Lucy Beal Lott discusses the nightmare that is house-hunting in a university town.
There is an aspect of uni life that is inevitable, stressful, and not discussed enough: the stress involved with finding accommodation after first year. For many students, this will be the first step of adulthood and is wrapped up with social factors and economic anxieties that cause it to be even more stressful than finding a flat in a city after our courses are complete. Especially for those of us who go to university in a small town where the supply is grossly less than the demand, and where rent can be inflated beyond the realm of possibility for many students. Why is all of this so nightmare-inducing?
There are many factors that go into the stress of house hunting. Prices are something widely discussed, the landlords know the demand is so great for their lettings that they can greatly overprice barely habitable flats and still get tenants due to lack of other availabilities. But what I and many other freshers are finding even more cumbersome than prices is the social aspect of flat hunting. Who will I ask to live with me, what if I am asked by no one, why does it feel so personal when someone rejects our offer to share a flat? The latter is perhaps the most difficult to come to terms with. However, it is important to remember that your friends’ housing decisions are not personal; deciding not to share a space may actually improve the relationship in the long term. People looking for a flat together often have different ideas of what they would like in a home and combined with the added pressure of a strict time constraint becomes a test of how well you can accommodate and support other people. Personalities and tastes do matter when sharing a home - do they enjoy parties more than me, am I more of an early riser than they are, can we work well together under stress? There is also an undeniable amount of pressure to find not only a livable flat for the foreseeable uni future, but to find one close to town in a desirable location, something that is out of reach for the majority of us.
I am in love with my small university town, but have found that the three main streets that it has are simply not sufficient for housing. The flats on the three main roads are often small and overpriced for the amount of space you would have. You could of course venture farther out but that comes with its own issues: not every student is able to walk thirty minutes to class, especially if you are a student with disabilities, like me. Which adds another set of issues - the houses available are rarely, if ever, handicap accessible. Compared to our friends in larger cities, this is a nightmare that just does not make sense.
So, what can we do to keep from having so much anxiety?
If your university offers help in finding housing, that is fantastic, and you should take advantage of this resource. Speak to older friends who may be leaving university (or know others who are) and can offer you their flat once they leave. Communicate honestly and openly with your perspective flatmates, otherwise you could all end up in a tricky situation that none of you want to be in. Have all of your documentation prepared BEFORE you go to the house viewing, and most importantly remember to breathe and take time for yourself. Your university will not allow you to be homeless, and if you have a clear plan and budget, you will end up somewhere you can make into a home.