House Hunting in the UK: a guide for international students

House hunting as an international student can be difficult and confusing—trust me, I know! As a Student Ambassador on the Orientation programme, I’ve helped new students find accommodation, and I have first-hand experience of the process myself. So, I understand just how stressful it can be.

If you are living in halls at the moment and are looking for private accommodation for your second year, don’t worry too much! Here’s some information to make the process easier and less confusing.

Before we get started here are some dos and don’ts to house hunting in the UK:

Where to look

Unihome and Unilets: These are university- managed off-campus houses that you can rent. A lot of properties are reserved for first year students, but a lot are also available to second years.  You will live with other students in a shared house or flat. It’s a great option for international students like myself. Visit studenthomes.brighton.ac.uk. Enter ‘University of Brighton’ as the landlord. You’ll need to log in using your main UoB details. If you are just looking at houses in general the university are the ones with the blue Home from Home logo next to them.

Facebook Groups: If you’re looking for housemates or available rooms in a student house, then joining house hunting Facebook groups is a great place to start. The University runs some of these groups, and there are a number of other ones you can join.

Letting Agencies: There are a number of letting agency offices around town you can visit. They can search their database of properties for you and take you to viewings. You can also visit their websites to view available properties. If you sign with an agency, beware that there will be agency fees you will need to pay. Again, make sure you have checked what fees it is legal for them to charge you:  https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tenant-fees-act

House Hunting Sites: There are a number of house hunting websites that list properties from agencies as well as private landlords. Here is a list of helpful sites I’ve used to help students find accommodation:

  • Studenthomes – This is the University’s accommodation search engine for private landlords. All of the houses on here have been visited and checked by the Accommodation Service at the university, and the landlords must provide safety certificates (gas and electric) before their advert can go live.
  • Rightmove
  • StuRents
  • Zoopla
  • SpareRoom – Here you can search for accommodation and/or housemates
  • Gumtree
  • Open Rent

What to look for 

Things to consider:

  • Location – Being close to campus and local shops and transport is ideal to cut down on travel time and costs.
  • Budget – In addition to rent, you may need to pay agency fees, a deposit, and bills (water/elec./gas/internet) so make sure you factor these in.
  • Housemates – How many people do you want to live with? More people means cheaper bills, less people means more quiet. Take into account how social you want to be and try to find people who match your lifestyle. Be honest with yourself – you may think you are a party person, but do you want the party to be on your doorstep 24/7? Consider your friends, coursemates, or Facebook groups to find housemates.
  • Length of tenancy – Most tenancies last from 10 or 12 months. Consider how long you want to stay. Will you leave during summer?
  • Furnished or Unfurnished? – You most likely want to search for furnished accommodation on a student budget but if you have the funds and you want to make the place feel more like your own, you might want to consider unfurnished.

House viewings:

The house viewing is your chance to see whether the property is suitable for you and your flat mates. You may have your own list of must haves, but be sure to check the following:

  • Do all of the appliances work (fridge, cooker, microwave etc)
  • Does the house have central heating in all the rooms.
  • Test the shower! You don’t want to move in somewhere with terrible water pressure.
  • Is it mould free or, if there is mold present, that it will be removed by the time you start the tenancy. (Be aware that black mould from condensation is common in the UK’s damp climate. Once it appears it can easily be kept on top of.)
  • Check that doors lock properly to keep you and your belongings safe.

For a full checklist see the Accommodation Service’s guide to House Hunting – pages https://www.brighton.ac.uk/accommodation-and-locations/private-sector/index.aspx

UK Guarantors

Letting agencies will require you to provide a UK guarantor. A guarantor is someone who signs your lease to agree to cover your rent if you cannot pay it. This person has to be a UK resident and with good credit, so most British students use their parents or other family members.

But, if you’re an international student like me, you may not know someone in the UK who is willing to sign on as your guarantor. The good news is there are some ways round this:

  • Pay rent up front – if you can afford to do this it is a good option. Many landlords will waive the need for a guarantor if you can pay some of your rent in advance. It is usually 6 months’ worth.
  • Unihomes and Unilets: One option is to rent one of the University managed houses, where the University is your landlord. You can see these on Studenthomes.
  • Use a guarantor Service: If you need a UK guarantor, you can use a service such as Housing Hand that will act as your guarantor for a fee. Paying a fee for the service will probably be cheaper than the alternative of paying 3-12 months’ upfront.  YourGuarantor is another similar scheme and is aimed specifically at International Students. Check in advance that an agency or landlord will accept a scheme before you set your heart on a property.
  • Speak to the landlord: If you are renting from a private landlord check if they are happy to accept a guarantor who is not based in the UK. My landlord for instance was very happy for my parents (US residents) signed as my guarantor.

Important to note

  • Council Tax: Full time students do not need to pay council tax. So as long as you are only living with other full time students you should not be billed. You must inform the council online that you are moving in and provide your student number to avoid being billed. If anyone living in the house is not a student, they will be liable for Council tax for the whole property, although they will get a 25% discount. Lucky them!
  • Letting Agencies: Do your research about these agencies; read reviews, compare prices, check the fees they are proposing are legal. You don’t want to get stuck with high, unlawful fees.
  • Signing a contract: Remember to read everything thoroughly before signing anything. Make sure you know what you are agreeing to. If you are not sure about something in the contact, the Accommodation Service can advise you on what’s normal or not.

Finally, although the process is daunting, living on your own or in a house share can be an amazing experience and you’ll make tons of great memories. Happy house hunting!

For more detailed information on looking for accommodation in the private sector, see the Accommodation Service’s webpages here: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/accommodation-and-locations/private-sector

Jamee Cremeans

Jamee Cremeans is in the final year of a BA Hons Fine Art. She is an international student from the US, and works as a Student Ambassador for Student Operations and Support. In this role she has helped newly arrived International students to find accommodation in the UK during the Orientation Programme.

Sarah Herbert • March 3, 2020

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