and time of your viewing and make sure at least two of you are available to view it. We were arranging them around uni, so sometimes one of the girls couldn’t make it. If this is the case, take a camera and ask the landlord if they’re okay with you taking photos. Go crazy…take photos of the beds, desks, all the furniture that comes with it, and anything that is broken/mouldy so you can decide together whether it’s too much to be fixed and whether you’d be better off going for a different flat.

Be aware of things to look for in the flat that could be deal-breakers

  • Mould (a lot of flats we viewed had mould in the bathroom, because they obviously get very damp, but that’s still not good…the flat we ended up with does have mould in the bathroom, but it’s a manageable amount. You shouldn’t be able to see mould in any other room, if you do I’d suggest ignoring that flat and finding a new one…it can cause a lot more problems down the line)
  • Locks – You need to make sure the locks on the flat door are secure. If not, ask what the landlord is going to do about it. Our flat has bolt locks on the bedroom doors too, so you can lock it from the inside – but that’s just for privacy reasons, really. Not security. Consider the area you’re looking in, ask around (even ask the other people in the building!) about crime levels.
  • Obvious broken things/things that need replacing. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but you need to see if the landlord is prepared to fix them. If not, leave. If he is, make sure you write down what he says he’ll do and hang onto that list until you move in. Take photos to match up with it too, so you can refer back to them later. We’re currently in a bit of a battle with our landlord to clean our flat and fix some things – I’m sure he’ll get it done, but it’s taking a long time and we’ve been paying rent for a flat that essentially, is a bit of a mess. If there’s too much wrong with the flat, leave. There’s no point risking a battle with the landlord just so you have a flat to live in.
  • What’s included in the price? You MUST ask this. You might be lucky and get bills included but that’s rare. Make sure you know exactly what furniture is included and what isn’t, so you know what you might have to provide yourself. Write all this down too, you can refer back to it later if needs be.
  • Check the windows for drafts. Very important, as you want to be able to trap as much heat as possible (cheaper for you!) and not have cold air coming in, especially in winter. Also note noise levels in the bedrooms and the general temperature of the flat. If you’re viewing the flat from March-September and it’s cold, I wouldn’t bother. It’s likely to be 100x colder in Winter!

When you work down your list and have maybe one or two flats you really like, organise a second viewing. Try and arrange the viewing for the other end of the day to the first time you went (i.e, if you went in the morning, go at night, and vice versa). This is so you can see the area at both times of the day, be aware of local people and crime, noise etc etc etc. All common sense things. If you don’t feel safe, don’t bother with the flat (but don’t just walk away from the viewing – that’s just rude!).

Make a decision and sign the contract

It’s very important to work quickly. Try and cram as many viewings into one or two days as possible so you can see all the flats at once and make your final decision within a day or so. Rented flats go fast – it’s literally just a case of saying “yes” to landlords (sometimes they do names out of a hat, one of the landlords said he was going to do that for a flat we viewed, so you’re in less of a rush if that’s the situation). When you find the right flat, sit down together and make sure you’re all 100% happy with it. If one person is apprehensive, find out why and see if there’s a simple solution. Otherwise, you might have to rethink. When you’re ready, contact the landlord and say yes. Organise a time for meeting to sign the contract. At this point, reconfirm anything he said about fixing/cleaning so you know he’ll definitely do it.

Read the contract really carefully. Ours was really big and we felt bad for making him hang around, but ultimately, it’s your money so you need to be 100% sure of what you’re getting. General things in the contract will be keeping it clean, no excessive noise, no drugs/smoking/pets etc. Once you’re all happy, get it signed and if possible, get a copy each (if anything, get one to stay in the flat for reference). Our landlord asked for the deposit as we were signing it, which we weren’t expecting. Luckily I had an overdraft, and the others had just got their student loan, so we were able to pay straight up. If you’re not in that position, try and get the money asap (get your parents to transfer it and then pay them back if needs be) and get it to him/her within the next day or two if possible. Negotiate with him/her.

