Are you a student moving into a shared student household? Drama, dust and too much washing up may beckon. Living with your friends can be hilarious or horrifying. You can end up with lifelong buds or an awkward acquaintance from too many ‘stolen milk’ arguments. Alongside this bonding experience is the trepidation that is student renting. Plagues of stories online describe squalid conditions, expensive scams and lengthy battles where naive students can be taken advantage of.
This is going to be my last Student lifestyle blog post for a little while because life has suddenly become quite adult and real! As my younger sister prepares to enter her second year of university, I’ve been trying to think of tips or things I wish I’d known. Luckily, I can’t stop thinking of advice. So here’s my top tips on how to make the most of a student house, avoid dodgy landlords and hopefully end up with deposits and friendships intact!
1. Take photos
It’s what everyone tells you to do and yet, for some reason, I forgot to do it each year. Taking photos of your house is essential – and make sure you cover the whole house, not just your room. Happily snap away the condition of furniture and fittings, any damage and exactly what your room comprises of upon picking up your keys. It makes disputing costs easier and gives you some peace of mind about the condition of the property when you move out. It’s important to know, legally, that properties expected ‘reasonable wear and tear’ from someone living in it – so having photos to prove the original condition can help establish if a landlord if just trying to pay for their own decorating costs!
Of course, a proper estate agent and landlord should do a complete inventory at the start of your tenancy, noting down any scuffed sides or blutack marks, but having your own proof is so worth it. Don’t forget snaps of the meter readings when you move in and out too – it can save a lot of money and time when talking to utilities companies!
2. Communicate in writing
Again, something I was repeatedly advised to do and that I often forgot. If you have a maintenance issue or a concern, it’s worth your time to tap out an email rather than ringing up or, even worse, texting. Some landlords and estate agents are brilliant – in our second year house, our landlord (eccentric but harmless) would bring round some milk or biscuits whenever he came to see a maintenance issue. Other students haven’t been quite so happy. Scores of stories can be found about messages being ignored. Emailing is some proof – so try and keep it polite!
3. Be clear with tasks / chores
How to fall out with your housemates? Doing the dishes. My previous housemates can vouch for how much I used to detest washing up. My plates and bowls would pile high with yesterday’s porridge and last week’s pasta. I was that housemate. So I can only try to encourage anyone reading this to do the complete opposite! Just do your dishes or, even better, find a house with a dishwasher. Just be prepared for how surprisingly expensive dishwasher tablets are.
4. Know when to take things seriously
Living with people (whether you are best friends or awkward acquaintances) can reveal a whole new depth of weird quirks about them. One thing that should always be taken seriously, regardless of your financial situation, is money. People don’t have the time or necessarily the funds to pay your share if you forget to budget for electricity that month because you bought too many VKs last week. This brings me to my next point…
5. Always pay on time
…It’s just not worth the hassle to be the housemate constantly paying late. If you can’t pay, try and say something before the deadline passes. Hiding behind excuses won’t help friendships or credit ratings.
6. Don’t be scared by a scary ‘official’ letter
At the start of my final year, our house was in the awkward situation of receiving what looked like very scary, official-seeming letters from another utilities company. It threatened bailiffs (!), court (!!) and contacting the University over an outstanding bill that wasn’t ours to pay. Turns out, all it needed was a phone call to explain we weren’t the students in question, and the scary letters were no longer an issue. Don’t leave letters like this hidden away in a dusty drawer. Take a deep breath and actually call the company rather than hoping for the situation to disappear.
7. ‘Student Bills’ companies can make life a lot harder
Some worship the idea. Others have horror stories about huge payments and mystery usage. Basically, companies exist that offer to manage your utilities for you so rather than paying separate electricity / gas / water / broadband / TV licence bills (the list is long!), you just pay one company a month and they handle the rest. In theory, these companies are a dream. My experience hasn’t been so smooth. I’d make sure you stay up to date with dreaded meter readings and be aware that this method may have a much higher initial price, regardless of the promised return payments at the end of your contract.
8. Lock doors & get contents insurance
This one seems like common sense. Except, so many students don’t have insurance! I’ve aways used Endsleigh and they’ve been really helpful, but there are lots of providers out there. Student houses aren’t always in the nicest neighbourhoods so it’s important to expect a different level of security to what you may have experienced in Halls or University owned accommodation. There are often stories of people leaving back doors or ground floor windows open and assuming footsteps in the night (or broad daylight!) is another housemate rather than an opportunist burglar.
A few other tips that will hopefully make this experience smoother:
- Do a Council Tax exemption form online. It’s ridiculously easy. Will save you a whole year’s worth of stress!
- Coordinate who’s bringing what for the kitchen. We turned up in our first shared house as 4 girls with 4 colanders and about a million mugs between us.
- Have a group chat to remind each other when to buy loo roll and when to pay the bills. No catty comments allowed.
- ALWAYS buy more loo roll than you think is necessary.
- Cooking a meal together can save time and money if you all chip in for ingredients. Just don’t attempt to defrost a slab of mince meat under a hot water tap and expect a delicious meal.
- Fairy lights, a scented candle and some pretty bedding can brighten up the dullest of student rooms. Don’t be disheartened by the drab decor. Anything can feel like home with a few photos up!
If you haven’t yet chosen your shared student house, my advice is simple. Keep the number of housemates down – a house of 8 or 9 students may sound like a dream in theory but the reality can be a little more like bedlam. Larger houses can cost more to heat and be harder to keep clean. In terms of which letting agent or landlord, keep an eye on your University’s facebook groups to see if there’s positive or negative feedback from other students. And ALWAYS get a parent or more qualified friend to read over a contract before you sign it, you never know what may be hidden in those long, convoluted paragraphs…
The opportunity to live with friends is a very exciting one. But sometimes you might discover you’re incredibly good friends, but only when you’re living in separate houses. Or, you may start the year thinking you’ll never bond and end up crying with laughter over cheesy chips early one morning. My final year saw us literally living next to a mound of fly tipping, with a questionable dealer’s house behind and an infamous ‘massage parlour’ in front – but it was made bearable by my lovely housemates!
Going to University is a fantastic experience and it has helped me grow up a lot. I’ve written whilst living Paris, whilst tackling finals, and now I’m becoming a proper adult… but I still have all these ‘wow I wish I had known that!’ moments each day. So I hope this post is useful and of course, if you have any specific questions, feel free to send a message!