1. Types of Accommodation
- Private Accommodation is a flat or house rented directly from and managed by a landlord or an agency. You will share the kitchen and toilet with your flatmates. In London, the most popular and highly sought properties have 2 or 3 bedrooms, because a studio flat is too small, a one-bedroom flat is too expensive, and 4+ bedrooms are quite rare.
- Student Halls offer separate rooms in a building block and you tend to share the kitchen with a few other students. Rooms can be private, shared, or en-suite, up to your choice.
- Most student halls tend to be very new, carefully maintained, and professionally cleaned every time people move out. Private accommodation conditions, however, can vary depending on the landlord. Sometimes you can find really decent flats, but sometimes they can be very old, especially if the landlord has many investment properties.
- Viewing is a must for private accommodation because pictures are often photoshopped and brightened to make them look newer. Never put down your deposit till you are aware of all the pros and cons of the place. If things look too good to be true, they probably are in London – always ask the agent or the landlord why he is charging that price if the number seems out of your expectation. Student halls are slightly different as they have an industry standard to follow so the expectation-reality gap isn’t very wide.
- For private accommodation, a property that is within a 15-minute walk to the nearest tube station (0.5-0.7 miles or 2 bus stops) is ideal. The more stations and bus stops around, the better. In general, a journey lasting 20-25 minutes on the bus will take the same time as on an underground because the walking distance in a tube station isn’t as short as it seems.
- Try to avoid big roads because they are very noisy; if the property is near the main road then you should check the windows for sound-proof. Ideally, you should choose a small alley that is off the main road for an easy commute.
- Check if concierge service is available; otherwise, you have to find a neighbour to receive parcels for you and that sometimes can be annoying. If the postman can’t find anywhere to drop your parcels, he will leave a card and you have to visit the Royal Mail warehouse with an ID to collect.
- Check if there are supermarkets, restaurants, shops, and convenience stores near the place, ideally within a 15-minute walk. Don’t leave yourself starving at midnight!
- Check surrounding areas in the evening for security. You should avoid areas where car drivers do not follow safety instructions (not stopping at the zebra crossing, or beeping at every pedestrian).
- Most student halls are well-located on big roads, either newly built or carefully maintained annually so there are no big security or location concerns. Halls always have concierge services.
- If the hall is on the main road, try to live reasonably high up, but remember, the higher you are, the hotter it gets in the summer. The UK does NOT sell air-conditioners, and 30 degrees in London is nothing less than a torture.
3. Viewing Tips for Private Housing
- Hot Water: Check the strength and heat multiple times and carefully, then check all the drainage system in every single place with water pipes (kitchen, toilet, bathroom). If you have left the place and realised you forgot to check hot water, come back and check. We can’t stress how big the hot water problem is to a tenant, but it really is one of the biggest. Not just double-check, but triple or even quadruple check the entire system and understand how it works (electric or gas) because after moving in, it is NOT repairable, alterable, or amendable at all.
- Gas/Heating: Similar to hot water, but slightly simpler because Gas and Heating are regularly checked by the utility provider. Within the first 5 seconds of visiting a flat, turn on the heater and touch it when you are about to leave the property. Remember to listen for noise; some heaters look newly painted but can be very noisy at night.
- Sound-Proof: Shut the windows and doors and listen carefully for sounds from the street or neighbours. Also, don’t forget to knock on all the walls to see which one is solid and empty. You don’t want the wall next to your neighbour to be too thin and never be able to party, do you?
- Concierge: As said above, ask where the concierge office is. If there isn’t one, find out how you can receive parcels.
- General Condition: The age of the flat can be very misleading because in the UK people tend not to renovate the outside but only inside the flat. Check the door locks, all corners of each room, door hinges, storage, floor, carpets, ceiling, light bulbs, electric sockets, and especially inside the kitchen white goods. Overall, if the flat is new or well-maintained, everything will be of the same standard, so if one thing or two bother you, triple-check it to make sure how the flat was taken care of. The most important thing is to see if it is just not clean or too old to be used. You can always clean stuff yourself, but you will not always be able to replace obsolete facilities.
