Booking UK student accommodation: Rightmove, Spareroom or Housemates

When it comes to searching for student accommodation, there are plenty of online and bricks-and-mortar services available to help you find a place to stay, many of which are well-known brands that you may have seen advertised, such as Rightmove and Spareroom. Then there’s Housemates, a new platform built specifically for students which allows you to book accommodation securely online.

Seeing as you’ll be spending so much time in your accommodation, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it couldn’t be more important that you find the right place. To do that, you’ll want to start with an accommodation service that meets your specific needs as a student; be that for full transparency, speedy bookings, or increased rental security. 

Let’s look at how Housemates compares to some of the most popular options.

Rightmove

Rightmove is among the most well-known platforms for rental property searches in the UK, you may have seen their adverts on TV or at bus stops. Rightmove and similar platforms are particularly popular with UK students looking to rent private houses or apartments in groups. 

As Rightmove has been around for a long time, it’s popular for landlords and letting agents to list properties there, ensuring plenty of choice for students. Although, Rightmove is also used for the wider property market so most properties on this platform are not available for students. Be sure to check whether students are accepted on each listing before you proceed.

Once you do find a suitable property, you are able to make an enquiry by calling or emailing the landlord or agent who has published the listing. However, this can be quite a time-consuming process and most agents or landlords usually take a while to reply, many will not even respond at all. So in the meantime, it’s best to keep looking elsewhere or you could miss out.

Whatever you do, make sure you book a viewing, as many student houses and apartments are not well maintained by the owners and you don’t want to run into problems later with faulty appliances, mould or something else which will be uncomfortable to live with. Ideally, you’ll want to view the place in person, but if you can’t, many agents are now offering virtual tours due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As of 2019, new laws have been brought in to prevent letting agents or landlords from charging any hidden fees in England and Wales. Similar rules already applied in Scotland. It’s best to familiarise yourself with these rules if you intend to rent a private house or apartment. However, you will likely need to send a refundable holding deposit to reserve the property before signing the tenancy agreement, and then a refundable security deposit to cover any damages or issues during your tenancy. Some landlords and agents may try to keep this deposit for unfair reasons at the end of the tenancy, such as general wear and tear, so be sure to understand your rights or you could lose out.

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Lots of houses and apartments
  • Talk to a human (agent/landlord)
  • Great for group renting

Cons

  • Not suited for individuals 
  • Having to use letting agents or landlords
  • Lack of information about properties online
  • Many properties are not suitable for students
  • Long wait times
  • Time-consuming
  • Bills are usually not included
  • Tenancy periods are usually 12 months, rather than 9
  • No cancellation policy for students
  • No COVID-19 protection for students

SpareRoom

SpareRoom offers a similar style of service to Rightmove, but for landlords and tenants looking to sublet an individual room rather than an entire property. That makes it useful if you’re moving to a new city and need a place to stay but don’t know anyone there yet, so long as you’re happy to live with new people. Usually, the kitchen and bathroom are shared.

Again, once you find a property suitable for students, you can send a message or give the person who listed the room a call. It’s best for you to schedule a viewing to check the property is up to a good standard and you might also want to have a quick call or meet-up with the other residents in the property to check you’ll get on well enough. 

Whilst it's a good platform for finding properties and housemates, it can be quite a time consuming and tiresome process to find a suitable place and people you’re comfortable to live with. 

The same rules apply in terms of deposits, rent and fees, though if you’re paying rent through the other residents on a more casual basis, you may have less legal protection if something goes wrong. You should also be more vigilant when searching with Spareroom, as anyone can make a listing which increases the risk of fraudulent activity.

Pros

  • Lots of single rooms, sharing with new people
  • Great for individual renting
  • Talk to a human (tenant/landlord)
  • Flexible tenancy periods

Cons

  • Not always free (pay to contact Early Bird listings)
  • Fraud risk
  • Not suited for groups
  • Less tenant security and protection
  • Lack of information about rooms online
  • Many properties are not suitable for students
  • Long wait times
  • Time-consuming
  • Bills are usually not included
  • No cancellation policy for students
  • No COVID-19 protection for students

Housemates

Housemates is a brand new student accommodation platform that allows you to book instantly online, just like you would when reserving a hotel room. Whilst the platform doesn’t have any private houses like Rightmove or Spareroom, as a “student-first” business, all of the properties on Housemates are built specifically for students, so you won’t have to sift through listings just to find a place that accepts you. 

Housemates has rooms at all price points, ranging from budget-friendly student halls to luxury hotel-like boutique residences in a growing number of cities in the UK and Ireland. Though, regardless of your budget and whether you book by yourself or as a group, you’ll be amongst a community of like-minded students in any of the properties on Housemates, many of which have social spaces and gyms included which could save you money overall. Utility bills, including water, energy, broadband and TV licenses are also accounted for in most properties, saving you from further hours of unnecessary research and unexpected costs.

All of the properties on Housemates have dedicated, on-site maintenance teams who are able to respond to incidents quickly and keep the living spaces in good condition, creating a more comfortable living environment. Whilst it’s still recommended that you have a virtual viewing, you can be more confident if you aren’t able to do so. 

When you find a property that you are happy with, you can select your room type and tenancy period and then book it instantly online by paying the reservation payment listed on the site. This payment is completely secure and will be refunded by the accommodation operator when you pay your first month’s rent.

If you change your mind, you have 14 days to cancel the booking and receive a full refund. After that point, you’re still protected if you don’t manage to get your university place, your visa application is denied or you can’t get into the UK due to COVID-19 restrictions. By booking with Housemates, you receive an experience that’s customised to your student lifestyle, saving you the need to research the finer details of property law. 

By allowing you to book directly online, you’re able to arrange your accommodation without waiting for an agent to respond. However, if you do need to speak to a real person about a virtual viewing, group booking or something else, this can be done via the live-chat facility on the platform. 

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Great for group renting
  • Great for individual renting
  • Only student-friendly properties
  • Talk to a human
  • Safe instant reservation, no waiting
  • 14-day cancellation policy
  • Advanced cancellation (No university place/no visa/COVID-19 travel restrictions)
  • Utility bills included
  • Flexible tenancy periods
  • Live chat (Mon-Fri 9-5)

Cons

  • Limited options in some cities (for now)
  • No private houses or apartments
  • In-person viewings not currently available for all properties

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