Housing Agencies: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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We’re less than a month into term, and already students are looking at signing up housing contracts for next year. However, I write this to warn you about the prospect of going to a Housing Agency to find landlords and homes so early on in the year.

The basic role of an Agency is to be a point of contact; when something goes wrong in your house, you call them, they organise the repairs, and they charge the landlord with a commission fee on top. In return, the agency advertises the house for the landlord to help rent it out, again sometimes adding a commission fee on top, meaning around £5 of your weekly rent could go to the agency.

Another way agencies generate income is through Agency fees. This is generally a single sum (circa £100 per person) paid when signing the contract, to cover the costs the agency has incurred in printing your contract and paper-clipping it together. There are agencies who do not charge a fee, but their houses are typically more expensive and in the £70-80 per week bracket, which is above the average rent price of £60-70 for students in Southampton, so any fee is probably built in to their cut of the monthly rent.

Does going through an agency mean an increased quality of time in the home? Whilst agencies did seem to, on average, respond and get things fixed quicker than some private landlords, a Facebook group that asked students to rate their landlord led to some students strongly taking issue with some agencies (and landlords) which resulted in the group being removed from Facebook.

My personal gripe with agencies, however, is that the increased admin and go-to points between student and landlord can lead to admin errors. I moved out of my house last summer at the end of June, like everyone else. Unlike everyone else, I am still yet to receive a dime of my deposit. This is due to the agency I was with failing to pay my former landlord my house’s first month’s rent. It has been nearly 4 months now, and the time taken to go through bank stubs and statements, checking who has or hasn’t done what, has been painful and so far unfruitful. I accept that I am in a unique minority, but talking to other students there are many of you who have had equally annoying experiences with agencies and landlords.

Obviously students need housing, so if they don’t go to agencies, where do they go? First of all, plenty of landlords advertise in house windows. If you want location as key, that is a top way to go about finding a house.

Alternatively, and probably best for the majority, is to use SASSH, a housing website that is maintained by the University of Southampton, Solent University and Southampton Council. The website holds hundreds of houses, of all ranges and sizes, doesn’t charge a fee and puts you directly in touch with the landlord. The site is password protected, so is only available to students – to access the password, log in to SUSSED, click the resources tab, then student life, then accommodation, and finally Private Rented Housing Lists. The list is currently being updated for next year’s uptake, so do not fret that at the moment there are only 20 houses – it really is too early to sign a contract!

There are many advantages to directly talking to landlords; firstly you see how they are as a person, so if your boiler breaks in winter – it WILL get fixed. Moreover, and more importantly, they get to see what you are like and become more negotiable if you come across as nice and sensible; as a Masters student, I bartered the rent of 5 houses down from a high of £72 per week to £60 per week, before settling on the place I am in currently.

If you have any questions, email privaterented@soton.ac.uk, or get in touch with Emily Rees, your VP Welfare and Societies.

If you have your own agency story, please comment below, be it good or bad, so that students can learn where to go for housing.

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Afternoon! Welcome to my political world, reporting on all things studenty and politics-like. I do most of my writing whilst browsing the Internet when I should be doing other things, and I do love a good stat, so do expect links and numbers that are meaningless yet informative. Enjoy!

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