That’s it! You have a flat 🙂 You’ll get the keys when your lease starts. Try and get in asap to visit it again and take photos of everything again. Do this again when the landlord has fixed things so you have a reference point to go from if he/she turns round and says “you broke this, I’m not giving you the deposit back”. Take a meter reading too while you’re there. The electric company usually needs this to work out when the old people moved out, and you moved in, so you’re not paying old bills…or something…make a note of it anyway :p

Organising companies and bills

As I mentioned earlier, council tax doesn’t apply for students, and this includes your water bill too. So ultimately, all you pay is heating, electricity, internet and TV license (if you decide to get one). Spend some time online, ask around at what other people are doing and work out what is the cheapest. For internet, I wouldn’t go for anything other than unlimited usage, as students are always going to be using skype/tv catchup/youtube which eats up data like nobodies business. You can get a lot of cheap, unlimited deals. We’re with TalkTalk and pay something like £3.50 for unlimited internet but with the phone line too, it comes to about £17 (about £4.50 each a month). In our contract it says we have to have a landline phone for emergencies, so our deal includes free evening and weekend calls. It’s just a case of providing your details and choosing an installation date and they’ll guide you through the rest. Same for heating and electricity.

Think about setting up a joint account for the rent and bill money to go into, so it’s easier to work out. Put a board up in the kitchen with a breakdown of the bills and when everything is due. Put one person in charge of sorting the bills (someone who isn’t likely to forget to pay them!). Someone else can be in charge of contacting the landlord for anything, and someone can be in charge of cleaning (buying cleaning materials, sorting a rota out, etc).

A TV license works out about £3.50 each a month if we pay it monthly. About £30something if we pay it in one go. Ultimately quite cheap, though.

At this point make sure you’re contacting the council to find out how to get the forms for council tax exemption.

Don’t ever feel bad about contacting your landlord if you’re not sure of anything. In the end they’re getting crazy money from you every month, so the least they can do is help out when you need.

Extras

Think about any extras such as bus passes/money for food/railcards etc. It all adds up. I would spend about £30-40 on a big fortnightly shop, and maybe about £15-20 on the weeks in between for the basics (bread, milk, toilet roll). If you live close enough to be able to walk to uni, I’d recommend it. It’ll save you around £3-4 a day and you’ll feel better for it.

I wish someone had done this blog post for me six months ago…would have made life so much easier! Hope it helps you when you’re looking for your flat too!

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my bucket list of baking

Since so many lovely WordPressers are posting amazing recipes at the minute, I’ve decided to write a “Baking Bucket List” of things to bake throughout my next year at uni. Sharing with four girls and having a boyfriend who will literally eat huge quantities of everything and anything means I can pretty much get away with baking whenever I want, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to.

So here are some of the things I desperately want to make, courtesy of WordPressers (and some others):

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge thanks to Sally’s Baking Addiction

Fudgy Cookies and Cream Oreo Brownies  thanks to Sall’s Baking Addiction

Sea Salt Caramel Sauce thanks to Modern Mrs Cleaver (I had something very similar to this in a restaurant recently, it was served with a kind of thick dark chocolate mousse and an orangey flavoured custard type thing (it had a name but I can’t remember)) DELICIOUS

Vegan Zucchini Apple Muffins (Gluten, Dairy and Sugar Free – I plan on making these for my early morning breakfasts before uni!) thanks to Deliciously Ella

Party Rings thanks to Butcher, Baker (because I could literally sit my way through ten packets of party rings in one go and not feel in the slightest bit guilty – if I could make my own, that would just be heaven!)

Mince Pies thanks to Butcher, Baker (for Christmas time!)

Cinnamon Buns (no yeast) thanks to Sally’s Baking Addiction

Skinny Peanut Butter Brownies thanks to Sally’s Baking Addicition

Nutella Stuffed Cinnamon Sugar Muffins thanks to Sally’s Baking Addiction…

 

…Can you tell I’m a fan of Sally’s Baking Addiction?!

only a week till i move back to glasgow!

