The ultimate guide to viewing student houses

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By in Student Accommodation. Updated April 2015.

These are our top tips on getting the perfect student pad without falling into the common landlord traps! You don’t want any nasty surprises during the year…HeaderOnce you’ve found the right group of friends (choose wisely), there’s the mission of scouting out and viewing houses to find something that’s right for everyone.

Almost 1 in 8 student groups will sign up for the first house they see, but don’t follow the trend. Take your time, make an informed decision and don’t be caught up in the housing hype.

Not only might you find a better house just around the corner but crucially you’ll be able to gauge what a house is really worth. Houses are a big commitment and a lot of money and, just like picking your housemates, you need to choose wisely.

If you aren’t sure how much you can afford per week or month for your student house, don’t worry: we have made a tool for just that. Check out our rent calculator.

The basics

viewing a student houseNobody likes to get conned so here are a few basics that you should be following to get you started:

  • Download and print off our free House Viewing Checklist – it’s hard to remember all of this in your head and you can compare later!
  • Take a camera
  • Take your time
  • Don’t be shy about asking questions
  • It’s a big money decision and you will be living there for the next 12 months so don’t be pressured!

11 things to look for when viewing a student house

Now that you are up to date with some very quick basics, you need to know what to look for in particular.

This list contains all the things you need to try and spot as well as how to tell if there is a problem with the house.

  1. Damp

    student accommodation dampAlthough regulations on rented shared housing are improving, many houses still suffer from severe damp and black mould problems.

    Unfortunately, student houses are often under maintained, poorly looked after, and old. As a result, damp is a common nightmare for many students.

    It also needs to be taken seriously. Damp not only smells bad, but it can also cause health problems and ruin clothes.

    When viewing potential student lets, check the walls and ceilings, particularly around windows. Look out for flaking paint or wallpaper, black mould patches and a musky smell.

    Ask to look in and behind wardrobes – student landlords often try to cover up any signs of damp.

  2. Rats, mice and other pests

    Slug in student houseInfestations are another big problem in student houses! Common pests include mice, slugs, fruit flies, pigeons and sometimes even rats.

    We’re not going to lie – (some) students are messy and leave food lying about for days. Even so, some houses have better defences than others against pesky invaders.

    When viewing a house don’t be afraid to check kitchen cupboards and work surfaces. Look for traps, rodent droppings and slug trails.

    On the top floor, listen out for pigeons nesting in the attic. Trust us, they can get very, very annoying!

    Again, student landlords will try hard to cover up any type of infestation, so you need to be alert and on the lookout for these tell-tale signs.

  3. Location, location, location..

    Student house locationWe all know (thanks to certain day-time television) that location is paramount when choosing any type of accommodation.

    Figure out how close the student house is to bus stops, newsagents, supermarkets, doctors, and your university campus etc.

    You may also be drawn to a location because it’s the student place to be (‘the ghetto’).  Most students want to be where all the house parties are, but remember that these areas don’t always boast the nicest homes. Think carefully about whether you are willing to sacrifice a nicer house for a more lively location.

  4. Security and safety

    Student SafetyThe police publish worrying student crime statistics every year. In some cities like Manchester, 1-in-3 students will be a victim of crime. So as irrelevant as it might seem when viewing houses, security and safety is an issue which needs to be taken seriously.

    Check that the property has a burglar alarm system, and check windows and doors for safety locks.

    If you are worried about security, mention it to your landlord; they will probably improve locks and access points to secure the sale.

    House security ties in with location. Do some research on the area to find out how safe it is, especially at night. No doubt you will be walking back intoxicated in the dark hours – a time when your guard is down and you are at your most vulnerable.

    Houses on well-lit main roads are often the most secure. Quiet areas may appeal to some students, but they can have their downsides when it comes to crime.

    Also, remember to check that the property has working fire alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets. There must also be clearly marked emergency exits.

    If you will be living in a group of 6 or more students, the landlord will be required to abide by stringent HMO regulations. While they are required to be met by law, they can be hard to enforce. They exist for your safety and comfort, so check up on what they involve on the internet or with your local council.

  5. Electric appliances

    ElectricsDon’t be afraid to check if appliances cater sufficiently for your needs as a group and are in working order. Be clear on what’s included in the tenancy (eg. microwave).

    Point things of concern out and ensure the landlord addresses them before moving in. For example, bear in mind the size or number of appliances for the size of your group. One fridge or freezer between six students will be far too small.

    On a side note, be wary of dodgy looking plug sockets and loose cables and make sure that there are enough in each room to run all of your appliances.

