The City & The Northern Girl #6

The Trials and Tribulations of Flat Hunting

Image: oatsy40. www.flickr.com/photos/oatsy40/
Image: oatsy40. www.flickr.com/photos/oatsy40/

So you have just successfully survived your first year of living in university halls and now you’re left with the prospect of private accommodation. Or perhaps you’re a commuter looking to live out for your first, second or third year. Whatever category you fall in, the start of the 2013/14 academic year will see thousands of students, just like me and you, looking to finally rent a flat in the big bad world that is the London property market.

Sounds scary, yes? I was absolutely petrified. Bills, rent, council tax… all words that I associate with being grown-up. And definitely not words I want to hear being a 19 year old student. However with QMUL’s city location and limited student residences, many of us have no choice but to rent. Last month saw me finally step into the black hole that is London renting after securing a lovely 3 bed flat in Bow after countless flat viewings, weeks of emailing and a lot of contract signing. Stressful to say the least. So I have decided to compile a basic list of dos and don’ts when embarking on the wonderful journey that is student renting.

DO consider location

In the famous words of Kirstie and Phil, ‘Location, Location, Location’ is everything. This is crucial to any flat search; you want to be close by, able to commute if necessary and in an area you feel safe. I myself, and my fellow flatmates, agreed on a maximum walking distance of 20 minutes, but this is down to individual choice. I even know people who have decided to live in the South and are bussing/tubing it in every day.

BUT if you decide to do this, it is important you factor in travel costs. At £800+ for an annual student travel card in the city, this is a hefty addition to your outgoings. The choice is simple. Go for somewhere nearer to university and possibly pay slightly more rent or venture further out and pay travel costs. Personally I knew that if I was faced with a 40 minute walk to university on a rainy day, I would have definitely taken the option of staying in bed and giving those 9am lectures amiss.

DON’T go over your budget

Before you even head to the estate agents, sit down as a group and agree on your budget. It might be that you agree not to exceed what you were paying for your university halls or that you raise/lower you budget slightly, either way it is ESSENTIAL you stick to your word. You might enter a property and be blown away by its three bathrooms, dishwasher and shiny surfaces, but ask yourself this: do you REALLY need it? As long as it’s clean, and even that’s going against typical student standards, that’s all that matters. Strike out any properties that go over your budget and walk away.

Take into consideration your other flatmates’ family income and your own individual student loan amounts. Everyone’s limitations are different and don’t be afraid to hold your hands up when the figures are spiralling upwards and say “Guys I can’t afford this”. It’s better to be honest now rather than ending up drowning in debt and unable to afford food halfway through the year.

DO carefully choose your flatmates

Remember, the people you choose to live with now are your companions for the next year. Sounds obvious but ensuring you’re all good friends is definitely a good start. Luckily for me, my flatmates from first year proved to be a natural choice as we all decided we could put up with each other for at least another year. When choosing your own flatmates, you have ample choice: current flatmates, course mates, society friends… the list goes on.

Or perhaps you’ve ventured down the ‘rent a room’ route, where you join in with a group who have a spare bedroom. This can work well and is a sure-fire way to make new friends but whether you’re the new addition to the group or one of the originals, make an effort to become known to your future flatmates before you sign the contracts. No one wants to go into something that can have such huge implications on your university experience blind. Knowing your luck, you’d end up sharing with the London equivalent of Ugly Naked Man.

DON’T forget to add in bills

Bills are bloody expensive! Between gas, electricity, water and the all-important Wi-Fi, you’re looking at approximately £40 a month on bills. Each. Not to mention additional bills such as sneaky service charges, TV Licenses and contents insurance.  I blame London prices. Don’t try and kid yourself when estimating either: always round up when working out your monthly outgoings and leftover budget. If, and that’s a big if, there is any left  in the joint account (that of course you have all set up in advance, being super organised and all) at the end of the year, you get to experience the joy of divvying it up and putting money into your account for a change.

DO be prepared to compromise

Compromises are going to pop up everywhere, whether it is the location, the price or the size. Be prepared to disagree as you consider ALL opinions of the group, but try not to waver from your original budget. Money doesn’t appear out of thin air, you can only work with what you have. And if you do hate a property, don’t be afraid to say it. It’s too much money to waste on a flat that simply doesn’t work for you – every flat member must be happy with the end decision.

The biggest compromises usually come in the form of room size. Hopefully you’re in the position to assign rooms maturely and fairly but if not, altering the rent price in accordance to room sizes can prove to be a good solution, especially when faced with extreme differences of sq. ft. or added en-suites. And of course, if all else fails you can always revert back to the old favourite of drawing straws.

DO communicate with your landlord

Keep on good terms with your landlord at first instance. This is going to be the person in charge of rescuing you when you have no hot water and the one who decides the fate of your deposit – not exactly someone you want as an enemy. Perhaps invite them over to show you how to work all of the appliances when you move in or simply give them a quick ring to introduce yourselves. Manners go a long way in the world of tenancy.

DON’T forget to save up in advance

An average deposit is around four week’s rent plus a month’s rent up front. Not exactly cheap for any student’s budget, let alone when you factor in the fact that this is London rent prices we’re talking about. So save up. Be prepared. If you are a first year reading this, take note. I myself began saving in my second year of A Levels and at the start of this summer I had a hefty £1,800 to my name. Now I have approximately £70.00 left. Two years’ worth of saving wiped out by a deposit, two months’ of rent, a month of bills and my share of the contents insurance.

I couldn’t rely on my parents’ to stump up the cash, mainly because I wouldn’t want them too, but if you do think you’ll need the help, definitely warn them in advance. That, along with the return of last year’s deposit and the backend of April’s student loan (if there’s any left) can prove an enormous relief when trying to find the funds.

Privately renting for the first time can seem daunting but with a bit of common sense, forward planning and a good set of flatmates, it should make the transition from university halls into the world of renting a lot easier. Although perhaps it’s time that the Student Loans Company realised that receiving our loans at the end of September isn’t the most practical idea they’ve ever had…

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