This post is aimed mainly at those who would like to live in private accommodation. Some students get lucky and find the perfect, reasonably priced housing in London. Others may have quite a difficult time finding appropriate accommodation. I found myself in the latter camp. In an effort to help future students eliminate unnecessary headaches, I put together a list of things I wish I had known or done beforehand.
What I am writing here definitely will not cover everything you need to know so first I will say…
1) Read all the information on finding accommodation that is given to you by the university! It can be really boring, but even though I have looked for apartments on my own, it is a very different experience to have to do this in a foreign country.
2) Try to arrive before classes begin to look for accommodation. It was, unfortunately, impossible for me to do this, but looking for accommodation once classes had begun was a real nightmare for me.
3) If you stay at London Backpackers, the nearest hostel to Middlesex, do not give them any money in advance if you book nights in person or if you extend your stay after arrival. You might be able to cancel your stay prior to arrival if you use the Hostelworld booking site, but you will not necessarily get a refund if you pay for anything in person because, as the owner told me, then he need not adhere to Hostelworld’s cancellation requirements. I and a few other international students learned this when we asked the owner to cancel our stays once we found a place to live. I asked the owner to please charge me a cancellation fee and return the rest of the 6 nights I paid for, but he insisted on keeping all of it. I find that many people here are friendly and curious about where I’m from, but like any city, you may come upon people who at least lack a sense of goodwill to customers.
4) Consider using an estate agent. I really did not want to pay an agent to find me a place to live, but they can be very useful, saving time by pulling up a quick list of properties and driving you to see rentals. If you don’t trust estate agents, then perhaps some students can recommend one to you.
5) If you are not assertive by nature, you may want to prepare yourself to be a bit more assertive when negotiating with roommates. For example, if your room is smaller than that of your roommates, you might want to negotiate to pay less rent. I thought this would be pretty standard, but I have stories of people who had to either broach this subject with roommates, or else be pushed into paying the same. Of course, you’ll have to use your own judgment in figuring out what’s fair.
6) Be aware of country differences in renting. For example, people used the word “contract” for what I usually call a “lease.” Also, I was initially confused by the pm, pcm, pw abbreviations (per month, per calendar month, per week). In the States, I am accustomed to paying rent on the first of the month no matter when I move in.
7) Once again, I highly recommend reading any materials given to you by the university about renting in London! It might save you money and headaches later!