Want free student accommodation? Try unihomeswap
Here's a service that helps you swap your room at home with other students so that you can live for free near your university.
Students now have another option for getting cheap accommodation: you can swap your room at your parent's home for a room in somebody else's parent's house. All the students involved in the swap benefit from free accommodation.
New website unihomeswap believes students could save between £3,000 and £10,000 a year if your parents are willing to offer your room to another student looking to study in your town.
You could then swap with them, if their family home is in the same town as your chosen university. If it isn't, you create a swapping triangle: for example, you move to a London home, the Londoner moves out to Birmingham, and the student from Birmingham moves in with your folks in Reading.
Costs, cleaning and curfews
You can register for free to search for rooms. It costs £25 to list your own room on the website, at which point you can contact others about theirs.
A launch offer is currently running that waives this fee in order to attract more properties. This offer is due to expire at the end of September. If it doesn't then you'll know the website hasn't yet created as many swaps as it had hoped to.
You might agree to help with bills. unihomeswap writes: “consider formal agreements about contributions towards bills and food, if any, as well as damage, curfews, visitors, pets, cleaning, smoking, drinking and each others' privacy.”
Getting to know each other
Once you've listed your own room, you're able to get contact details from other students and parents. You're then expected to make contact by phone and email. You'll probably want to talk to them a few times, maybe even meet them, to get to know each other.
You're allowed to pull out of a swap at any time.
Local “family support”
unihomeswap sees this service not just as an opportunity to save thousands of pounds, but as a way to help students get integrated in the community in a home that is supportive.
It suggests a trial period of up to six weeks or the whole first term if possible. “Living away from home for the first time and starting a university course is a big challenge for most people. Homesickness may set in! Give it all a chance. We hope that host families of swappers will be a source of support to the students at this time,” the site says.
If you don't like it after one term, at least you've probably saved over £1,000 in accommodation costs.
Safety is your responsibility
unihomeswap has been contacted by potential swappers about safety concerns. The website does not vet accommodation, which is the responsibility of parents and students.
unihomeswap writes: “This process may seem new, but it is only slightly different to ‘hosting’ a foreign student, or a student exchange program, where little or no money changes hands. It is also similar to a private rental or ‘digs’ but with the extra support of a family environment.”
unihomeswap points out to very concerned parents that no one ever runs a Criminal Records Bureau check on their own landlords. Admittedly this is different, since most students don't live with their landlords, but the risk when sharing with another student's parents is probably no greater than sharing with another student, as many do.
It's still early days
The website is new and it has teething problems. When I registered it wouldn't let me enter the promotional code that would enable me to list a property without paying the £25 fee before the end of September.
Also, when searching within 10 miles of every university and college campus, I received just a few hundred results. The number of listed properties will be far fewer than this, since many of those properties will show up next to more than one college or university.
Currently, there are only around half a dozen rooms listed in a 20-mile radius from central London, so the website has got a long way to go to build scale.
According to the website “hundreds” of people are registering all the time, so we can expect more of those registered members to start adding rooms. Hopefully, many of the hundreds of thousands of students in the UK, combined with the power of the internet, will turn this website into a great resource.