Student halls, on the other hand, tend to have industry standards to follow so none of those issues could really happen. Even if they do occur, there will always be a professional team to take care of the entire building so problems are often sorted out pretty fast (most of the time by replacing anything broken). With private housing, you always have to contact the agent, then wait for the landlord to appoint a repairer which sometimes can take days for a blocked sink.
Private flats tend to have contract prices cheaper than Halls, depending on the condition of the property. On average, the minimum price for a non-en-suite room in:
- Zone 1 is £700 (single) or £850 (double) PCM (not including bills)
- Zone 2 is £600 (single) or £750 (double) PCM (not including bills)
All numbers are very relative, subject to various elements such as condition (new or old), bills, furnished or unfurnished, location, etc.
(Double Room in King’s Cross, £900 NOT incl. bills)
- Halls are often more expensive than private flats; a room should range from £850-£1100 PCM, but conditions are often like new and many are en-suite.
(Ensuite Single Hall Room in Stratford, £820 PCM incl. bills)
5. Hidden Costs
- Deposits: You always have to deposit for the place you stay in. For private flats, it tends to be 4-6 weeks of rent and refunds are made based on the condition when you move out. In order to get a full refund, you need to keep the flat clean and tidy and should always appoint a professional cleaner (around £200 for a 2-bedroom flat) when you move out. Always ask the agency who their favourite end-of-tenancy cleaner is and call him.
For student halls, there can be cleaning services provided every week and they are always professionally cleaned when people move out so no such costs will incur. You only lose the deposit in halls (often 1-4 weeks) if you damage their walls or furniture.
- Agency/Admin fees: Private housing agencies will charge you from £75-£100 per person as a recommendation fee for their work. The amount is not one-off but payable every time you renew or change names in the contract.
- Bills: This is the biggest hidden costs for private flats. Bills include Electricity, Gas, Water, Internet, Parking, and TV license if you have one. For a 2-bedroom flat, bills per person can vary between £50-£100 per month with different summer and winter rates, and you are the one liaising with service providers (from setting up and signing contracts to repairs) unless the landlord or agency is kind to do it for you. From our experience, they tend not to get involved in bills and utilities.
Student halls often include all bills; what is said in the contract is what exactly you pay.
- House Removal: Similar costs for both halls and private accommodation, which vary per hour and amount of work.
- Furnish: Private accommodation can be furnished or unfurnished, and you can always negotiate with the landlord for more or less stuff. Basic furniture includes a bed, desk, wardrobe, and white goods. Student halls are always fully furnished.
- Laundrette: If you live in a student hall, bear in mind the costs of the laundrette which can range between £3-£5 for 1 wash + 2 dries. In a private house, you are free to use the white goods provided but for both types you have to purchase washing ingredients yourself.
6. Length of Stay
Private flat contracts tend to span from at least 9-12 months but are always negotiable and prices tend to go up annually. The easiest time for flat-hunting is in the summer before September because supply rises exponentially, but negotiation during this period is also the hardest as demand is off the roof. Between December and February, housing supply is very weak; hence, a chance for price negotiation is very high, but finding a good flat will take longer than usual.
Student hall contracts can range from 40 to 52 weeks, with some asking you to move out during Easter and Christmas holiday. We would recommend you NOT to pick those that won’t allow you to stay during break time because finding short-term accommodation at such peak time is really hard and expensive. If you decide not to rent the hall during the summer, you will have to book a storage room for your stuff.
Reasonable short-term let?
7. Most Important Tips
- Managing Expectation: The truth is no room for rent on Earth will be the same as yours at home, where you stay for free and is customised for you by your parents. Price is often a good indicator of quality, especially in such a saturated market as London - you tend to get what you pay for so be very prepared to learn the hard lesson that London is expensive.
- Be Adaptable: Sometimes in desperate moments, you don’t have many choices and have to pick a disastrous room (either in terms of condition or price), but there are always answers to every problem. One thing we know for sure is that your mindset will change and you can always adapt to new things, whether they are good or bad. So if you get stuck in a terrible flat, find a way to improve it by adding new furniture, or deep-cleaning, or staying on top of the bus timetable. If you are lucky enough to find a perfect place, brace for savings as the landlord can always bid up to and kick you out.
- Finally, enjoy and let Casita know if you need help! We don’t know answers to every issue you may encounter, but we do know the first step and who to speak to in most situations.