They say that getting on the property ladder is difficult – well, flat/house-hunting here is less like climbing a ladder, and more like running a race. And that isn’t just a metaphor. Several times I have genuinely resorted to running to try and be the first to hand over an application, or secure a viewing, or sign a lease. St Andrews, with an ever-increasing student population and a relatively restricted housing situation, does pose quite a few problems for those searching for accommodation during their university years. More than simply being in high demand and short supply, when considering the housing situation in St Andrews, the words ‘extortionate’ and ‘exploitative’ also spring to mind. With rent anywhere from £400 to £800(!!!) per month and deposits up to £1000 per person, this town seems to really be laughing in the faces of those of us who stand at the Tesco self-checkout counting out pennies to pay for a not-quite-out-of-date sandwich from the reduced shelf.
Here, I could be incredibly helpful and, as someone who has somehow managed to successfully acquire and inhabit two flats in this town (not at the same time), give some advice. I would launch into a helpful spiel about 1) making sure to pick future flatmates wisely, 2) starting to look early, 3) finding out when the estate agents release their housing lists and have all of your documents ready in advance –
But no. Instead, I would like to have a rant.
Never, I don’t think, has this small town appeared so hostile than to one on the house-hunt, and before I elaborate, I’m going to say that you will be fine, you will find a house/flat, and you won’t be inevitably ripped off. But you do need to have your wits about you, and that’s the point I’m trying to convey.
Before we landed our current place, my friend and I applied for 14 different flats and were turned down. We were just beginning to despair and google how best to commute from Dundee when we got the call to say that we had been accepted for a property. And this is my main gripe – where else do tenants-to-be have to compete like this for accommodation? Overpriced accommodation, specifically. Where else are tenants so blatantly exploited? I’ve known students hand over a £2000 deposit and then pay two month’s rent upfront before being presented with a two bedroom flat with contact lenses still stuck to the carpet. I’ve heard of students who have been asked to pay an extortionate deposit within 24 hours of viewing a property, after which, if unpaid, the offer is retracted. It quickly becomes a case of who has the most money, and who has it right now. The demand for housing is such that some estate agents didn’t even bother to get back to my friend and I when we were searching, despite 2 emails from us and, when unanswered, our physical presence in the shop, only to be told that we should wait for an email, which never came. The demand is such that landlords and estate agents don’t need to wait for you to muster your friends and your funds for a lease-signing – because someone else beat you to it. The demand is such that they can charge what they want, and go about it however they want, because they have the flats and the houses, and we need somewhere to live.
Sadly, it doesn’t stop there – getting a deposit back can also prove an ordeal. Although this was a personal experience, I’ve heard stories from others that mirror it in an eerily similar way. My friends and I were almost forced to hand over £1500 of our deposit for the replacement of something that was already damaged when our lease began. Despite our persistent suggestions for other, less extreme solutions, anything that wasn’t full replacement wasn’t entertained, and we, frankly, were ignored. Luckily, it wasn’t just us who thought that the concept was crazy, and thanks to the dispute resolution service, the pockets of the owner remain un-lined with our much-needed funds. So I suppose this is the moral of the story. If it looks unfair, if it sounds unfair, if it seems unfair in any way, it probably is. This bubble is beautiful and we’re lucky to live here, but it shouldn’t have to be at this expense – in every sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also had some lovely interactions at lease-signings and inspections – it’s not the individual estate agents or landlords that I gripe with, it’s the overarching situation that causes things to be this way. Rant over, although the question remains: this is the problem – is there a solution?