  6. The water supply

    Water SupplyGroups of students will be using the bathroom several times a day. Poor water pressure does not make for a happy household! When viewing, turn on the taps and make sure it’s more than a dribble.

    You might also want to check the toilet flush to make sure that it’s working as it should.

    At the same time, look out for damp patches or possible leaks. Water damage is seriously costly and can be dangerous.

  7. Furnishings and fittings

    Furnishings and fittingsAs mentioned above, have a clear idea of what’s included in the tenancy and what’s not. A nice leather sofa might be the selling point, but it might not be there come summer time.

    Be aware that landlords must provide each tenant with a suitable desk and chair (if advertised as a student house).

    If possible, check bed mattresses for broken springs which become dangerous and uncomfortable over time.

  8. Check insulation

    Housing InsulationEveryone knows that energy bills are one of the biggest costs as a students (if you don’t have them included in your rent). Making sure that the house is well insulated could make a difference of £100s in bills throughout the year.

    What you are essentially looking for is double glazed windows, secure doors, any drafty spots and a good heating system.

    You might also want to take a look at the roof from outside the house to check if any tiles are missing which may lead to leaks throughout the year. Even though the landlord has to fix these themselves is can be a pain to sort out during the year!

  9. Resist freebies and gimmicks

    Resist FreebiesSome landlords will offer so-called freebies, such as a massive flat screen television or no utilities bills for the year. They often seem like amazing deals and while they sometimes can be, try and remember that landlords often employ these deals to rent the property at a higher price.

    You have got to be smart here. A nice widescreen TV couldn’t be much more enticing to a group of students, but you will be paying for the privilege in your rent. Ignore the gimmicks. Instead, look at the rest of the house and see if it matches up with the rent being asked for.

  10. Beware of the letting agent

    Avoid Letting AgentsStudent letting agents are often employed by landlords to source potential tenants. Of course, these agencies are beneficial to both parties, but just remember they are known for clever tactics too.

    Don’t give in to pushy or disrespectful agencies. Remember to go through any tenancy agreement or contract with your friends before signing anything.

    Be well aware of administration or agency fees which often crop up at the last minute.

    Always try to make contact with the landlord or the person who will be managing the property. Make sure that they’re local and can always be contacted in emergencies.

    Sometimes you can even avoid agency fees by simply going direct to the landlord.

    New! Check out our Student Letting Agents directory for reviews in your city

  11. Talk to existing tenants

    Existing TenantsNobody has a better idea of what the house is like than the current tenants. They are likely to offer an unbiased and realistic account on what the house is like as a fellow student.

    You can ask them about any of the key issues raised above, such as security and damp.

    A really good insight can come from simply asking them: “So, what’s the best and worst thing about this house?”

    If the landlord’s not over your shoulder, they might make you aware of anything the landlord has missed our or is trying to cover up. If they seem pretty happy then that’s the best testimony you can get in knowing the house will be equally suitable for you.

After the viewing

After you have made a few viewings you will no doubt decide on the house that you want to live in once you have compared all the scores on your Save the Student viewing checklist.

It’s important that you follow this advice to make sure that you get the house you want as well as making sure that you aren’t being conned by the landlord.

Act quickly

If you find the place you like then there is no point in waiting around to see if you want it. Obviously, make sure that everyone agrees on the house first.

There may be other students interested in the place so you need to move as quickly as possible to secure it. The best way to do this is to call the landlord or letting agency as soon as you’ve made your decision.

Confirm all the financials

Student Housing financialsThere is a lot to still consider with the financials and it’s very important that you go over all of them with you landlord before you move in, even if you think you know them all.

Ask who is paying bills, what is the summer rent is, how you will be expected to pay your rent, how much the deposit is as well as any possible agency fees.

If you are brave then you might want to haggle at this point with the landlord although you should be careful as they may have other offers (it might be best to wait until just before signing the contract).

Find out when you can move in

Most landlords will let you move in straight away on July 1st during summer but others may want the summer to improve the house (even though you might be paying rent at this time).

It’s best to talk to your landlord if you need the house over summer to make sure that you won’t be in a tricky situation.

If they are charging full rent during summer and you won’t plan to be there then you could ask for half rent during the July and August months.

Conduct yourself well

This could potentially help you get the house over someone else.

If it’s between you and a few other student groups then the landlord will most likely look at each group and choose which ones they think will cause the least problems in terms of mess etc.

Don’t go over the top but try to dress smart, act like an angel and use your interview voice…

Talk about repairs

If any repairs are needed on the house then this is the time to discuss them.

