Advice for happy house hunting

The leaves are falling from the trees and there's a definite  chill in the air which can mean only one thing;  Its viewing season!
This, for me at least, is the most enjoyable time of year to be a property manager.  I genuinely enjoy doing viewings but I also know that a lot of landlords don't, which has always baffled me.  This is the time where we get to reap the rewards for the hectic few months from the start of summer until now.  Also, engaging with customers and helping people find a home for the next academic year beats fixing drawers, dealing with the council, or any of the other necessary upkeep which dominates my time for the rest of the year, hands down!
But enough about me, What does this mean for you? As perspective tenants for 2015-2016 it will come as no surprise to you that you are in a rather good position at the moment.  Over the next few months you'll have Landlords/Agencies falling over themselves trying to get you to sign on the dotted line and this puts you firmly in the driving seat.
With this in mind how do you go about choosing a home for next year?  Well, I'm not going to bang on about the obvious stuff; make sure the house is in good condition, make sure it's in a good area, make sure the walls aren't caving in etc, etc, this is all stuff you know.  There are however some things which people tend to overlook which are pretty important.

1. Who is the Landlord?
Its highly likely that you will be being shown round the property by an agent working on behalf of the landlord so the landlord them self may not be there.  You need to know some key facts about who you are signing up with; Will you be dealing with an agency throughout the tenancy or will you be dealing directly with the Landlord after you sign up?  Who do you call if something breaks? Is there a 24hr emergency number? If someone is showing you round the property then they should know the answers to all these questions, even if they are doing so on the Landlords behalf.  Remember, you are paying them a lot of money, and signing up to a contractual relationship with them for a year, so it needs to be someone you trust.

2. Is there an up to date maintenance record for the property?
It's inevitable that something is going to need fixing at some point over your tenancy, and you need to know if the Landlord/Agent is approachable, reliable and above all quick at getting things fixed.  Most Landlords (certainly the reputable ones) have records of the maintenance they have performed on each property and should be able to provide them at your request.  This is especially relevant for the safety features of the property, alarms, fire doors etc.  Don't expect to be handed them at all your viewings,  ours for example go back over 8 years and would be sheets and sheets of paper if we printed them out!  But you should be able to get a copy emailed to you if you ask.

3. What exactly is ' included' in the bills included package?
Some landlords use these packages to squeeze a bit more cash out of their tenants.  you need to know exactly what you get with regards to the major utilities (gas, electricity, water and internet) and how you pay for them.  With our bills included package, for example, you only get charged for what you use.  So if you have been paying £10 per person per week  for a house of five over a year (we only charge for 50 weeks) you will have £2500 bills allowance.  if you under spend (which most of our households do) by say £200 (meaning you've only used £2300 of the £2500) then you get that £200 back at the end of the tenancy.   We find this is totally fair and keeps things transparent between us and our tenants, and makes everyone happier.
I hope this advice may be useful to some of you.  The main thing to remember is you are in control! So ask as many questions as you want and don't get pressured into making a decision you're not sure of. Although I'm pleased to say we have quite a few households staying with us for a second year we do have plenty of homes still available for 2015-2016 so feel free to call me anytime to arrange a viewing.
James Jackson

Property Manager,
at Jackson Student Homes