A few weeks into my first year at St. Andrews, I began to be bombarded with dire warnings concerning the impending chaos of student house-hunting. From all sides, I was showered with ominous messages: ‘get in early’, ‘make sure you’re organised’, ‘things go quickly- before you know it you’re stuck in Guardbridge!’ Such was their intensity that I quickly succumbed to the pressure, nodding my head and making a mental note to promptly initiate the process. I want to take the opportunity to now say that the accommodation stampede is utterly self-perpetuated, from all sides.
One of the initial – and underrated – difficulties facing first year students is the pressure to find housemates. I knew people forming cliques as early as October. At that point I was still hesitantly choosing my ‘friends’, let alone my future housemates! It seems a little hard to believe that one month is enough time to form a viable household. Indeed, welcome to the first stage of the self-perpetuated trauma of house-hunting.
Cue the second stage: as anyone who took the warnings to ‘start the process early’ would know, this piece of advice is greatly misleading. My friends and I started applying so early (mid December) that the letting agent proceeded to lose our application over the winter break. We came back to find all their four-bedroom houses gone. The original advice must therefore be amended: be prepared, but not over-prepared
The next stage in this chaos was the rude awakening I received when returning from Christmas break to a mad housing rush in St. Andrews. It was analogous to an obnoxious alarm clock pulling me out of a gentle four-week slumber. Lists were coming out one after the other, yet the best locations all seemed to have already been taken, as though some Freshers simply never left St. Andrews! It appears that everyone except yourself has a roof for 2nd year. For those of us left struggling to find some halfway decent hovel, there remained the incompatibility of two essential housing criteria: ‘not too expensive’ and ‘close to town’ are conjunctively the Holy Grail of St. Andrews house-hunting.
From deliberating we moved on to field work. As house viewing after house viewing was ticked off the list, sudden realisations took hold: not only were places going left, right and centre, the initial criteria were far too stringent. At this stage, the trauma was crucially intensified by the sudden, despairing sense of epiphany which came to overwhelm the hunters. Simple observations made the difference, such as that an expensive rent for a short lease is cheaper than a cheap rent for a long lease, in most cases. Inevitably, tensions escalated as the criteria were negotiated and re-negotiated- especially when the concept of a “reasonable” rent was debated.
It would seem that this traumatic experience ends when you are finally presented with the lease to the place you desperately managed to secure. Result! But, in truth, this is a brief respite from the house-hunting ordeal. There are pitfalls which must be carefully negotiated: leases which aren’t up-to-date under new Scottish legislation or, worse still, distrustful landlords. Our landlady simply wanted our money, our signatures and her peace, having been ‘strung along by another group before us’. She did not trust us, because she feared we were looking for another house and using hers as a back-up. We didn’t trust her because she didn’t trust us, so we feared she would secretly give another group the lease. Between the five of us, the dynamic of mistrust intensified: we had reached the final stage of the self-perpetuating trauma of house-hunting.
Incidentally, as she has consequently had to update her lease since our meeting, we have taken the opportunity to view other places. The hunt is too vicious, and the securing process too risky, to leave anything up to time.