Viewing student houses: what to look for
Worried that 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.
Once 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.
One in every eight 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 (not to mention a lot of money), so don't rush into things.
What’s on this page?
Before 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's an added layer of security when opting for an agency, as they'll work as a middle man between yourselves and the landlord. In theory, this ensures 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 additional 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. That said, most universities can now assess landlords then register them through their own accommodation services, meaning students can be sure they're a safe bet.
It might be worth deciding which option you'd prefer before moving forward!
Now that you're fully equipped with the above tools, here's what you need to look for in particular when viewing a property.
Credit: Mike S – Flickr
Regulations 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 (especially if you've already got pre-existing conditions like asthma or hay fever).
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.
Infestations are another big problem in student houses. Common pests include mice, slugs, fruit flies, pigeons, cockroaches 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.
Location, location, location…
We 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 a house right next to uni is a little too pricey, at least figure out how close the alternatives are 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, while this will be fun for the first few weeks, 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!).
Security and safety
Unfortunately, crime rates in student areas tend to be high. Opportunists know that young people coming home drunk at night are more likely to leave windows and doors open, or forget that their keys are still 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 that 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 by looking online or asking your local council.
Don’t be afraid to check if appliances are adequate and in working order. Be clear on what's included in the tenancy agreement and inventory (e.g. 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 that the landlord will address 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.
The water supply
When 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!
Furnishings and fittings
As mentioned above, make sure you 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!
Some estate agents recommend that landlords letting to students should provide each tenant with a suitable desk and chair (if they advertise the property as a student house).
If possible, check mattresses for broken springs, as these can become dangerous and uncomfortable over time.
Everyone 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.
Resist freebies and gimmicks
Some landlords will offer ‘freebies', such as a massive TV or no utility 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 that this is always the case, though – you just have to be smart! A nice tele 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?
Letting 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.
Talk to existing tenants
Nobody 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!
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…
There'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 your separate ways or to keep looking. No one should be talked into living somewhere that 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 think that the rent is on the steep side, you might want to try haggling at this point. Be careful though, as the landlord may have other offers on the table already.
Whatever you do, make sure you read our ways to save money on rent and check you've done everything possible to get your rent down before signing on the dotted line.
Find out when you can move in
Most landlords will let you move in straight away on 1st July 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, you could ask for half rent during July and August.
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 one 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 and turn on your interview voice…
If 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).
Your next stop is to head over to our guide to 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.