The basics
Study abroad : Student Accommodation

15 Must-ask questions when looking for off-campus accommodation

What questions should you ask when searching for student accommodation off-campus in a new country? Here are a few suggestions for things to enquire about....

moving into student accommodation
2012

In most cases, universities will set aside on-campus accommodation for international students to remove the stress of having to do so from another country or once they arrive. This is a benefit to students in a number of ways:

  • They know for sure where they will be living when they arrive and can move in immediately
  • They can have deliveries immediately forwarded to this address e.g. school books, equipment, furniture etc.
  • They can message and get to know housemates before they arrive
  • Their parents/guardians know where they will be
  • They know what to expect to come with the accommodation (i.e. furniture, appliances etc.) and what they will have to bring with them

However in some cases, international students cannot rely on their university to secure them a place on campus. For instance, Australia isn’t as campus-cultured as the UK or US and living off-campus is more popular. This may also happen if a student gets their application in too late, which is an excellent reason to start applying as soon as possible.

Below are fifteen key questions (and a few extras) to ask yourself as you go through the process of organising off-campus accommodation, to ensure you have remembered everything and remain safe:

 

Deciding where/how to live....

'What sorts of students do I want to live with?'

Most students look forward to living with other students, though it can vary whether they want to live with fellow international students (from their own country or another) or domestic students. There are pros and cons to both: with other international students, you already have a lot in common, especially if from the same country; with domestic students, you’re more likely to interact with those originally from that country and be immersed in that culture more.

You can also get a sense of the type of person someone is by befriending them on social media (or simply asking them outright). Do they seem the type to study when you’ll be studying and need time to focus? Or are they more concerned about socialising? While it’s not always representative of them as individuals or potential housemates, looking at their social media activity is one way to “scout them out” online. You can see what they’re interested in and do in their free time, as well as what is important to them (what do they post statuses or tweet about?).

 

'Is a homestay for me?'

A homestay is where you live with a host family in their home as a guest. Usually you pay rent (often substantially less than on-campus accommodation) for a room, and you negotiate with them on meals, doing chores and having guests. They will state their house rules beforehand and you can communicate with them beforehand, to establish whether you would get along with them. You should remember that you are a guest in their home, which may include their small children, so respect and consideration for them is of utmost importance. If you’re a mature student, or you’re simply not looking forward to living with other students, this is a viable option to consider. Plus you can still enjoy learning about the culture and improve your language skills in this (family) environment. Some parents prefer this option because it means their child will be living with actual adults.

 

'How will I travel to campus?'

If you plan to cycle in for classes, then limit your search to within a manageable distance if you’re on campus each day. Use Google Maps to check out routes which will facilitate a bike – you don’t want to be cycling through eerie woodland or undeveloped territory. If you plan to rely on public transport, check popular bus or train routes and stops/stations so you won’t have to rely on an occasional service.

 

Starting your search...

'Have I contacted my university’s international department?'

They will have likely dealt with students in the same situation before, and very well have existing relationships with letting agents/accommodation providers. In fact, previous international students who have sought help from them will likely be graduating and leaving empty properties behind. As your main contact with the university, it’s useful to establish contact with one or two individuals in particular. You may also be put in touch with the Housing department who will have more information. Many institutions will have a searchable database on their website of off-campus accommodation, with providers and landlords they have certified or have worked with previously (like this one for the University of Sydney).

 

'Are current students moving out of their accommodation?'

Another way to utilise social media is to get involved in university-affiliated groups on Facebook and Google Plus, or even the university’s official page. Someone will see the post – whether a student or employee of the institution – and be able to help you. You may be lucky and find a current student who is moving out of their current accommodation, and is looking for someone to replace them (also, ask them why they are moving out in case it is linked to the property).

 

'Where will I stay while I’m looking?'

If you haven’t yet organised your accommodation by the time you arrive in the country, you’ll have to stay somewhere temporarily until you do. If this is you, don’t worry too much, provided you make finding accommodation a priority once you arrive; that means initial long days trawling from one viewing to another if necessary. You can find and book a cheap hotel or hostel quite easily online according to how much you’re willing to pay and where you want to be (ideally somewhere close to where you want to eventually live so it’s easier when accommodation-hunting). Hopefully by having to pay to stay in temporary accommodation, this will push you to look for something long-term. On the positive side, one of the benefits of organising accommodation after you’ve arrived is that you can view the property and neighbourhood in person, and make a more informed decision.

