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Housing in your 2nd year – To move, or not to move?

Moving to a new city can be hard enough, but combine it with moving away from home for the first time and panic is often the end result. That’s why halls of residence are the perfect choice to settle your mind in first year. You will get to meet a whole host of new people who are in the same boat, and you can help each other through the difficulty of coming to terms with being self-sufficient. By the end of the first year though, you may no longer want to stay in halls.

Halls provide a lot of benefits...specifically “easy-living”. There are no bills to sort out, no landlords to deal with, and no suspicious looking contract to sign. Staying in halls provides a sense of security, and the thought of leaving this safe environment can be daunting, especially if you don’t really understand how to go about getting a house for second year. Houses prove extremely popular after first year, and if you’re willing to take the plunge then it’s not hard to see why. Houses tend to be much better value for money. No longer will you be forced to squeeze your possessions into a shoebox room or fall out of your “single” (secretly child-sized) bed. Most student houses come fully equipped with double beds, which after a year of sleeping on those tiny student beds will feel like paradise. They also offer a lot more space including a living room and a kitchen that’s actually an appropriate size for the number of tenants.

Houses provide more privacy, and you have much more freedom than you would do in halls. In halls, there are often provisions in place stating that you can’t make any noise after 11pm (for example) which does not fit with the lifestyle of the average student. Having your own house means that you can keep on being noisy into the wee hours of the morning (within reason we find angry neighbours are not nice neighbours). It works the other way as well; not living in the same halls as 100s of other students means that gone are the days when you would be woken up at 4am by rowdy groups stumbling home. Seriously, never have I been more appreciative of peace and quiet.

However, I have found that one of the biggest issues with student houses is safety. A study carried out in 2003 by the home office showed that roughly 1/3 of students asked had been the victim of crime in the last 12 months. Those living in privately rented houses were found to be over twice as likely to be burgled as those living in halls (Barberet et.al., 2003). Halls of residence tend to have their own security, which includes a conundrum of various keys and fobs (which makes trying to get into your flat a nightmare, but if it’s difficult for you to get in, it’s nigh on impossible for a burglar to do so) and often a 24/7 security guard. Last year, I knew of no one who had any safety issues or burglaries. This year was a much different story. The majority of my friends opted for houses in their second year, and there are several who have been robbed. Of course, it can come down to forgetting to lock the door, but some people have had their homes forcibly broken into, which is a terrifying thought.

Student houses are a great target for thieves. They are sure to find a laptop per person, maybe mobile phones, tablets, TVs, gaming consoles, and even text books can fetch a good price! Students promise technology, and technology promises money. If you are living in a house, it is vital that you get insurance. Your landlord will have insurance for any damage to the property, but it will not cover any valuables that are stolen. I know that parting ways with money as a student is painful, but this is one area where it is definitely worth it. Sometimes it’s possible to just add onto your parents insurance, and then it only works out as a few pounds a month to cover the essentials – a small price to pay to ensure the safety of your belongings (Boyce, 2010).

On the subject of saving money, houses do tend to be cheaper than halls, even with the added cost of bills. Bills can seem like a pretty scary concept, but fear not, they really aren’t too bad. It does require a few dreaded phone calls and you will inevitably forget to pay a bill, then have an emotional break down and weep when you receive a threatening solicitor’s letter, but it is fine. Online banking is amazing and makes paying your bills ridiculously easier – plus some companies (like United Utilities) will give you a discount off your bill if you go completely paperless. It may be £5 for the entire year, but it’s something! Plus, there’s this enticing competition to win free water supply for a year if you use paperless billing. Prizes once you’ve left home, aren’t as fun as they were on the Disney channel.

House prices can sometimes catch you out though, as you often forget to compare the prices between houses and halls based on the length of your contract. Hall contracts tend to last 40 weeks in order to match up with term time, whereas house contracts tend to last 52 weeks (Collinson, 2010). So, if you’re not planning on sticking around for the summer, halls can occasionally work out cheaper for you. Those shorter contracts can however specify that you move out for the duration of term holidays, like at Christmas and Easter. Michael, a material science student at the University of Cambridge who has lived in halls of residence for 2 years, recalls how he has moved out for every single holiday: “It can be quite stressful because your room has to be completely cleared out. It’s just too much stuff to take on the train so my parents have to come pick me up, and I live a 3 hour drive away”. Personally, I’ve moved house around 11 times, and it is terrible. You’d think I’d be a professional by now, but the hatred never really leaves. Fortunately, I never had to suffer like Michael. So if, like me, you don’t fancy the thought of packing up all of your stuff every 3 months then make sure you check the arrangements of your halls.

Living in privately rented accommodation also has the added hassle of landlords. Most of the time students don’t have any issues, but if you do, the problems can be serious. Sarah, a medical student at the University of Liverpool has had countless problems with her landlord – “We have had so many issues with our landlords, yet they’re still very popular in Liverpool. I’d say the biggest problem was probably damp and mould. It was in every room and one of my flatmates couldn’t even sleep in his bedroom because it was so bad that his bed would end up damp”. Damp does seem to be a common problem in student accommodation, and it can be tricky to get it sorted out but it’s important that you do because it can cause serious health concerns such as respiratory infections and agitating asthma. The mould and its cause should be removed and fixed by your landlord, and it’s important to try and prevent damp by keeping rooms well ventilated and above 15?C (WHO, 2009). Sarah also had countless other problems, including a leaky roof that eventually collapsed. Apparently the landlords have now ‘fixed’ it 6 times, but it still leaks. In addition to this, two of her flatmates, on separate occasions, have been trapped in their respective bedrooms due to faulty latches that had already been reported to their landlords.

