Viewing student houses: what to look for
Far too many students fall into costly traps when renting. Avoid nasty surprises before you sign with our tips and printable viewing checklist! May the odds forever be in your favour.
According to our National Student Accommodation Survey, a third of students feel their uni home is poor value for money.
So, resist the house hunt frenzy and view properties properly. It's your chance to make an informed decision and avoid shelling out to live in a place you resent.
Yes, there is a lot to think about: from damp to deposits to bus stops, you can never do too much research – but our tips below will make life easier. We've even got a printable viewing checklist so you can score and compare properties!
What's in this guide?
How to prepare for house viewings
Before you step foot in a rental property, get yourself up to speed:
- Find out your rental budget using our rent affordability calculator
- Download our free House Viewing Checklist to score and compare each property
- Check your credit rating is good* (part of reference checks).
* There is no legal minimum credit score for renting in the UK – this just indicates how likely you are to miss rent payments, but is unlikely to stop you from renting as a student.
Where to find student properties
Local student letting agencies are the obvious place to start, though some students prefer to deal directly with the landlord.
There's an added layer of security when opting for an agency, as they'll act as a middleman between yourselves and the landlord. In theory, this ensures that everything in the tenancy agreement is done by the book – but the costs may be higher.
If you're thinking of going down the landlord route, check in with your university accommodation service as they may have a list of accredited landlords in the area.
Questions to ask when viewing a house
Here are the best questions to ask when viewing a house or flat:
- Are bills included?
- Is there a Gas Certificate?
- What about the Energy Performance Certificate?
- Is there a discount for renting during the summer?
- What is the deposit and deposit scheme?
- When does the deposit have to be paid?
- How can we get our deposit back at the end of the tenancy?
- Do you have an inventory list? What furniture and appliances are included?
- Is there a car park or bike storage available?
- Do you have a sample tenancy agreement we could see?
- Are there any agency/extra costs?
What to look for when viewing a student house
In our experience, there are 10 key things to watch out for when viewing or considering a property:
Regulations on the standards of rented housing are improving, but our recent accommodation survey revealed 26% of students suffer from severe damp and black mould.
Don't be fooled into thinking damp just looks a bit gross – it also smells gross, can ruin your clothes and furnishings, and can cause serious health problems (especially if you suffer from hayfever, asthma or other conditions which can affect your breathing).
When viewing a house, check all walls and ceilings – particularly around windows, corners and behind wardrobes. Look out for flaking paint or wallpaper, black mould patches and a musky smell, as these are all tell-tale signs, too.
If you move in and find that the landlord still hasn't sorted out the damp issue, do some research into your rights as you may be able to sue them.
Infestations are another big problem in student houses. Common pests include mice, slugs, fruit flies, pigeons, cockroaches and sometimes even rats.
To be fair, this is often due to previous tenants leaving food and overflowing bins lying around. But even so, you shouldn't be paying for previous tenants' squalor.
Don't be afraid to check kitchen cupboards, work surfaces and around bins. 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 – as all unwelcome visitors can! Listen to episode one of our podcast, No More Beans, to find out how Tom and Jess dealt with their own pest problems at uni.
The location of the property
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 near uni is a little too pricey, it's important to figure out how close properties are to decent transport links.
But proximity to uni (or a way to get to uni) isn't the only thing to consider when looking at locations. On your journey to the viewing, keep an eye out for local amenities like newsagents, supermarkets, doctors and, of course, pubs.
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 your custom (and the house from thieves).
If you don't know the area too well, do a bit of research 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. But wherever your house is, check out our guide to keeping it safe from burglars.
Also, remember to check that the property has working fire alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets. And, if you're in an HMO (house in multiple occupation), there must also be clearly marked emergency exits.If you'll be living in a group of three or more students, the landlord will have to abide by stringent HMO regulations. Annoyingly, despite being a legal requirement, these regulations 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.
Electric appliances and white goods
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, too (e.g. the washing machine probably will be, but the microwave may belong to the current tenants).
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 address them before you move in.
It's also worth making sure that 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 probably 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 may disappear by the time you move in.
It's also worth noting that 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, you should also check mattresses for broken springs as these can become dangerous and uncomfortable over time.
Check that the house is well-insulated
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.
Don't worry about heading to the loft to check for insulation in the roof – your main concerns should be double-glazed windows, secure doors, a good heating system and a lack of drafty spots.
Make sure to have a feel of the walls inside the property, too – if they're cold, that's a sign that the insulation is poor (and could eventually lead to damp in the walls). Carrying out these checks should help you save money on your energy bills.
There's also no harm in taking a look at the roof from outside the house to check if any tiles are missing. If there are, 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 these kinds of gestures, as despite seeming like amazing deals, the landlord could simply be 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 telly is all well and good, but if it's adding anything more than about £400 to your annual rent, you'll be better off buying your own.
Talk to the current tenants
Nobody has a better idea of what a house is like to live in than its current tenants. They're likely 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 decent insight by asking one simple question: "So, what are the best and worst things about this house?".
If the landlord's not over your shoulder, they might make you aware of anything the landlord has missed out or is trying to cover up. If they seem pretty happy, then that's the best testimony you can get.
As the residents of this student house of horrors found out when they spoke to the previous tenants after moving in, chatting with them beforehand could save you a lot of stress further down the line.
How to make an offer on a house
After you've been to a few viewings and compared housing scores from your Save the Student viewing checklist, there should hopefully be one that stands out.
If you're keen to go ahead, these are the next steps to follow:
Make your offer quickly
Before you call the agent or landlord, it's really important 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.
Once you're happy with your decision, it's time to get things moving before someone else makes a successful offer.
If there are others interested, the landlord will usually choose their tenants based upon who's likely to pay rent on time and cause the fewest problems for them over the year. With that in mind, dressing well and having proof of funds available won't do you any harm.
Sort out your finances
Once you've made it clear that you want to rent the property, there's still a lot to consider when it comes to finances.
Make sure you go over everything in detail with your agent or landlord before you move in, with specifics in writing.
Things to check
- How much your monthly rent will be (check out our table that shows you the average rent in your area)
- If you can afford the rent (use the rent calculator)
- Your credit rating
- Who pays which bills
- What the deal with summer rent is
- How much the deposit is
- Where your deposit is protected
- Any extra fees.
If you think 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.
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.
Confirm your move-in date
Most landlords will let you move in straight away on 1st July during summer, but others may want to use the summer to improve the house (even if you're paying rent at this time).
It's best to talk to your landlord if you need the house over the summer to make sure you won't be left in a tricky situation.
And if they're charging full rent during summer when you don't plan to be there, you could ask for half rent during July and August. It's worth a go!
Now you've found a place, it's time to look over the contract by following our tenancy agreement checklist.