Now being the time of the year that most first-year students are delving into the house hunting process, I thought this was good to offer my advice on this – particularly to help those international students who may not be familiar with the housing situation in the UK and UK universities.
Finding your friend group
In first year, most students opt to get university accommodations (that is, save for those that commute). If you have Surrey as your firm choice, you can go ahead and apply for accommodation. Provided you apply by the deadline (which for the upcoming academic year is 25th of July 2018) and meet all the conditions of the allocation policy, then as a first year you are guaranteed university accommodation. Next, accommodation is prioritised for students who had Surrey as their insurance choice that also meet the conditions of their offer. Once exam results come out and if your place at Surrey is confirmed, then you should get an offer for accommodation around the same time. Those looking to apply for university accommodation for the upcoming academic year can check out the university’s accommodation page for more information on the accommodation and the application process. Feel free to also see my post on the different kinds of university accommodation available at Surrey for more information on living in university accommodation.
Come second year, most students then tend to go into find a group of friends and look for private sector accommodation in Guildford. Essentially, you have the whole of first year to sort this out so don’t worry about it too much once you get here. What I would recommend is to save the period between starting at Surrey in late September and breaking for Christmas in December for focusing on finding your group. It’s a bit of an awkward thing to navigate, having to find the people you want to live with next year. For the most part you’ve only known these people for about a month and now you’re asking to move in with them – that’s why I recommend not rushing into it. You may decide in the third week that you’re going to live with a certain group of people and then come week 7 you don’t really talk to them that much anymore or you get closer to another group of friends that also want you in their group. For this reason, I would say focus on building friendships first before worrying about second year accommodation. Come January, however, it would be a good start to have your group ready so that you can begin looking for houses.
Looking for houses
Once your group is finalised, the first thing you should do is agree on your budgets and any preferences or deal-breakers you may have. It may be uncomfortable, but this is absolutely necessary as the last thing you want is to not have everybody comfortable with the accommodation you find and possibly dropping out because of that. It gives you a criteria, so you know what you’re looking for and you can avoid this happening.
In terms of the actual process of finding a house, there are loads of websites and agencies that you can use to do this. You could decide to visit the websites of the different real estate agencies with properties in Guildford and look through there to see the properties they have listed or use property sites such as Rightmove or Zoopla which group together the different properties available in a particular area. Always check if the property is student friendly – some will specifically say no students allowed but, on the other hand, some are specifically tailored towards students.
Some of the real estate agencies in Guildford are
- Knight Frank
- Gascoigne Pees
There is also: Hamptons, Winkworth, Burns and Webber and a whole lot more but these tend to be for family homes and pretty high end properties in Guildford and the surrounding villages so probably wouldn’t have much for students
A few property websites you could try are:
Types of contracts and houses
Even though most people tend to go this route – that is, to find a group of friends and get a private house – there are also other options. You could look to join a pre-formed group that may or may not already have a house, or you could find a room in a house that rents out its rooms separately. Regarding the former, a lot of the times there will groups looking for a few more people to complete their group to put down an offer for a house they have already found, or just to fill up their numbers and get a bigger house. The University Lettings Team has a Facebook page where a lot of this is done. Regarding the latter, some houses rent the house as a whole but there are also some that rent rooms in the house where individuals apply to stay.
There are also university managed houses which are in the private sector but are owned and run by the university. So, rather than paying a private landlord, you pay the university, but it is still a house and not a flat as the university accommodation. Like the university accommodation, however, the prices are arranged in bands and inclusive of bills. However, these houses are very limited in number. For these houses, you have to have a pre-formed group to apply.
There are also different types of contracts available. Some properties are rented on a 9 or 10-month contract, and so are only available for the period of time that you will be at university. However, there are those that are rented on a 12-month contract, and so will hold tenancy on the house and pay for the full year, regardless of whether you are in the house or not. So, for example, you could have a contract that runs from September-August, and therefore will be paying for the summer after second year where the university is not in session, or you could get a contract June-May or July-June and therefore will be paying for the summer before second year. Obviously, it would be ideal to not be paying for a house for months when it is not in use, but unfortunately some of the properties available are fixed on this. If you do get a house with a 12-month contract, some landlords may be willing to negotiate this down or to allow for you to find someone to take the house in the months you won’t be there. If they don’t, however, then you just have to pay for the full 12 months. The house I am in now is one we got on a 12-month contract. However it ended up working out for us as I had a job during the summer and so needed a place to stay for a couple of days and one of my housemates was also working over the summer so they didn’t have to find somewhere to stay – this meant that we did manage to make some use of the summer months’ rent and it wasn’t just a total waste.