One student in Liverpool even took it upon himself to start up this Facebook page so that other tenants could share their own horror stories.This shows that it really is a good idea to do your research before you sign a contract with someone.A quick Google or Facebook search and hopefully you’ll have a clearer picture of the kinds of people you’d be signing with. A great way to get a better idea of a potential landlord is to simply talk to current tenants (obviously when the landlord is out of earshot). If you can’t chat to them during a viewing then just drop a note at their house leaving your mobile number and asking if they would mind answering a few questions. It will definitely pay off if it saves you a year of unnecessary aggro.

Landlords will often try and pressure you into signing with them by putting some kind of time limit on it. There was not a single house I viewed where the landlord didn’t say something along the lines of “Oh yes, this one is very popular. It tends to get a lot of interest and goes very quickly every year”. We were told, by several different landlords, that we should sort out our house by Christmas or else we’d be stuck with nowhere to live. However, we decided to take a bit of time to think it through before we signed and, shocker, none of the houses we had been interested in were gone. I have no idea if all of these landlords had gotten together to agree on a time that they would pressure students into signing by, but they were seasoned professionals at it. Luckily, we have had no problems whatsoever with our landlord, he has always been very helpful and given us ample notice of house viewings, proof that they’re not all bad.

Hidden costs do appear and provide a nasty surprise for things that you wouldn’t have even thought of. I had no idea that administration fees even existed until one landlord asked me to pay £100 for them. It will cripple your soul when you realise that you are handing over a portion of your limited funds to cover the cost of photocopying. Despite their fancy sounding names, don’t be afraid to haggle on these costs. My flatmate even managed to get £3 a week knocked off from the price of our rent, it’s not much, but it felt like a great victory after all of the unexpected costs - so always go for it if you have the courage.

Of course, in halls, you don’t have this problem. The halls are owned by the university and it’s pretty much a guarantee that you won’t have any issues, and that problems will be fixed in an appropriate time frame. So in this respect, halls of residence are pretty much risk free. The only risk you may have is actually getting a spot in halls as a second year student. As a first year student, you are guaranteed a spot in halls of residence and get priority over 2nd years. Despite this, it isn’t too difficult to stay in halls as a 2nd year, simply because there aren’t many 2nd years who want to stay on. However, if you do struggle because the 1st years are given priority, but you really like the format and feel of halls, then private halls instead of houses are always an option. This handy website allows you to search for private halls based on your university and budget, and can give you a good idea of the types of accommodation to expect.

One of the biggest draws of leaving halls is definitely freedom. Having survived 1st year, you may feel ready to take on a bit more responsibility and try your hand at this whole “adulthood” thing you’ve heard people talk about. Student houses give you the chance to pick who you live with (a luxury not guaranteed by halls) and to live a bit more independently. It can be scary but by the end of the year you’ll certainly be glad of it, and you’ll appreciate and understand your new city so much more. It’s also good preparation for final year. Most students do not want to live in halls in 3rd year, mostly because by 3rd year the thought of being within 10 feet of a fresher will make you feel nauseous, as you mutter “youths” underneath your breath and cross to the other side of the road. So living with a crowd of them is not exactly enticing. If you can’t see yourself sticking in halls for final year then I would recommend private accommodation for your 2nd year as well. You don’t want the hassle of trying to sort out a house and bills for the 1st time in your 3rd year...you’re going to be busy enough.

Most students I’ve spoken to still say that despite the hassle, they prefer living in a house to halls. Lucy, a recent law graduate from Bristol says: “I really enjoyed my time at halls, but by the end of 1st year I felt ready to leave. We knew the workload would pick up in 2nd year, and we knew we wanted to live in a house so that we could get a better balance between work and going out. Plus getting a house gave us the freedom to live a bit closer to the university. Despite enjoying halls so much in 1st year, I couldn’t picture myself living there again”.

Bethany, a Pharmacy student and Liverpool John Moores University, stayed in halls for her 2nd year “It worked out really well, because one of our flatmates ended up not being able to come back to university, but the halls just found someone to replace her. If it had been a house it would have been our responsibility to replace her”. However, Bethany and her flatmates will be moving into a house for their 3rd year.

Even Sarah, who had so many issues in her student house that she has now lived in for 2 years, says that she doesn’t regret leaving halls, but that the quality and treatment of students by private agencies needs serious improvement, “Halls were perfect for first year and even though it was low market, the price reflected that and at the end of the day it was clean and functional. I wouldn't want to go back to halls now and I was ready to move out by the end so we could have more space and live with the people you actually like, but we're being ripped off in the private sector in a way we weren't by the university in halls. We're paying the average price, but everything they could skimp out on they did and everything was cheap”. With reference to having their deposit returned she said “It was an uphill battle to get anything fixed and I think they're going to take a lot of money off us to repair things that were their fault, not ours”.

It seems that the masses may be onto something. Halls of residence are great in your first year, but by the end of it most people seem to be up for a new adventure. Even if you do end up having to pay inexplicable fees, or have to live with a mixing bowl in the middle of your kitchen to collecting drips from your leaky ceiling, it’s a rite of passage that will make you that much more prepared for the real thing.

References

Barberet, R., Fisher, B., Farrell, G., Taylor, H. (2003). University Student Safety. London: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds . Web access at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=201091

Boyce, L. (2010). Students: Check parents' insurance policy. Available: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-1704220/Students-Check-parents-insurance-policy.html 

Collinson, P. (2010). The best and worst student accommodation. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2010/aug/21/best-worst-student-accommodation

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2009). DAMP AND MOULD: Health risks, prevention and remedial actions. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe. 3-7. Web access at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/78636/Damp_Mould_Brochure.pdf

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