So, you’ve made it through your first year at University relatively unscathed. If you were in Halls of Residence, you’ll no doubt be needing to sort out a new roof over your head for your second year.

Living in Halls on, or near, the University campus will have been convenient and relatively easy, but now it’s up to you to get the ball rolling in the search for new private accommodation.

Don’t panic though. There’s a huge choice of private rental properties out there. What’s more, living in private rented property, you get to choose where you live and who with. However, it’s not as simple as breezing into a room in Halls. You’ve a lot to consider and you’ll find these five things to watch out for really helpful. Crack on though as the best value accommodation gets snapped up quick.

1. There’s loads of help out there

If you haven’t already, the first thing to do is to get in touch with your University’s Housing Office. They’re like a student housing matchmaker. Pop in or search your University’s website for their contact details and get talking to them well before you even finish your final term of your first year. Again, get in early and you’ll get the best accommodation out there.

Plenty of private letting agents cater for students and have really good knowledge of the local area of your University. They understand the needs of students and the financial challenges they face. They know all the best areas and also rigorously vet the landlords of the properties they offer.

2. Locations and landlords

Opting for privately rented accommodation puts you in control. You get to choose where you want to live, rather than being cooped up in Halls of Residence. The other great thing about this is that you can enjoy and feel part of what’s likely to be a really vibrant local community.

Do your homework though, not only on the location, but also where local shops are, how easy it is to commute to and from University and also getting home outside term times. Being well-placed can make a big difference financially.

Your University Housing Office can also provide a list of approved landlords and letting agents. This is a good way of filtering the good from the bad. You hear horror stories about some landlords, but 9/10 students haven’t expressed issues with theirs. The key thing is to be aware of safeguards like the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme where landlords have 30-days to put your tenancy deposit into the scheme. The type of contract you sign is also important. Assured shorthold tenancy agreements give you the right to stay in your accommodation unless your landlord can convince the court there are good reasons to evict you.

Want to check that a potential landlord is legit? Check the HM Land Registry website, and for just a £3 fee you can find out if the landlord actually owns the property or not. Also, ask the landlord to show you photographic evidence of who they are, such as their driving licence or passport. Don’t be afraid to ask this as any reputable landlord will totally understand why.

If you do find a shared house you’re interested in, maybe see if you can talk to the other students living there and ask them for their honest opinion on their landlord, the house and the local area.

3. Making mates

Few students have parents, who are so well-off, they can afford to pick up the bill for top-class rented accommodation in a fantastic area, just for themselves. Sharing is a fact of student life, and it’s something you’ll no doubt have to get used to.

University life is about new experiences and making new friends. It’s also about living with new people that you have never met before.

Choosing the right housemates is one of the most important decisions you’ll face. With Halls of Residence, you don’t really get to choose, but when sharing private accommodation, you do. If you’ve made good friends at University, it might make sense to team up with them when hunting for private digs. Better the devil you know? But if it’s just you, before you make a decision, see if you can speak to them and maybe even go out for a drink and see what the chemistry is like.

Everyone is different. We all have our little traits and habits that we might not notice, but may be annoying for some. So, when sharing accommodation, try to be considerate and think of the other people living there. That works both ways, too. So, if you suspect there might be friction between you and a potential housemate, maybe consider other properties.

4. Room for negotiation

When you’ve found accommodation you’re happy with, if it’s a shared house, it’s highly likely that there’ll be communal rooms like the lounge, kitchen and bathroom. There might also be a choice of bedrooms on offer. If the landlord doesn’t charge per room and all tenants pay collectively for the rent, then it’s only fair that the larger better rooms cost more than smaller, less attractive ones. If you can come to an agreement where everyone is happy, that’s great. Otherwise you might be able to take it in turns at living in the better rooms for a term at a time. Whatever works best.

Be conscious of security, too. Student houses are often targets for burglars. Why? Well, students tend to be more relaxed about security and as each house has multiple TVs, computers, smartphones, etc, thieves can get quite a haul with in one break in. So, if you have valuable items, ensure you keep doors and windows locked, get student contents insurance and also put a good padlock on your bedroom door (check with the landlord if it’s okay first, of course).

5. Avoid arguments over bills

If there’s one thing that worries students most and can lead to break-ups in friendships between students, it’s utility bills. Most first year students have never had any experience of paying bills, and with everything else that’s going on at University, and all the other expenses, bills are often the elephant in the room… until there’s a problem.

Think about it. Gas. Electricity. Broadband. Water. TV Licence. Unless you’re lucky enough to have them all included in your rent, then together, you and your housemates are responsible for paying them. There are different ways of dealing with bills.

One way is for everyone in the house to budget and put a bit aside each month, give the money to one housemate who then individually pays each utility bill. Let’s stop and think about that. Do you think you have the will power to put that aside each month? Reckon all your housemates will have too? Would you want to be the housemate with their name on all the bills who’s therefore responsible for collecting everyone’s money and paying all the bills on time? Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, doesn’t it?

Alternatively, you could use a bill management company like Split The Bills that provides an easy way to set up and split shared bills. How it works is you simply pick the utilities and services you need, then you and your housemates sign up online. The bill management company then deals with each supplier and sets up every service for you. You then pay the bill management company your own share each month from your own bank account.

The advantages are very attractive, especially for first time bill payers. Split the Bills, for instance offers a choice of Unlimited or Eco Saver energy options. Whichever you choose, the energy is from a green supplier and if you choose the Unlimited option, you don’t need to worry about housemates leaving lights on or forgetting to turn the heating off. You won’t need to pay a month up front or be caught with a final bill when you move out, either.

The broadband is no slouch either and offers average speeds up to 350Mbps via Virgin Media fibre broadband. And if you’re worried bills affecting your credit score, with Split The Bills managing your energy, there’s no joint account. That means other housemates’ credit scores can’t affect yours and make getting credit cards, a mortgage or loan tricky in the future.

Why make life difficult?

So, that’s 5 helpful pointers that should make the reality of getting set up with a student house a whole lot easier, quicker, fairer and safer. Let’s recap. Get in touch with your University’s Housing Office, carefully check out your location and your landlord, get a feel for your potential housemates and choose a room wisely. Finally, make it easier for everyone by getting a price from a bill management company like Split The Bills. Do all this and you’ll reduce the risks, relieve stress and be able to concentrate on studying and playing hard. What are you waiting for?

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