Suss things out early
Many universities guarantee housing to first years, international students and some others: applying early is key if you want one of these places (ask the accommodation office about deadlines). For everyone else, the more time you leave yourself, the better off you’ll be.
It’s a good idea to start thinking about where you want to live and what you can afford a couple of months before house hunting. Crucially, if you don’t have cash on hand to pay for a deposit or other upfront costs, leave enough time to get the money together.
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Work out what you can afford
Before you even start looking at properties, find out how much rent you can afford.
Start by adding up your regular monthly income: Student Finance, wages, parental contribution and so on.
Next list all your monthly costs – rent, transport, food, nights out etc. – and share out the income between them. Keep moving the money around until the numbers fit: you may need to cut out or cut down on non-essentials to leave enough for rent or other important costs.
Heads-up: some contracts are for 52 weeks, not just the academic year, so you may need to budget for rent over the summer holidays, too.
Plan for additional costs
Upfront costs can clean out your maintenance loan or other income, leaving you skint before term even starts. We’re talking:
- Deposit (typically equivalent to a month’s rent)
- First rent payment: this could be a monthly, termly or larger amount
- Fees or admin charges
- Bedding, kitchen gear and anything else not included in the rent.
The best tactic for these really is saving in advance, so plan ahead as much as you can.
According to the National Student Money Survey 2018, 44% of students struggle to pay rent – so plan B is equally important. That could be saving a little extra for emergencies, or knowing where you’ll go for help or financial support: your family or student welfare team for starters.
Go for cheaper options
First of all, compare everything on offer – uni accommodation, private halls, rooms for rent – before deciding which are right for you and your budget.
Next, think about sharing a property, as you could save tons on communal bills, gadgets and groceries. Be flexible about facilities, too. If your budget can only stretch to communal showers, for instance, decide what you’re willing to sacrifice to get an en-suite, or make peace with going without.
Finally, check several locations: investigate whether you can save on rent by living further from campus, or if staying central nets bigger savings from cheap food and free fun.
Your university’s accommodation office, or the local council, should have a list of accredited landlords, agents or properties. Start with this, as these houses or landlords are vetted, inspected or otherwise up to scratch.
Be cautious about privately advertised properties: run them by your uni and watch out for landlords or agents who pressure you into handing over cash quickly.
Weigh-up included bills
Rents which include bills, insurance and even gym membership have their benefits, but you lose the ability to shop around for cheaper deals, or to trim costs when money’s tight. At the very least, check what’s included, how it’s calculated, and how much you’d pay separately.
Also watch out for bundled bills you wouldn’t pay anyway. For example, if you’re a full-time student, you’re exempt from Council Tax. Similarly, with separate bills you’d have the choice to not have a TV licence, or to have it refunded during the holidays, saving you up to £150/yr.
Ask for a discount
It’s always worth trying to negotiate the rent, though you’ll be in a stronger position with a good argument:
- You’re paying for the property over the summer but won’t be living there
- You’re renewing the contract and have been a good tenant
- Things around the house need repairing or aren’t in great condition
- The rent includes unnecessary or unwanted bills.
If the place isn’t up to scratch, or the landlord or agency hasn’t played fair, don’t take a reduction in place of your rights! Get advice from your accommodation office or housing charity Shelter.
Protect your deposit
A deposit can be a hefty wad of cash, so always aim to get it back in full when you leave. Check if your deposit will be stored in a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme: this ensures the cash is safe, deductions are fair, and that you’ll be repaid promptly. It’s also worth doing your own inspection and inventory of the property when you move in, ideally with photos.
Finally, treat the place like you care about it. Keep it clean and tidy, report or repair issues promptly, and stay on top of anything else you agreed to when signing the contract.
Ruth Bushi is an editor at Save the Student, a hub for all things student-finance related. The views expressed in this article may not represent those of loveMONEY.