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Advice For Students Seeking Accommodation


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Introduction

For landlords and lettings agents it is an annual ritual to be scheduled like Christmas, Easter and annual holidays. However, those of you most affected, the students, are only on three year degree courses and, in comparison, are potentially at a slight disadvantage. The purpose of this article, drafted more from the point of view of first year undergraduates, is to try and provide students with some genuine balanced advice on the search for student accommodation.

First year students left school about six months ago and, only as recently as two to four months ago moved into University accommodation. So, you have a key to your private room. This may be en-suite, but you are sharing some facilities with others: at least a kitchen and laundry facilities and, if your room is not en-suite, shower rooms as well.

Now you are expected to make arrangements for your second year accommodation and, no matter how confident you may be, most likely you have concerns. Please read on.


Choosing your housemates

As letting agents, we do not see much of this part of the process as usually it is decided before you come to us. However, from what we do see, we suspect that in some cases too little thought is given to this very important initial stage.

It seems that in most cases groups are made up from the flats, corridors or houses that you were randomly allocated to in halls by your University. There is nothing wrong with this. If you have formed genuine friendships with those you already live with it is only logical that you seek accommodation for your second year based on the assumption you want to share with your new friends.

However, just because you have been placed together at random by your University’s room allocation system does not mean this creates the best groups for moving on to a private sector house. Living in shared accommodation requires compromises and you will be sharing with the group for a year, so choose your housemates carefully. Each member of the potential group needs to assess their friends objectively. Attitudes towards finances, tidiness and hygiene tend to be the biggest points of contention and should be considered before you decide your group and start viewings. If your daily pattern starts in the afternoon and goes on well into the early hours of the morning, it is better to live with those who share your nocturnal habits. If some of your prospective housemates have no concept of budgeting and are always short of cash, do not assume this will change when they move into a house and have to contribute towards the bills.


Group size

As well as deciding who to share with, you need to decide how many to share with. York is no different to most cities and the housing stock is typical. Very few students come from houses with seven or more bedrooms and in reality there are fewer houses for larger groups. This is not to say that there are not houses available for large groups. However, by deciding on a larger group you are limiting your choice of houses and need to act more quickly if you want a choice of accommodation.

If you genuinely want to live together as a large group, especially more than eight, consider instead looking for two smaller houses close to each other. Again, this is not necessarily as easy as it sounds, but potentially it increases your options.

Usually, private sector student accommodation on the student market is aimed at groups of at least three friends seeking a shared house. If you want one bedroom accommodation for a couple or two-bedroom accommodation for a pair, it may be necessary to ignore the student market and look to see what is available a couple of months before you want to move in. We do have a limited number of one bedroom and two bedroom units on our website which you might like to consider.


Couples

You need to give special thought if your proposed group includes a couple. It’s not that you should necessarily automatically avoid sharing with any couples, but it has to be said that potentially they could add to the stress and some would recommend you should avoid having a couple in your group. If you do decide to share with a couple who only want one bedroom, then some landlords will do a deal and agree to drop the rent per person for the whole group if this means (say) five are occupying a four bedroom house. However, all things considered, it might be better for the couple to join separate groups who might look for two houses close to each other, so each partner has their own separate space.


Room sizes

Again, as a group think about your own homes. Do you all come from a four, five or six bedroom house with identical sized bedrooms? Probably not. To repeat a point made above, York is no different to most cities and the housing stock is typical. Whilst there are houses available with similar sized bedrooms, in most cases the bedrooms are different sizes.

In student halls, typically you have your own bedroom and share a kitchen / diner; there is usually no shared lounge. For this reason, in your first year at university your bedroom is very important and this is often reflected in the enquiries we receive where most thought is directed at the bedrooms. However, when students go home at the end of term how many are not looking forward to this because they have the smallest bedroom? The answer is probably none, because they are going home to share the whole house with their family.

The same applies to York private sector student properties. You are renting a whole house, ideally including a lounge, and need to consider the whole package. Therefore, provided there are adequate facilities for sleeping, studying and storing your possessions, bedroom size may not be a main priority.

However, if the bedrooms are different sizes your group needs to decide how to allocate the rooms on a fair basis. Frankly, this needs to be discussed before you start viewing any houses. There is no point in a group starting to view houses on the assumption that they will all have equal sized large double bedrooms because, as soon as you see a smaller room, all thoughts may turn to this and the viewing could become a waste of your time.