Also, a lot of the times the rent price indicated is exclusive of bills (particularly where the house is not tailored for students) and so remember to factor this into your calculations.
So I’ve found a house, now what?
Once you find a house, great! That’s the hard bit over. However, there is still a bit more to do with actually securing the house, the most complicated of which is the signing of contracts. There are a lot of documents to go over and sign in between the time you find the house and actually moving in. It is helpful to ask your parents and/or the university lettings team to help you look over your contracts just to make sure you are getting a decent deal and not being taken advantage of. You also want to make sure you understand everything in the contract and know what you’re getting yourself into. Moreover, all students wishing to privately rent out a house are going to need a UK guarantor before any agency or landlord will agree to rent to you. This is a third-party adult who agrees, for the course of the tenancy, to pay your rent should you for any reason fail to. The landlord may take legal action to recover unpaid rent from your guarantor if this is the case. The guarantor need not be someone you’re related to but it does have to be an adult and someone who lives in the UK (as it is easier for them to take legal actions against them). Even if the house you are sharing is under one tenancy and listed only under one name, most if not all agencies or landlords will still require for all tenants to have a guarantor. So, once you’ve figured out your group and are beginning to look for houses, you should also start to think about who your guarantor will be. For students from the UK or that live in the UK, this tends to be pretty simple and they would just use their parents or guardian. However, for international students it is a little more complicated. If you do know someone – whether related or not – that can act as your guarantor, then great! If you don’t have anyone at all that you could use as a guarantor that lives in the UK, then landlords will ask for 6-months rent upfront. This is why it is important you sort out your guarantor in advance of securing a house so that, if this is something you’re not comfortable doing, you can try and avoid it. Even if paying 6 months rent in advance is something you may be able to do, it is keeping this at the back of your mind so as to factor it into your budget calculations.
Storage and moving in second year
So now you have you house sorted – contracts signed and everything –, next up is moving in.
Being an international student, the process of moving in in second year was a little different for me. I can’t really take my things home with me at the end of the year as the UK students do, and so I had to store them over the summer. Whereas I took my clothes, pictures, and most of the little things I had around my room, I had to put into storage my bedding, kitchen stuff, clothes I wasn’t taking home (like my winter coat), bathroom stuff, storage bins and almost all the knick-knacks I had lying around that were too big to fit in my suitcase. A lot of international students tend to do this, and it can get quite pricey if you are going to store everything over the summer. Luckily for me, our house contract started from about a week after I had to leave Manor Park and so, when I came back from Brazil, we already had our house for second year and I moved all my stuff in (which meant I only had to store my stuff for about three weeks). I used Big Yellow Storage to put my stuff in which was great because, unlike most of the other storage companies where you pay by box, at Big Yellow you pay for the space (which can be anything from the size of a telephone box to a large living room) per week and you can stuff as much as you want in there. They also had a deal for 50% off for up to 8 weeks and so it worked out a lot cheaper.
For those who aren’t looking to get into house sharing, more or less the application process goes. If you wish to get a place on your own in second year, or first years that don’t want to do university accommodation note that, while it is possible to find a 1 or 2-bedroom accommodation, these tend to be quite expensive and are quite limited in number. If you want to keep with the flat-sharing situation, you may want to check out Scape or Prospect house. These are private companies that offer student accommodation in the same sort of style as the university accommodation (that is, flats of your own room and a shared kitchen, or your own studio room).
You can also try again for university accommodation in your second year, but this not guaranteed for second years and is, as you can imagine, also very limited.
If you live close to the university, there is also the option to commute
Personally, I love living in a house-share with my friends. It feels a lot more like home to have our own living room and garden and we really are like family now. Renting privately also means we have to sort out our own bins and recycling, council tax, bills and utilities which, as boring as it may sound, is good practice for the future.
What I will say is important to note, whatever type of accommodation you’re thinking of after first year, is that Guildford is more expensive than most other places. The town is among one of the more expensive places to live in the UK and though as a student, there are quite a few deals and exemptions that mean you don’t really experience that in everyday life, this is particularly noticeable in the housing sector. This is not to say that it is ludicrously priced, but just be prepared to spend a little more than you would anywhere else – it’s not quite London prices but it’s also not rest-of-the-country prices.
Overall, while it is a bit of a long and at times complicated process, there is lots of support along the way and the end result is (hopefully) rewarding!