And it can’t come soon enough! I am so so excited and have my last shift at work on Tuesday. I’m nearly all packed and counting down the days!

This last week I’ve been away visiting Pete at his home and we also spent a few days up in Glasgow as he’s renovating his flat. We didn’t take many photos but we did loads of stuff…the weather was really great (SUN!) so we had BBQ’s and went to the beach and ate ice cream etc etc. It takes about nine hours on the train (including waiting in Glasgow for the train down south) but luckily Pete was able to pick me up from one of the earlier stops which saved a little bit of time. We ate out at a really cute little Italian restaurant in his town called Aroma with his mum and sister, then went to a pub quiz after (which we didn’t lose!). I love the area he lives in…it’s very close to the borders and England so all the villages remind me of the quaint little English villages I was brought up with:

The next day we took the car out to Cream of Galloway – where they make the ice cream and have a wee outdoor adventure park and bike/walking routes. It has fantastic views out onto the sea which you can see here:

The ice cream was so yummy! Pete bought me coffee and chocolate, but he didn’t have any because he’s allergic apparently :p We then sat and had lunch on some benches and then drove a wee bit further on to a really pretty beach:

 

And spent a little bit of time sunbathing and had a walk round the shoreline in the sun…

Then we headed back for a BBQ…the weather lasted for the next day too and I spent it at the pub with a friend while Pete was working. The next day it rained for a bit and was a bit dull but we still decided to head out for a drive to where he went to school and visited a couple more beaches which were pleasantly abandoned due to the lack of warm weather:

 

On Monday we had to head up to Glasgow to do some renovations on his flat (knocking down walls and painting etc etc) which took up the rest of my visit but was still good fun. We spent the nights in my new flat across town and took the bus to his in the morning. We went to see Ted (Seth MacFarlane) which I would highly recommend as one of the most hilarious films I’ve seen in a very very long time. I was in a grumpy mood because our flat is currently not in the best state and should have had more attention given to it before this point (our lease started two months ago) so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have done. But it has the perfect balance between absolutely hilarious peeing-your-pants moments and a little bit of romance too, to suit everyone watching. We also went out for dinner one night at a local little Italian restaurant/shop/deli place near Pete’s flat that sells fresh meat/cheese/bread/wine/coffee as well as serving fantastic meals:

It was a lovely week and we were lucky to have such good weather. I’m home now for a week before moving back to Glasgow on Saturday which I am beyond excited about!

 

 

apology and carrot cake

I feel so bad that I haven’t posted on here properly in ages…but the truth is, I haven’t really been doing anything that’s remotely interesting to blog about…I’ve been working, doing a bit of running and counting down the days to seeing Pete (tomorrow!). Luckily though, I’m heading back to uni two weeks on Saturday so will have plenty of time to blog and will be doing lots to blog about!

For today though, I thought I’d share a recipe for carrot cake that I’m currently making to give to Pete’s family as a ‘thanks for having me’. I got the recipe from the BBC website which is great for every single thing you can think of making. The recipe calls for oil, instead of butter which I’m hoping will give it a much lighter taste than if I’d used butter…some of the reviews said the cake was too greasy, but I think it might be okay!

I was thinking about making a butter icing instead of the usual cream cheese icing however I thought that a lot of people probably wouldn’t enjoy a butter icing with carrot cake, so stuck to what the recipe suggested – mixing icing sugar and two tablespoons of orange juice and drizzle it over the top…

I’ve never actually made carrot cake before so I’m hoping this turns out okay. I also left out the sultanas, because again – I know some people aren’t keen on them…I didn’t want to ruin a nice present!

I think the only issue I’m going to have is with transporting it tomorrow, on seven hours of trains with three changes along the way! It might be a case of adopting the saying “it’ll still taste like cake, even if it doesn’t look like one”.