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.
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!