I’m not sure where it originated from, but the second-year house panic is very real. This time a year ago, I had already signed a contract for a property and paid my deposit despite having been at university for less than three months. In retrospect it seems a little crazy, as I didn’t really know much about the area, my future housemates or what to look for in a property, but it feels as if those around you are already sorting out their living situations for year two the second you arrive in Manchester.
Luckily it worked out for me, but observing some of my friends’ situations and looking back at the process has taught me a lot about the dos and don’ts of second year housing. Below are a few tips that all first-years need to hear.
1. Don’t rush into any decisions.
That house panic I was talking about? Ignore it. As much as there seems to be a sense of urgency as soon as November rolls around, the reality is that there will always be housing options available no matter what time of year it is. Of course, some of the ‘best’ or more affordable properties will be secured very early on, but there’s no point rushing into paying a deposit for a seemingly great house if you’re not completely sure about the area you want to live in, who you want to live with or what requirements you have.
If there’s any doubt in the back of your mind, take a step back and consider all of your options. There are many advantages to having your housing situation sorted out by the time Semester 2 exam season rolls around so you don’t have the extra stress, but having it sorted months and months before that isn’t strictly necessary.
2. Do not sign any contract without viewing the property first!
This tip comes with a disclaimer as the pandemic definitely complicates the viewing process, however you should do everything you can to view potential houses in-person before committing to any. Photos and even video tours can be extremely misleading and I have heard multiple horror stories of friends signing contracts for houses that look completely different in person.
My housemates and I were able to go to our house viewing despite being in lockdown last year, so it is possible and you should push for it as much as you can. It’s also important that everyone who will be living in the house sees it in person before signing anything to prevent future disagreements and ensure that everyone is happy.
3. Choose an accredited landlord or agency.
Unfortunately, some landlords see students as an opportunity to make money through unfair and ethical practices. Prevent yourself being the victim of this by making use of Manchester Student Homes (MSH), a university-funded service that vets properties to ensure they are safe, secure and fair. The website offers a large variety of properties scored against a code of standards, and also offers a free contract-checking scheme.
Renting through an agency rather than direct from a landlord can also provide more security and accountability which adds a layer of protection. Be wary and make sure you read any contracts very thoroughly before signing, no matter which route you choose to rent through.
4. Work out your budget and account for extras.
Generally speaking, you will save money living in a second-year house, as rent is often cheaper than University Halls or private student halls. However, you need to account for additional costs such as bills, contents insurance and household items (such as cleaning supplies or furniture) that you may not have needed to buy last year.
Considering all of this, it’s worth sitting down with your potential housemates and agreeing to a budget that is suitable for all of you before starting to look for properties. You will also likely need to put down a deposit once you secure the property, so make sure that all of you are able to do so. Deposits are unfortunately sometimes more expensive for students unable to provide a UK guarantor, which is also something to bear in mind.
Bills inclusive is also quite a common option in second-year housing, which means that you all pay a flat fee every week which covers Electric, Water, Internet and TV Licence bills. The allowances are likely generous enough, but it is worth checking them in your contract and working out whether you are likely to go over.
This inclusive option is priced at around £15-£20 a week usually, and is more expensive than managing the bills yourself. However, my housemates and I decided to go with this option because it is much easier and more convenient, and it’s really nice to not have to worry about taking shorter showers or scrimping on heating to save a few pounds.
5. The smaller the better.
Some people may disagree with me, but I can pretty confidently say that when it comes to second-year housing, those that live with less people are happier. It seems that the more people you live with, the more risk there is of disagreements, getting on top of each other and just generally it not working out as you had hoped.
Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, but it is something I have come to really notice over this semester and is worth bearing in mind.