An expert guide to viewing student houses

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By in Student Accommodation. Updated December 2016.

Worried you’ll fall into the common traps when it comes to renting your dream digs? Avoid any nasty surprises by making sure you have the following covered.HeaderOnce you’ve found the right group of friends to live with (and please choose wisely!), your next step is to start scouting out and viewing houses to find something that’s right for everyone.

1 in every 8 groups of students on the house hunt will sign up for the first house they come across, 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 could you find an even better house just around the corner, but the more places you view, the easier you’ll find it to gauge what a place is really worth. Renting your student digs is a big commitment and a lot of money, so don’t rush into things.

If you’re unsure of what sort of rent budget you can afford, don’t worry: we’ve made a rent calculator tool for just that!

Preparing for your viewing

i'm ready preparedBefore you even step foot in any of the places you’re interested in, here are a few basics that’ll ensure you show up fully prepped.

  • Download and print off our free House Viewing Checklist to take with you (you won’t remember it all unless it’s on paper!)
  • Remember to take a camera with you
  • Prepare a list of a few questions you’d like to ask at each viewing – don’t be shy!

Another thing to think about before you go to view any properties is whether you’d like to find a property through a letting agency or to deal directly with a landlord.

There is of course an added layer of security when opting for an agency, as they’ll work as a middle man between yourselves and the landlord, and so (in theory!) ensure that everything is done by the book.

However, many students prefer to deal directly with landlords, as it’s more personal and they can avoid any addition agency fees (although these are on the way to being scrapped).

The one pitfall with finding a house privately is that it’s easier to end up with a dodgy landlord, but most universities can now assess landlords then register them through their own accommodation services so students can be sure they’re a safe bet.

It might be worth deciding which option you’d prefer before moving forward!

What to look for when viewing a student house

Now that you’re fully equipped with the above tools, here’s what you need to look for in particular when viewing a property.

  1. Damp

    student accommodation dampRegulations on the standards of rented housing are improving, but many houses still suffer from severe damp and black mould problems.

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

    Don’t be fooled to thinking damp just looks a bit gross – it also smells gross, can ruin your clothes and furnishings, and most importantly, it can cause serious health problems.

    Make sure you check all 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 too, as landlords often try to cover up any signs of damp.

  2. Unwelcome 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 – this is often due to previous student tenants leaving food and overflowing bins lying around for days. But even so, you shouldn’t be paying for previous tenants’ mistakes.

    When viewing a house, don’t be afraid to check kitchen cupboards and work surfaces. Look for traps, 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 kinds of signals.

  3. Location, location, location..

    Student house locationWe all know how important location is when choosing where to live (the less time it takes you to roll out of bed and get to your lectures, the better, right?).

    If right by uni is too much on the pricey side, at least figure out how close the house is to transport links. Also keep an eye out on your journey to the viewing for newsagents, supermarkets, doctors, pubs – you know, the important stuff!

    You might also be drawn to a location because it’s where all your mates (and house parties) are. However, this will be fun for the first few weeks, but the novelty will wear off quicker than you think.

    Not only will you be kept up most nights of the week when you have deadlines, but properties in these areas tend to be a bit worse for wear (mostly due to all the house parties!).

  4. Security and safety

    Student SafetyUnfortunately, crime rates in student areas tend to be high, as opportunists know that young people coming home drunk at night are more likely to leave windows and doors open, or their keys in the front door (we’ve all been there).

    Security is something that every student should take seriously when viewing a property. Ask if there’s a burglar alarm system (bonus!), and check that the doors are adequately secured – particularly that the main door to the building has secured entry.

    If you’re worried about security, mention this to your landlord. They don’t want any break-ins either, so it’s likely they’ll be happy to improve locks and access points to secure the sale (and the house from thieves!).

    Do a bit of research on the area if you don’t know it so well to find out how safe it is. 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’re in an HMO (house of multiple occupancy).

    If you’ll be living in a group of 6 or more students, the landlord will be required to abide by stringent HMO regulations. While they’re 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 are adequate and are in working order. Be clear on what’s included in the tenancy agreement and inventory (eg. microwave).

    If there’s anything of concern, make sure you flag it to the letting agent or landlord, and if necessary have a few words added to the tenancy agreement that ensures the landlord will addresses them before you move in.

    This might sound a bit far-fetched, but it’s also worth making sure there are enough appliances to cater for the whole group. For example, if you’re moving in as a group of six and there’s only one fridge freezer, this won’t work.

