& opinion

The time of year is approaching in which first years, and indeed the unlucky ones in other years, have to face the daunting prospect of finding a house. I write this article, not to scare you even more, but to warn you that there are many things which can go wrong, things which you will not even have thought of, and some things that are ridiculous and yet still true. The reason I know this is that nearly everything that could have gone wrong for us, did!

We began the search for our house with six of us. Admittedly we were not the most dedicated group of house hunters - the housing list, whilst being released at 9am every Wednesday, did not tend to reach us until about 3 oíclock the next day by the time we had remembered that we were supposed to collect it and argued about whose turn it was to do so. However, eventually we managed to arrange some viewings and visited the usual assortment of student slums that pretended to have six bedrooms.

Then we found a house that appeared too good to be true. It was a newly decorated, very unstudent-like house but still in our price range. We told the agent immediately that we would take it and for five minutes we had a house. Within minutes of us leaving, the agent rang to tell us that the landlord had decided that he was going to sell the house and not let it out. Perhaps the thought of students messing up his paint work had influenced his decision! This was not too much of a blow, it was still early and the house had just been too good to be true.

We decided that a six person house was just too hard to find and we split into two threes in order to find two separate houses. In our three we managed to find a very nice flat fairly quickly. We even managed to make it back to the Letting office, sign the contracts and hand over the holding fee for the flat. We left the office and made it onto the bus before my mobile rang. The landlord had decided to sell instead of let his flat, he had had an offer he simply could not refuse! For this to happen twice in a row was a very unlucky coincidence. We persevered. Our next flat was in the perfect place, the centre of Brighton, although it was very scruffy. In fact, the agentís response to our agreeing to live there was a very surprised "Really? Are you sure?", but we couldnít afford to be picky. We had two flats behind us and it was already the summer holidays, we had had to come from various places around the country in order to find this one, and we were running out of time.

This time I made it back to Norwich and my part-time job before I got the news. My future flatmate rang me early in the morning; already I knew something was wrong, she has never seen morning, let alone worked out how to use the phone before 12! Our friendly estate agent, Mr Love (no really that was his name, perhaps we should have guessed!) had got her out of bed in the worst possible way, our house had been, well - sold! This was just getting silly! We returned to Brighton, with a few cross words from my manager who really didnít believe my now ludicrous story.

Mr Love had found us a new house, it sounded promising - it had no Ďfor saleí signs, anyway! Perhaps the bad omen started when the first thing we saw of the house was a skull in the wall. This fear deepened as we had to duck walking up the stairs to avoid the orange and black Halloween balloons - it was August. The final worrying aspect was the two figures at the kitchen table, mannequins with red paint dripping down the lips of the friendly tenants! Despite all of this we took the flat, what else could we do? We went home with our fingers crossed, we were convinced by now that we had had our fair share of bad luck, fourth time lucky, isnít that how the phrase goes?! A whole month went by and Mr Love only contacted us in order to take our full deposit and send us nice letters telling us that the flat was ours, finally we had somewhere to live...didnít we?

Two weeks before the beginning of term, Mr Love made contact, "Iím very sorry..." he started...bugger! This time we had some originality! The tenants, those stable-minded individuals, had decided that they didnít want to leave their flat. "Well, make them," was our reply, but apparently that Ďlegally binding contractí we signed wasnít actually legally binding. In fact all you have to do to extend your contract is to refuse to leave the property and your landlord, if heís anything like this one, will agree! We sought legal advice, but apparently an eviction notice would take too long to serve and we would have to get the landlord to agree anyway. Basically we did not have a leg to stand on...or a house to live in. We returned to Brighton where Mr Love had become decidedly less lovely, he told us that although it was obviously a bit annoying for us it was much worse for him with all the paper work he had done. What with the added pressure of him getting paid for this he must have been positively distraught!

We left that particular establishment behind, as although they called themselves letting agents, they seemed to be lacking in the actual letting area of their job. We started looking again and we did find another house. We were warned by the estate agent that it was scruffy; even in estate agent terms this was putting it mildly. We stepped over rubbish into a hallway that was so dirty that when the estate agent wiped her dirty hand on the wall (professional as always) it went unnoticed amongst the grime! We took the house, they promised us they would do it up and we could move in in two weeks. Depressed and pessimistic we spent the first night of term on the floors of a friendís house, and the second night, and the third. In fact, we spent the first six weeks of our second year on the floor before the estate agents finally presented us with a house. In fact, they had decorated it, and by our standard of luck six weeks wasnít bad going! We now have a house and fingers crossed we will be keeping it. Unbelievable as it seems, this story is entirely true. Landlords and estate agents are a breed unto themselves, and they will do everything in their power to make your life hard. I have spoken to people who found a house instantly and are on great terms with their landlords, so perhaps I am slightly biased. All I would say, is be warned!!