4 things I wish I’d known about private housing

15 Mar 2022
By Leah J., Student at Oxford Brookes University at

Whether to stay in purpose-built student accommodation, or opt for a private house share can be a daunting decision. There’s pros and cons to each, and it’s difficult to pre-empt what living situation works best for you and your lifestyle.

Graduate Leah moved into private housing in her third year. Here’s her advice on what to consider if you’re thinking of spending student life in private housing.

I spent two of my student years living in purpose-built student accommodation, and one year in a student rented flat with a friend. Moving into private housing in my third year was quite a shock, and I felt I’d been chucked into the deep end at times. Here’s a few things I wish I’d known before I made the move.

Council tax

Living with Unite Students meant I was exempt from paying council tax - something I didn't appreciate until I moved into private housing. I wasn’t even sure what council tax really was at that point.

What’s useful is you can check the valuation band of the property before you move, which is what determines how much council tax you’ll need to pay. Also, it’s worth knowing that if you’re going to rent alone, you’ll be able to get a discount on the amount you pay. I found this website particularly useful when I was trying to understand council tax.

Don’t compromise too much on location

When choosing where to live, it can be tempting to move slightly out of the city where your uni is to save money. However, I found when I moved from Derby to Nottingham to rent privately, this didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped - the journey back and forth was expensive, and organising places to crash after a night out in Nottingham with uni friends was awkward.

For me, paying a bit more in Nottingham for rent would have worked better socially as well as financially. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons, and not to be like me and get over-excited about cheap rent!

Check the inventory

I’ve learnt from student renting that it is easy to be charged for damage or wear and tear that has nothing to do with you. For example, when I moved into our student flat, there was a mop already there – it wasn’t mentioned in the inventory, but we didn’t think it was a big deal. However, when we left we were charged for leaving a mop that wasn’t even ours! I hope the next renters didn’t make the same mistake.

So now, I will always take the inventory seriously to avoid problems when I move out. Go through it with a fine-tooth comb and remember to take photos as evidence if you don’t see them in the inventory.

Go for gas central heating (if you can)

Many privately rented student properties have electric storage heaters or wall-mounted convection heaters. Before, when I lived in purpose-built student accommodation, the bills were included, so I had no idea what these would cost to run. However, after moving into a private property with electric heating, I soon found out it costs a lot of money, and gas is generally cheaper.

If you can’t find a place with gas central heating, consider getting a freestanding electric heater that’s more cost efficient.

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I'm a third year philosophy student at Oxford Brookes University.