 

'Have there been any recent scams in the area?'

While you shouldn’t get too obsessive, it’s always worth showing some caution. Not everyone is a con artist after your money, but they do exist. So take precautions to protect yourself and don’t leave yourself open to those less-than-trustworthy individuals. You can make a start by finding out about recently reported scams and incidents through your destination country’s government website, like this one for Australia. This way you can avoid those pitfalls and mistakes others have made, and be up-to-date with the more creative scam tactics you won’t have heard of.

 

Security & staying safe

'Do I trust this website?'

If you come across a site which deals in letting property (to students), ask yourself whether it appears to be a legitimate business or organisation. Does the site look well-maintained, or is it all for show? Are there testimonials provided from satisfied students which you can verify? After all, testimonials can be edited, taken out of context or simply made up entirely. Does the company have existing partnerships with institutions with whom you can follow up with, including other universities or colleges? You can always try Googling what others are saying about this organisation too, and read feedback on forums and social media groups.

 

'Who am I speaking to?'

If you are corresponding with someone via email, can you be sure they are who they say they are? Are they using an official company email address (rather than a third party email service like Gmail or Hotmail) with company header, footer or signature? If they are using a Gmail account, is this not strange? If they are, can you click through to a Google Plus profile, or another social media presence to find out more about there? What does it say there?

 

'Are they too keen to get my money?'

Look at the language and approach that an agent/landlord is using. Are they simply stating fees, or are they demanding that you make a payment as soon as possible? Are they being overly forceful, or even threatening? You should never wire transfer funds to someone you haven’t met or spoken to. There are several schemes available to protect students (and landlords/agents too), like the Deposit Protection Scheme in the UK, so money is stored and released when both parties are satisfied. Scare tactics – especially before you have even made an agreement – are something to watch out for.

 

When you find an accommodation...

'Have I seen the property properly?'

We recommend that no student signs an agreement, nor transfer any funds until they have seen the property in person. Don’t simply rely on a text description of the property. This is a standard rule which any legitimate agent/landlord should respect. Ideally you should always view the property in person if it is off-campus, while you can give some leeway when it comes to on-campus accommodation.

Compare the property description to what images are available to see. Are they purposely not showing certain key areas, like bedrooms, bathrooms or the kitchen which they’ve listed in the description? Request these images, and even the floorplans. Again, you can use Google Maps to see the exterior and surrounding area of the property to give you an idea of what you have available (i.e. nearby amenities, shops etc.), as well as an indication of how well maintained the property is from the outside.

 

'Have I seen enough properties?'

It can be tempting to take the first property you see out of fear that you won’t find anything better, or you’ll run out of time. Try to remain calm and book several viewings in a day so you see a good mixture of properties (in different areas if possible). That way you’ll have a well-rounded idea of what’s available, and you won’t be wondering what could have been.

 

'Do I know exactly how much I’ll be paying?'

One of the most common disagreements which arise, students often enter into agreements with the wrong idea of how much they’ll be paying overall in fees – this can lead to nasty surprises during and at the end of the tenancy. This isn’t necessarily the student’s fault, as they aren’t used to the legal jargon used in contracts. If possible, scan and email, or fax a copy of the proposed contract to your family to look over (especially if they are planning to pay your rent). They can explain it simply to you, and will have a better idea of your circumstances.

 

Moving in...

'What are the meter readings?'

Take a note and report into the utilities companies the meter readings for the gas, electricity and water prior to moving in, and then again the same when you move out. Sometimes it’s useful to take a photo as well which is time-stamped, so you have further proof of what they were/are.

 

'Is anything missing or broken, and will I be charged?'

Has everything that’s been included in the property description actually there in the property when you arrive? This includes furniture, fittings and other features. If not, and it’s something integral to the value of the property as a whole which you were promised, consider asking for a deduction if it cannot be provided. When you move in, take an inventory and note any existing faults or damage to property now so your landlord/agent is aware of them (actively tell them now so they know it wasn’t caused by you). Do this by email so you have a copy of this (and every) correspondence.

 

 

Check out our Accommodation section of articles for more information

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About Author

moving into student accommodation

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.