    Also be wary of any dodgy-looking plug sockets and loose/ exposed cables as these are extremely dangerous and should be addressed before you move in.

  6. The water supply

    Water SupplyWhen there’s a whole group of students using the bathroom several times a day, poor water pressure does not make for a happy household! When viewing, give the taps a quick turn to make sure there’s more than a dribble.

    You might also want to check the toilet flush to make sure 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 – these guys learned the hard way!

  7. Furnishings and fittings

    Furnishings and fittingsAs mentioned above, have a clear idea of what’s included in the inventory and what’s not. A nice leather sofa might be the selling point, but it might disappear by the time you move in!

    Landlords who rent to students are required to provide each tenant with a suitable desk and chair (if they advertise the property as a student house).

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

  8. Check insulation

    Housing InsulationEveryone knows that energy bills are one of the biggest costs as a student (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’re essentially looking for is double glazed windows, secure doors, if there are 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, as this could lead to leaks throughout the year.

  9. Resist freebies and gimmicks

    Resist FreebiesSome landlords will offer ‘freebies’, such as a massive flat screen television or no utilities bills for the year in order to draw you in. Be cautious of this, as often they will seem like amazing deals but in fact the landlord is using these extra frills as an excuse to rent the property at a higher price.

    That’s not to say this is always the case, though – you just have to be smart! A nice widescreen TV couldn’t be more enticing to a group of students, but do you still want the perk if you’re paying for the privilege all year round?

  10. Letting agents

    Avoid Letting AgentsLetting agents are often employed by landlords to source potential student tenants. Of course, these agencies are beneficial to both parties, but just be aware that letting agents are desperate for you to take the property so they get paid! Check out our Student Letting Agents directory for reviews of agencies in your city.

    Don’t give in to pushy agencies! Remember to go through any tenancy agreement or contract with your flatmates before signing anything – the more pairs of eyes that look over this document, the easier it’ll be to spot anything fishy.

    As it currently stands, letting agents are able to charge additional admin fees which often crop up at the last minute and can be totally unnecessary – but luckily, these fees will be banned soon!  Sign up to our weekly newsletter and we’ll let you know as soon as the law is imposed.

    Always ask to make contact with the landlord or whoever will be managing the property so you know who you can contact in case of emergencies.

  11. Talk to existing tenants

    Existing TenantsNobody has a better idea of what a house is like to live in than its current tenants. They’re the most likely people to offer an unbiased and realistic account, as they’ve got nothing to gain (or lose!) by telling you any different.

    You can gain a pretty decent insight by asking this really simple question: “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!

What to do after the viewing

After you’ve been to a few viewings, and you’ve compared housing scores from your Save the Student viewing checklist, hopefully you’ve chosen the perfect house!

Your next few steps once you’ve made your decision would be the following…

Act quickly!

get there quickThere’s no point in waiting around if you’ve made a decision, and worst still – someone else might get in there before you do!

It’s really important, however, that you make sure everyone agrees on the house first. If there are disagreements, the only option is to agree to go separate ways or to keep looking. No one should be talked into living somewhere they don’t want to.

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 financial details

Once you’ve confirmed that you want to rent the property, there’s still a lot to consider when it comes to financial details. Make sure you go over everything in detail with your landlord before you move in, even if you think you’re already clear on it all (getting it all in writing is an added bonus).

Find out exactly how much everyone’s monthly rent will be. Ask who will be paying the bills (are they included in the rent, or will you be arranging payment as tenants?), what the deal with summer rent is, how you’ll be expected to pay your rent, how much the deposit is as well as any possible agency fees.

If you’re feeling brave and that the rent is on the steep side, you might want to try haggling the rent at this point. However, be careful as the landlord may have other offers on the table already.

Find out when you can move in

packing-essentialsMost 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 you won’t be left in a tricky situation.

If they’re 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, noise, paying rent on time, etc.

Don’t overdo it but at least put on your Sunday best, act the responsible angel angel and turn on your interview voice…

Discuss repairs

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

Make sure the landlord will agree to carry out all the repairs before you move in (or agree a different time) and make sure that this is included in the contract (don’t just rely on their word – this rarely works).

Next stop…

Your next stop is to head over to our guide on tenancy agreements.  Protect yourself against dodgy clauses that could cause problems later on by consulting our tenancy agreement checklist.

Ever had a nightmare house viewing? We’d love to hear about it, plus let us know if there’s anything we’ve missed in the comments below.

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11 Responses to “An expert 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…

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply

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