STOP! Don’t rent yet

Students often rush into signing for properties

As Michaelmas term passes by, those in college notice the catering budget is dwindling down to only provide gruel, while livers-out learn that best friends aren’t best when sharing the same uncleaned living space. It’s time to focus on the positives, the future, jump right ahead to this time next year and the perfect place to be living. Yet “hold on” I hear you say, you still have two full terms and 20 essays to write before you need to start renting a house and only made friends a few weeks ago?

The initially-sensible among you may think that way, but perfect houses are limited in Durham. Once contracts for those houses have been signed, nobody else can choose to live in them. For years now, Durham’s intellectual students have been awake to this and fought to combat the dilemma by snapping up a house before their peers get to it. The ongoing Stuome.com survey reports that 48% sign for a place at least 6 months before the rental period begins. Some even sign for a house in November, only to wait until July before they can move in. You’re not the only ones to wise to what is going on, letting agents and independent landlords alike have caught on to the situation. Last year’s DSU president, Archie Dallas, was very much aware of “the push of leaflets, and hysteria whipped up in colleges” in the race to get deals sealed ahead of any sensible schedule.

With next-to-zero information provided to us, there’s nothing to counteract the accommodation-rush, which leaves every tenant to fight for himself. The Bubble is unprecedented in revealing figures on the true nature of properties available, made possible due to a 27-week study by Stuome.com of the university approved accommodation. This week the university controlled website, Durham Student Pads, is listing less than 60 properties and most of these are for tenancies to start before Christmas. Looking back to the end of May 2013, when most students had signed contracts and already forgotten about them, the website was still listing almost 800 rooms available across 136 properties. Because the panic had passed, and some properties were still to be listed, the availability remained stable until July. The quick-fire renters moved their belongings in and then spent summer with the parentals, it wasn’t until September that houses significantly started being taken without any new houses getting listed. Before the study, no facts were available to support either side of the argument “if you wait, you’ll be homeless”. Now we know you can wait until June, while the study continues on, monitoring and reporting the situation.

A counter-argument often made is to say the best houses get snapped up first, and this may be backed up by the study focusing on a single website that represents a partial view of the local market. The Student Pad website is where all university-approved properties are advertised, and so certain standards can be expected from properties placed here. From an in-depth review of the most recent 100 listings, only 2 didn’t have central heating. Over 80% of properties had CO monitors and 5-lever mortice locks to ensure both your safety and security. The average monthly rent varied only within £15 (ranging from £315 to £330 throughout the period) with no correlation to the date, so we can at least determine that the most expensive properties nor the hot deals are the first to be taken. The cheapest place, at £34.61/week, was not available in May while the most expensive digs (£105/week per room in The Viaduct area) wasn’t taken until the start of August.

If you’ve been convinced not to rush into renting a house then there are plenty of other things to start considering. Think about saving money living in the cheaper areas of Gilesgate and Neville’s Cross, or try the more upmarket areas of the Viaduct and Framwellgate Moor – or perhaps it is important to be somewhere that is convenient and close to town like Elvet? In a recent survey that accompanied the availability study, 58% of people felt location was an important factor in choosing a house, yet budgeting is still the main concern with 90% of respondents listing price in their top 3 criteria. A student living in the Viaduct regarded their house as “really overpriced, as all houses seem to be”.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the rental market so we can inform you what to be aware of and how get in the best situation for living out of college. In previous years advise from colleges and the DSU has been to wait until the Christmas chocolate has run out and start looking towards the end of January. If you’re already living out, you can help the public understanding of letting agent nightmares and successes by filling out Stuome’s survey with your experiences. While you’re waiting for more properties to be advertised over these 3 months, kick your feet back, relax, and free your mind to worry about those assignments the lecturers keep mentioning.

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