Within your group it is quite possible there is at least one individual on a tighter budget who would be happy to take a smaller room. If so, it is just a matter of deciding what a fair adjustment is.

• The landlord may reflect the room sizes in the rent and ask different rents for different rooms.

• The group may decide to adjust the rent themselves (eg for a four bedroom house the landlord may ask 4 x £78, and the group may pay 3 x £80 and 1 x £72). Other options we have known groups use, where they all pay the same rent are:

• The group may just draw lots and pay the same rent.

• Lots drawn each term, with nobody spending more than one term in the smallest room.

• The occupant of the smallest room does not have to contribute to the utility bills.


Location and facilities

Now as a group you need to decide what features you want in your ideal house. Rents start from around £65 and go up to around £100+ per person per week and basically reflect location and condition. The average private sector rent is likely to be about £87 for 2017/18. There are some fantastic houses in prime locations offering value for money. Where a low rent is quoted, the main reason is usually because the house is further away. However, a house that has recently been completely modernised will usually be marketed at a slightly higher rent, making neighbouring houses a few pounds cheaper.

If you are willing to walk twenty minutes (or cycle the same distance) you can save a significant amount of rent, but just being willing to walk ten minutes can result in a welcome saving.

Some of the points that follow are perhaps more relevant to University of York students but the principles remain the same for all groups who need to consider:

• What are your preferred areas; eg close to campus (one particular part?) or between campus and the city centre?

• Do you need any particular facilities (eg car parking)?

• What is your target rent? Remember, most houses will not include bills and typically you need to budget (say) £9 to £12 per person per week on average depending on group size (obviously higher in winter and lower in summer). Also, as already referred to above, different group members will have different budgets and those with less to spend must take care not get carried away with the enthusiasm of others.

• What is the minimum number of double bedrooms your group can accept?

• Does everything have to be virtually brand new, or are you happy to accept slightly older facilities?

• Will you look at a few properties a little further away to see whether the savings are worth considering?


Starting your search

So when should you start looking?

It is always difficult to predict the balance between supply and demand for student accommodation. Every year the universities try to predict the number of rooms they will need for first year undergraduates and, whilst it is rare for their figures to be wildly inaccurate, with so many variables they are rarely spot on either. The same unpredictable balance of supply and demand applies to private sector accommodation.

Having said that, it is fair to say there is currently a good supply of private sector student accommodation in York. For this reason, and to present a balanced view, we have to acknowledge that the universities’ student advisors would urge you to delay your search, and we doubt that any group starting late is likely to be homeless.

However, this misses the main point a little. Most students start looking in January and, whilst you can wait, all the better houses go quickly. In particular, second years wanting to book accommodation for their third years are often at the front of the queue in January.

It is a difficult dilemma. Bearing in mind that houses are being viewed and taken in January we would suggest to any group that there is nothing wrong with looking early, the problems arise from booking too early, ie rushing into a contract.

Initial searches can be carried out on line. On our website we try to group houses according to location, so that houses with the same number of bedrooms in the same street will appear together. There are links to a basic description and a location map for each property. If you really want to confirm that your group has the same objectives try looking at our website independently and each pick a few houses to view. Hopefully you will agree on some, in which case you can move onto arranging viewings.


Viewings


When you contact us to arrange viewings we will agree a time. For University of York students, usually we will meet at our office and give you a lift to the properties. For York St John University we will arrange to meet you or pick you up from your current accommodation. On that side of York in many cases properties are very close and it is quicker to walk.

In particular when we are driving you to properties, you may accompany another group viewing the same houses or a similar list, in which case the outing might include a house you had not included. There is no harm in still viewing a house we take you to that is not on your list, it might confirm your objectives and the short list you have chosen, it may open your eyes to an alternative you had previously not considered. Whatever, the alternative of staying on the bus in mid winter might be less attractive!

Preferably, your whole group should attend the viewings. If the house is likely to be popular there may not be an opportunity for a second viewing. Ideally, you do not want group members to be signing up for a house they have never seen. However, if some of your group are genuinely happy not to attend viewings and accept what the remainder choose then this is fine, but you should make sure this is genuine. Often we find when it comes to the crunch the others decide they do want to see the house and we have seen cases where groups lost their first choice of house due to the delay caused by an unexpected need for another viewing.

Although we recommend the whole group should attend viewing, obviously in some cases it may not be possible for the whole group to be together at the right time. In this case part of the group can carry out first viewings and hopefully draw up a short list for second viewings. If exam commitments prevent some group members joining the daytime viewings, we can arrange second viewings on an evening.

