Data collected by Palatinate suggests that the rush to sign student houses starts as early as late October.
The number of student houses available on the online housing site Sturents rose until October 26th, and then began to decline steadily until November. At its peak, 967 houses were available, of which 262 were 4-beds, 207 were 5-beds, 170 6-beds, and 70 7-beds.
Students have described to Palatinate how the housing rush put pressure on them to sign quickly.
Tansy Adam signed in week four of Michaelmas term. She found the agents quite communicative, but they were rushed through the process, at one point being told they had to be at the agency by 5pm or they would lose the house.
Bill Free Homes, a student housing estate agency, spoke to Palatinate about what the housing rush means for agents.
“We would prefer a later start to proceedings as we are still in the process of bedding our new tenants in by the time letting season comes around. We prepare well in advance and hope that things are at least delayed until November.”
They suggested that the housing rush had been worse this year: “We did reach 100% capacity much earlier than normal. This year the rush has been sooner than the 5 years prior to that.
“We have 230 houses to let and by the 10th of October we had 700 groups register for a pre-release.
“This year it seemed very much student lead in the rush for housing.”
Emma Clarke and Isobel Wooler, first-year students, agreed that the process was stressful. They called the rush “frantic”, and felt that the situation was “mad”.
After viewing one house they called a friend, and when they got off the phone the house had already been signed by the group after them.
“It did feel quite hectic”, said Clarke. “Agents were telling us which houses from that day had already gone, making me feel like I did need to move quickly if I found a house I wanted.”
House numbers seemed to recover by 4th November, with the number of houses available increasing for every price range, size and area, except Claypath, which continued to decline. Many agencies release additional student houses at the beginning of November and January.
One group of first-year students told Palatinate how they had walked around looking at houses for five hours, until they “wanted to cry”. “The housing rush is really stupid” they said, and it felt like they needed to sign houses too quickly
They looked at 12 houses before signing. Similar to previous years, landlords told them to just knock on houses that they wanted to look at, rather than agreeing an official viewing with the agent.
Clarke was asked what factors contributed to the idea that Durham may run out of housing. She said “I think that as our year and the previous year are quite big, there is some fear that there might not be enough houses for us all, especially as this year colleges had to find extra accommodation to fit the increase in numbers.”
One landlord Palatinate spoke to agreed that the rush was happening sooner: “It’s getting earlier”. “Estate agents are coming to us asking ‘When are properties coming on the market?’, ‘When can we get the keys to go and show our new tenants around for next year?’”.
The landlord suggested it was mainly first-years who had been interested in signing early, and suggested there were problems with the pace of the rush: “There’s lots of different issues that come with signing contracts far, far too early.”
“From my point of view, and from a human being point of view, I think it’s wrong”.
Each area of the city shows a different picture. The number of houses in Whinney Hill and Neville’s Cross plummeted after the 27th October, whereas Claypath, the Viaduct and Gilesgate showed a more steady decline. Indeed, the number of houses available in Gilesgate was higher on the 4th November than during the month before.
Clarke and Wooler pointed to a domino effect as significant in the rush: as soon as some people start signing, everyone rushes to sign before houses go, and this is initiated by the release of houses early in the term.
The students Palatinate spoke to did not see any easy solutions to the problem. A later release, Clarke and Wooler explained, would still result in a rush to sign. The main benefit of this move however, would be that people would be in more secure groups with people they had known for longer.
Many colleges offer housing talks with advice for signing offered, but this came too late for Clarke and Wooler, who had already signed. They suggested that some housing information as early as freshers’ week would have been useful.
Image by Thomas Tomlinson