Housing was something that meant very little to me before I started university. I lived in my parents’ house and I knew a bit about the property market, but it was never an issue that I needed to spend time thinking about. Like most, I knew that the norm for students in the UK was to spend the first year in halls then move out into a house. However, I was not aware of two things: how soon it had to be sorted and how complicated it would become.
By early November in my first year, mention of housing was starting to slip into conversations, which startled me because people barely knew each other and yet they were talking about committing to a year of living together. I initially assumed that these were throwaway attempts to find common ground when people had nothing else to talk about, just like exams or work.
Yet to my surprise, these comments became more frequent and before I knew it they were snowballing into tangible plans. You could tell that everyone was starting to panic slightly, especially those who didn’t have a solid group of friends to live with. As all of my friends (bar one) were going on placement for the first half of second year, we had to start looking for housemates quickly. If you weren’t already in a tight-knit group, you had to frantically search for students who could join you, hoping that you wouldn’t be left with someone you don’t really know or get on with.
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One scenario I heard about was someone who had reasonably thought that he would be living with certain people, only to find out that his assumption was wrong and he had to start from scratch. There were students who had joined a number of text chat groups and inevitably had to turn some of them down, resulting in a loss of friends. In some cases there were groups who had fallen out during the process and no longer wanted to live together, but had already signed a contract.
Once this first hurdle had been overcome, there was the issue of finding a decent house. The difficulty was, each person wants something different: double beds, good location, a bath, a big kitchen etc. Added onto this, everyone has a different budget, which can be a sensitive subject. If a house costs too much for one person, you can’t tell them they need to ask for more money, especially if they’re struggling financially anyway. So you have to compromise, which is doable if you are efficient at doing so. In my case, we took so long trying to find a property that suited us all, there were no more left and we had to split up. Once again, that feeling of panic emerged.
Thankfully, we found a group of boys needing two more beds filled and so my mate and I decided to jump in. Luckily, we all got on like a house on fire (no pun intended), but I get the feeling that this was quite rare. I heard of many students who were rushed into finding a house and ended up with people who they thought they liked, but soon discovered they couldn’t live with. “You don’t know someone until you live with them” really is a truism.
My advice? Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop or slow down other students snapping up properties. Therefore, you must try to control the one variable you can: the people you live with. Don’t say you’ll live with someone just because you feel bad, and don’t live with someone because you think they’ll help you climb the social ladder.
The people you live with will be with you through your worst hangovers, your break-ups and your results. It is very difficult to escape them; so don’t rush into anything you’re not sure about and choose wisely and thoughtfully. Can you imagine these people being lifelong friends? If not, they’re probably not the kind of person you want consoling you at 3am when you’ve broken your phone, spilled mayo down your top or had your heart broken.
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