About this time three years ago, a rumour was circulating uni: If you didn’t start looking for accommodation for the following year now, all the best places would go. Suddenly, everyone started viewing and then securing their houses. I remember thinking ‘what? Already?’ I felt as though I had only just arrived. How was I supposed to know who I wanted to share a house with when I was still busy making lots of new friends from different parts of uni?
I hadn’t yet explored the student area fully and didn’t know where I wanted to live. Did I want to be near to the uni? Closer to town? On a quiet street or a busy and lively one? I hadn’t yet thought about it. There was suddenly this enormous pressure. Despite part of me knowing that Cardiff was full of housing, I, like so many, wanted to crack on and find a good one. The last thing I wanted was to end up with a cold and damp bedroom with a kitchen which doubled as a home for slugs. As it happened, this is exactly what myself and my housemates got.
After deciding on our small group of girls, the four of us went to a letting agency that specifically promised to be on the side of the students. They ushered us into a car and whipped around the houses. The first house we entered took our breath away, and not in a good way; it was so damp that it was hard to breathe. Nodding silently at each room, there was a unanimous heir of disapproval amongst us.
The car journeys from house to house were silent. The viewing agent didn’t engage with us or encourage us to share what we wanted from a house. He didn’t ask for our opinion; he just rushed us round, perhaps hoping that this way, we wouldn’t see the multiple carpet stains and damp patches on the walls.
The second house we visited was the best of the bad bunch. However, at the time it was the cleanest, warmest and cosiest. Whilst it was relatively far away from the uni and city-centre, it was cheap. When we got back to the letting agency the agent immediately inflicted more pressure. He told us that there were other people who wanted to view the property and that it was likely it would go very quickly. Based on this one viewing and the fact that we thought the letting agency was student-friendly, we decided to go for it. The rush was then on to fill in all the appropriate paperwork and to take in our deposits. I must admit, at the time it felt good to be sorted. However, looking back I wish I’d taken more time to think over the decision.
Just under a year later, the time came to move in. When I arrived, I found the house to be very different from what I remembered. Opening the door, myself and my parents were hit with an overwhelming smell of damp. In my bedroom, I turned to look at the wall and saw that dampness was causing the paint to bubble, crack and peel off. I soon found out that mine wasn’t the only wall affected.
Over the next few months my housemates and I complained relentlessly to the letting agent. Months later and after lots of emails, they sent out a contractor who had the cheek to tell me that the wall wasn’t damp and that it merely had moisture in it. I mean, aren’t they the same thing?
Thankfully, after a lot of time and effort on our part, our landlord agreed to drop the rent to cover the electricity used by the dehumidifier and the heating costs. They also ended up painting over the worst areas with an apparently ‘damp-proof’ paint. Funnily enough, this happened just before the next students started viewing the house. The penny dropped; this is what they must have done when we had looked around the year before when it didn’t look so bad. They had merely covered the problem to ensure the property would be let. Despite the letting agency’s pledge to support students, the whole process seemed to be rushed and entirely about money.
For third year my best friend, Georgie, and I decided we wanted to live together as a two. We found a cute little top-floor flat, which thankfully, ended up being really nice and cosy. There weren’t that many small properties in Cardiff, which meant that there was still pressure to quickly decide whether we wanted it and this time, we also had to pay agency fees.
Given that I ended up living both somewhere a bit grotty and somewhere nice, I wanted to share my experiences and give those of you who are about to start looking a bit of a heads up:
- Take time to decide on your group
Lots of people have told me that they found living with particular people quite difficult and that sometimes, it challenged their friendships. Even though you can never predict the future, it’s worth taking the time to try and visualise what it will be like living with different individuals because you will probably spend a lot of time with them. If you’re someone who gets stressed out by mess, for example, then look for people who are on the same page as you in terms of cleaning and emptying the bins etc.
Also, there is usually at least six months between signing a house and actually moving in. Try to commit with people that you have really clicked with and that you can see yourself being friends with for a while.
- Inspect don’t scan
When viewing houses, it’s so easy to get distracted by nice feng shui, cute decorations or even the mess on the floor. However, I have now learnt that it’s much more important to look at the shell of the room. Do the walls look damp? Is there mould in the corner? Do the current tenants have dehumidifiers? Also, use your nose. If it smells damp, then it probably is.
If the tenants are in, it’s also worth asking them questions about their experience living there. Hopefully they will be honest, even with the viewing agent there.
The university groups on social media can also be handy. I have seen lots of people posting their experience with letting agencies on these pages and they often get a lot of comments with other students who want to share their views. It may be worth asking for letting agency recommendations and just seeing what comes back in response!
- Don’t rush into an agreement
Letting agents will always advise you that there is a high demand for housing because they want to let out all of their houses. As much as its difficult to not get caught up in the panic, try to spend at least an evening discussing the properties that you have seen with your future housemates.
Also, make sure you read the tenancy agreement. Look at things like whether you have to pay agency or admin fees. Will the deposit be protected by the government? What are the rules on posters and wall art?
Also, never be afraid to walk away. Letting agents and landlords need you more than you need them and don’t worry, there will be lots more choice!
If you are like us and you find that your house looks and feels different to when you viewed it, don’t be afraid to complain. You are well within your rights to make your landlord aware of your concerns. At the end of the day, it’s like being mis-sold goods. It may feel like you’re getting nowhere, but your perseverance may be worth it in the end. If you feel you have nothing to lose, then go for it.
In my second year, we used a company called Glide, which estimated our usage and then split all of the utility bills between us, including a TV license. We each individually paid a direct debit to them and they then paid the utility companies. We were quite apprehensive at first because we hadn’t heard that many great reviews. However, it turned out to be really easy to use and we ended up getting some money back because we’d spent less than the prediction. So this is something that I would recommend, especially if you are moving in with a large group.
However, if you want to have more control over your providers and the freedom to shop around for deals, it may be better to sort it out yourselves.
- Take photos
On moving day the excitement can take over; you may feel you want to move all of your belongings in straight away. However, before you do, make sure you have a really good inspection. Be sure that everything is working and report anything that isn’t as soon as you can. Take pictures of any marks on walls, carpets, any ripped furniture, chipped tiles etc. It will cover you at the end of the year when your landlord/letting agency comes to do the final inspection and may mean you get all of your deposit back!
I wrote this blog because, back in first year, I wish that I’d read someone else’s story; maybe it would have helped me relax and take more time over my decision. I really hope that reading my story and taking on board my advice will be helpful when you come to search for a house.
Featured Image: Screenshot of Google Maps satellite image of Cathays, Cardiff, available at https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-3.180327,295m/data=!3m1!1e3 [accessed on 10/11/2018]