House Viewings: Know What To Do

Next up, for our mini-series of blogs in celebration of Housing Week, we'll be giving you all the tips and tools to help you work your way around house viewings, ensuring you're treated fairly and know what questions to ask, whether you're the one viewing the house, or the one expecting viewers in your current home.

At the SU we are here to help support students with your housing, whether that be on-campus halls, private halls or private housing in the local area. Our Advice Centre has an advisor dedicated to housing who you can get in touch with here, whether you are looking for housemates, have a hole in your roof, or need a contract checked, they are here to help!

This year I have launched a policy inquiry into housing to find out more about what students want from their accommodation and the support provided, it is hoped that the recommendations that are produced from this work will ultimately improve the student housing experience.

But firstly, we want to ensure that you know your rights when it comes to housing, which is why we have launched this mini blog series to make sure that you are being treated fairly and receiving the right information.

In this blog I will be providing the lowdown on private house viewings, what is expected of your landlord/estate agent, and what your rights are as a tenant.

Attending Viewings

Once you have spoken to a landlord/estate agent and have found a house that may work for you and your housemates, it is important that you attend a viewing. The pictures provided can often be out of date and you need to get a sense of the house you are looking to spend your student loan on for the next year.

There are a few key questions to ask and things to look out for when viewing properties:

  • If the landlord/estate agent promises to fix an issue you have seen in the house during the viewing, ask them to put it in writing. Landlords/estate agents often make promises that they never fulfil and it can be hard work getting them to fix things after you have signed the house contract.
  • If the current tenants are present during the viewing, don’t be afraid to ask for their contact details so you can ask them about the house, including what the bills are like as you want to be as informed as possible going into your tenancy. They will also be much more honest about the landlord/estate agents without them being present.
  • Ask the landlord or agent if you can see the inventory which will state exactly what pieces of furniture will be staying at the property. If they do not have one, request that they create one. Make sure you take a look at our Looking Guide on the SU website when you are searching for accommodation. And remember, you do not need to sign in Term One! There is an abundance of housing in Egham and Englefield Green, make sure you are not being pressured to sign early and wait until Term Two if you can.

Before Signing

Before you sign for your house, the landlord/estate agent should provide you with a number of documents and information. You have a right to receive those listed below, so if they are not shared with you, make an appointment with the SU Advice Centre and discuss your options.

You should receive:

  • A copy of the government’s ‘How to Rent’ guide.
  • A Gas Safety Certificate issued within the last year.
  • Evidence of an electrical inspection within the last five years.
  • Tenancy deposit protection scheme information.
  • An Energy Performance Certificate.
  • Information about who manages the property (i.e. if the landlord/estate agent is responsible for maintenance/repairs).
  • Confirmation in writing if your bills are included, either in an email, letter or in your tenancy agreement.

Before signing there are also a number of aspects of renting that you should check so it doesn’t cause you problems later down the line. You should;

  • Check the rules about overnight guests, smoking and pets.
  • Check who is responsible for the bills and make sure this information is included in the tenancy agreement.
  • Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be fitted by your landlord - it’s the law. You have a right to have these detectors installed.
  • You should ask for any promises of repairs or new furniture in writing.
  • Check under which circumstances you could leave the tenancy early without still being liable for rent.
  • Write an agreement about who will pay how much for which rooms.
  • Make sure any other appliances, such as washing machines, are included in the inventory and that the landlord will be responsible for replacing them if they break down.
  • Check who owns the property at landregistry.gov.uk if you’re not using a letting agent. It only costs £3!

Request a free contract check from our Housing Advisor

Make sure you are happy with the tenancy agreement. Don’t be afraid to question the meaning of certain clauses if you don’t understand them. You should not sign anything you are not 100% clear on! Finally, make use of our free contract checking service, which will save you lots of money, even if you’ve already signed!

Viewings to your current house

There are cases in which viewings shouldn’t or don’t have to go ahead. If you think that this might apply to you, get in touch with our Advice Centre for guidance.

If your contract is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (most students), no one can enter your home without your permission unless there’s an emergency, like flooding. All viewings must be by appointment at a time that suits you (e.g. not just before an exam). It is not normal for agents/landlords to use their own keys and let themselves into your rented home. They must knock and wait to be allowed in and leave if there is no answer. You can always reschedule viewings.

You do not have to allow viewings if:

  • You can’t be present for the viewings and you don’t want strangers in your home.
  • You are not yet in your notice period (usually last two months of tenancy).
  • You haven’t decided whether or not you’re renewing your tenancy (and you’re not in your notice period yet).
  • You or someone in your household has coronavirus, is symptomatic, has underlying conditions making them more vulnerable, or is isolating.

Coronavirus Advice

People should use virtual viewings before visiting properties in person where possible, in order to minimise public health risks. If any member of either the household being viewed or the household undertaking a viewing is showing symptoms of coronavirus or is self-isolating, then a physical viewing should be delayed. All viewings should take place by appointment and only involve members of a single household.

  • We encourage people to do their property searching online wherever possible. Initial viewings should be carried out virtually wherever this is possible and physical viewings should only be conducted where buyers are seriously considering making an offer on a property.
  • To support this, agents may ask home occupiers to conduct virtual viewings. This will help reduce the number of properties people need to visit before finding their future home.
  • Viewings should be conducted by appointment only and no open house viewings should take place.
  • If your property is being viewed, you should open all the internal doors prior to the viewing, and allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels/paper towels.
  • As most people choose to do, we encourage that you vacate your property whilst viewings are taking place in order to minimise your contact with those not in your household.
  • When viewing a property, all parties should wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces where possible. Agents will ask you to restrict the number of people who accompany you to a viewing so that social distancing can be practised, and only those in your immediate household should be there.
  • We expect agents to accompany clients to a viewing but follow social distancing rules wherever possible. Where viewings are unaccompanied, agents should make sure viewers and homeowners understand how they should conduct themselves.
  • Once the viewing has taken place, the homeowner should ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned with standard household cleaning products and towels disposed of safely or washed as appropriate.

Housing Week

Stay in the know with the latest news and advice on our Housing Week Campaign Hub. We'll be publishing articles throughout the week, where you'll find tons of other useful information to help you with the entire housing process!

Further support

We appreciate the volume of information being sent your way could be quite overwhelming, so we've created a Coronavirus Hub to give you quick links to key advice, guidance, and our latest news updates. With dedicated pages for housingacademic, and welfare advice, as well as links to government advice and College FAQs, it's your one-stop-shop for all the vital information during this time.

The Advice Centre is a free, independent and confidential service for all students here at Royal Holloway. Our friendly, experienced and professional staff will provide a listening ear and offer general and specialist advice. We’re here to support you with a whole range of issues, big and small, and if we’re not the best people to help you with a particular issue, we’ll point you in the right direction.

Email us at advice@su.rhul.ac.uk with any questions or to ask for a phone appointment