It’s that time of the year again where scores of students step onboard the private accommodation panic treadmill. I remember being in this position 4 years ago now. The process of moving from halls of residence to privately rented accommodation is stressful – there are no two ways about it. Between deciding who you’re going to live with, what property to choose, signing contracts, dealing with estate agents and landlords, and then actually moving in, there’s a lot to consider.
There’s a plethora of information and guidance about private renting around (and I’ll share some of that at the end), so I wanted to instead share some personal guidance based on my own experience.
1. Pick your housemates carefully
In my three years of private renting after First Year, I lived with 15 different people in total and this really showed me how the people you live with make such a difference to your experience. It’s important to consider both who you get on with on a personal level and what kinds of traits you’d like in whoever you live with. Don’t rush into pursuing that dream of carrying on your perfect floor in halls in a house somewhere. Go with your gut and don’t be afraid to say no to people. That being said, you’ll never find the perfect housemate – this doesn’t exist – so picking people you’ll feel comfortable communicating with to work through issues down the line is crucial.
2. Take time to find a place you're happy with
Start the search with plenty of time, but don’t rush into it. Approach a few different estate agents in different areas that you might be interested in and tell them what you’re looking for – let them do the rest of the work for you. Avoid choosing a place you haven’t physically viewed yourself – even if a trusted friend has seen it and sends you photos. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into a decision! Keep in mind that an estate agent wants to get you to sign as soon as possible to make sure they’ve secured their deal, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to take your time.
3. Don't fear guarantors, contracts and fees
You’ll almost certainly need a UK-based guarantor who’s in employment or you’ll be asked to pay a significant amount of rent upfront. This guarantor doesn’t need to be in a very well-paid job, but a credit search will likely be done on them to check for things like bankruptcy. If you don’t have someone who is able to guarantee your rent, you may be able to benefit from the College’s Rent Guarantor Scheme.
Your tenancy agreement is a binding legal document, so it’s worth making sure that you’re happy with what you’re agreeing to. Both the College’s Student Hub and the Union’s Advice Centre are able to look over your agreement with you to make sure everything’s above board. Make sure you’re aware of what you’re responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for as this will empower you to ask for things to be sorted out when you actually move in.
And then the fees. You’ll almost certainly need to pay a deposit and agency fees, but the good news is that these have been capped recently according to the Tenant Fees Act of 2019. The bad news is that you’re still likely to need to cough up a fair amount for a security deposit. Most students will effectively have a phantom £1k or so that gets passed between various deposit schemes for the remainder of their courses. Make sure that your deposit is held by a third-party deposit scheme that you’re able to access the online account for it (don’t just take your landlord’s word for this!).
4. Don't panic!
This one I can’t stress more. It all seems very scary and daunting the first time you do it, but keep in mind that thousands of students a year do this, and it all works out in the end. Even if what seemed like your perfect house falls through at the last minute, the London housing market is extremely dynamic and there will be plenty of properties that present themselves at the last minute that you can move into very soon after viewing. If you want to avoid the hassle of the London private rental market and enjoy that sweet comfort of halls for a bit longer, you can! Imperial offers a number of rooms for non-final and non-first year undergrads in Evelyn Gardens that you can find out about here.
So those are my key bits of advice, and they’re just my own thoughts so don’t try and sue the Union if you take all this advice and still get screwed over! Of course, there’s still a lot to consider and be mindful of, but luckily there is also a lot of information out there to help. Both the College’s webpages and Union’s Advice pages provide a lot of information about all things to consider when searching for a house, signing contracts, fees and bills, and then actually living in a privately rented house. For something a bit different, Save the Student have an accommodation section that contains many different (Buzzfeed style) articles about all things accommodation related.
If you’ve got any questions about anything I’ve written about, please feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!