If you arrange to look round four houses, we guarantee that you will not remember all details of the first house by the time you leave the fourth. We recommend that you draw up a short list of points that are important to your group and take notes at each house or even score them for your priority features. Factors you might like to include on your list are: location, furnishings, storage space, lounge size, bedroom size, cooking and washing facilities, bike storage and parking. Whilst the posters on the wall may be interesting and the accumulation of dirty pots in the kitchen slightly alarming, remember to concentrate on the main purpose of your visit.

We will do our best to answer any questions you may have. Furthermore, if you think a house is potentially right for your group but would like some changes then there is no harm in asking when back at our office. In many cases the answer may not be immediate; we may need to consult with the landlord.


Final decision


Do not feel pressured by us or by anyone else into taking a property that you not happy with. Some agents put you under pressure to return to their office and sign up immediately after a viewing, or ring you up the following day and say there is another group interested but you are their preferred tenants.

Signing the contract

Hopefully you will find your perfect house, or more likely, one that meets the majority of your requirements. Having put in all that effort, provided the group are happy with the house and you are still happy with the group, then is the time to move fast. Just think how you would feel if another group took the house and you had to start again!

Each group member will need a guarantor for the rent, usually a parent. Remember that the contract is a binding agreement so all negotiations must be completed before you sign.

The contract may appear to be long and one sided. There are various reasons for this. First of all, legislation gives tenants a lot of protection and places obligations on landlords. Most of these are well known and, because they are a legal requirement, they do not need to be outlined in the agreement; for example the need to have an annual gas safety check. In contrast, there are no similar obligations on tenants. Therefore, if the landlord does not want motorbikes being stripped down on the lounge carpet, or does not want the neutral decoration replaced with bright purple and orange, the agreement must say so! More seriously, the landlord is handing over his property worth a six figure sum to a group of relatively young individuals and past experience does show that some students do need their obligations to be spelt out.

Also, you should not take each clause literally. For example, a typical term included in a tenancy agreement will require the group to ensure that they do not make noise that can be heard by their neighbours. This does not mean that the landlord or agent will visit the property to listen for any infringement. The clause will only be referred to if the neighbours complain about frequent unreasonable noise.

In many cases the contract you will be asked to sign is fairly standard. For example, if you are renting from an agency they will use the same agreement for all their tenancies and many private landlords will use pre-printed third party documents. A key question is to ask what terms have been added specifically by the landlord or specifically for that property. For example, you may find that the landlord is not including the garage in the tenancy contract and this should be made clear in the agreement. Having determined any such special terms you may decide you are happy with the contract. Otherwise, you will have access to advice on the terms of contracts either via your student union or university advice services and should use these facilities. An appointment may be needed so enquire early.



Summary

Seeking accommodation it is an extremely stressful time for students, especially for first years. If you are lucky you will find a house that you all agree is perfect. However, it is more likely that you cannot meet every single requirement of each group member and compromise will be necessary. If you cannot agree at the house hunting stage alarm bells should be ringing.

• Choose your group carefully, both the size and composition of the group. A group of four to six will have a larger choice of houses. Consider splitting into two groups and looking for two houses close together if your group size is eight or more.

• Discuss in advance if some in your group will accept a smaller bedroom and how you might arrange this between yourselves. By agreeing to consider houses with different sized bedrooms you increase your options.

• Consider finances carefully. It is easy to be attracted by a more expensive house because of its condition or location. If you can easily afford it then fine. However, if your group all have part-time jobs in the city centre you might find a house closer to your places of work for (say) £15 a week less.

• As an individual, do not go along with a group if you have any doubts. You will be sharing the house for a full academic year and it is far better you make alternative arrangements rather than sign an agreement with a group you might not get on with, or for rent you cannot afford.

• Only once you have addressed these points should you consider starting your search.

• Try to include all your group members in viewings. Also, when viewing a house concentrate on the property itself and not the individual decorations and any unusual behaviour of the current occupants. When you move in the house will have been cleared and cleaned.

• Be ready to move quickly when you have agreed on a house. If it suits your group, the chances are another group may be attracted to it. As soon as the deposits are paid and contracts signed the pressure is off and you can get on with enjoying the rest of your first year!



Constructive feedback on this information would be welcomed. If you have any comments please email admin@apyork.com giving details of your suggested corrections or additions and clearly stating your name and interest (eg first year undergraduate student, postgraduate or student welfare officer). Your comments will be considered when the article is next updated.