Make sure that the landlord will agree to carry out all the repairs before you move in and make sure that it is included in the contract (don’t just rely on their word).

Sort out your tenancy agreement

The next article in this series will be looking at a tenancy agreement checklist to protect yourself against clauses which might cause problems later on. Go forth and read!

What’s your experience with landlords? We’d love to hear about anything we may have missed out in the comments below.

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11 Responses to “The ultimate guide to viewing student houses”

  1. Jessica

    24. Sep, 2015

    Once I checked out the appartment with cockroaches all over the place! That was really nasty…

  2. Augustus

    20. Aug, 2014

    My 6 friends and I went to look at a private house to rent. When we were finished, another group came to look at the house, meaning we had to decide whether we wanted the house there and then, so we didn’t even get a chance to look over the contract before we decided to take the house! Luckily our landlord has been amazing and has really looked after us and the house. Phew!

    • Jake Butler

      20. Aug, 2014

      Hi Augustus, this is a very risky strategy and I’d say that you got lucky. Best to avoid this in future.

  3. Rob

    19. Aug, 2013

    I would like to comment as an agent, who doesn’t charge any agency fees or take a deposit, and where all properties are fully inclusive.
    but ditto on Lesley’s advice; keep those rooms well ventilated! 😉

    This comment is awaiting moderation.

  4. Lesley

    15. Mar, 2013

    I would like to comment as a landlord. A good site by the way. It amazes me why students go to letting agencies. They have to, mostly, pay extortionate fees and don’t get the care that you get from letting from a landlord directly. I am registered with the university accommodation office, and this should be your first port of call. The properties are inspected annually and open to redress if their are any problems, also no fees. I would like to comment also about you saying about the damp. Quite often it isn’t damp, but mould growth from the windows, and usually also, curtains, not ever being opened. Because we all live in these airtight boxes now with the upvc, the moisture has no where to go. Please open your windows dear students!

  5. Emma Tameside

    29. Aug, 2012

    Brilliantly informative read, I will be attending University this year and am without a doubt worried about the accommodation part. My brother who was formerly a student advised me about becoming a Ad Hoc Property Guardian, although I want to make sure I’ve touched all bases as far as my options are concerned. My main worry would be pressured into things by the agent, I’m not great with saying no and it could definitely be a problem. I never thought of talking with existing tenants but that’s actually a really good idea, I’ll make a point of keeping that in mind.

    Appreciated the article and you’ve given me a little piece of mind with this!

  6. Laura Hampton

    12. Jan, 2011

    I was told by my agent that I simply MUST sign IMMEDIATELY to get the house me and my friends wanted. A ten bedroom property, the agent told us it would be snapped up quickly.

    However, we knew we needed time to look over the contract and the house to make sure it was what we wanted – we were going to be living there for the next year of our lives after all! So, we took our time and – you’ve guessed it – the house was still available and we signed for it in our own time.

    Even if it had been taken, we would have been happier to lose a house due to taking our time than live in poor conditions or with a poor contract for the next year.

    • Owen Burek

      20. Jan, 2011

      Classic pressure tactic by these student letting agents! It’s also why so many students start looking 9 months ahead of moving in. I know in Manchester there are lots more houses than students, and many are left empty during the year.

      So as Laura rightly says, take your time and make sure you’re getting what YOU want.

  7. Owen Burek

    07. Dec, 2010

    I’ve recently heard reports of scams on sites like Gumtree where dodgy people are responding to ‘wanted accommodation’ ads demanding money via Western Union etc before viewing. I would advise to always go through a local letting agent or a landlord you can meet at the property.

    Never pay anything, including deposit, until you are 100% happy with the house and have seen the contract.

  8. Jake Butler

    27. Nov, 2010

    Good point Erik!

    There are a few tips when taking into account the deposit and they will be posted in the next article along with advice on the contract.

    In short you need to make sure that your landlord is doing everything officially and an itinery signed by both parties is strongly advised.

    Glad this article helped!

  9. Erik Savage

    27. Nov, 2010

    I can’t agree more with the not being pressured into things by the agent comment.

    Some good friends of mine rushed into a property after the usual “make a decision today” type of pressure. The landlord turned out to be aggressive and unpleasant – and of course they never were able to get their deposit back.

    1.5 months rent on a student size house is a lot of money as a deposit and you want to be sure the agent will support you in documenting the state of the property accurately and getting it back for you if you are entitled to it.

    Your time as a student is for having fun – not being stressed out by a bad buy to let landlord!


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