Finding a house: for many a fresher the most stressful part of their first year of university. Hunt too early and you risk falling out with your housemates before you even pick up the keys to your dingy Portswood property. Wait too long and all the decent places and tidy tenants have been snapped up, leaving you stuck with antisocial weirdos and a mouldy bathroom all year. Generations of Southampton students have been struggling with this dilemma.

Thankfully, SUSU have mooted a solution in the shape of their own letting agency, determined to end the tyranny of and make this mid-year house grab much cheaper and easier for students looking for that perfect pad.

Our union has for years been preaching a message of staying calm and not being rushed into putting down a deposit early. Despite this, students are still finding themselves committing to properties (and people) they soon wish they could reconsider.

At the same time, prices for rooms in student houses have shot up, leaving many paying over the odds for houses with problems landlords and agencies simply don’t have any motivation to worry about.

The union hopes this will all change with the expected launch of its own letting agency next year. First proposed at the 2010 SUSU AGM (a record of which seems to be missing from, but the original policy can be read here) and a regular staple of sabbatical manifestos ever since, it seems SUSU will finally be dipping a toe in the murky water of contracts and deposits.

This all seems reasonable but will it actually solve the problems we as students face? With little effort to prevent the rise in rents, Southampton now has the highest rental yield of anywhere in the country – it’s hard to argue we’re not being ripped off. When I started at Southampton back in 2006, £35 per person per week was a pretty standard price. Right now, looking at a few of the well known Southampton agencies, only 5% of student houses can be had for £70pppw or less.

Of course, it’s a different economy now, particularly for students, with £9k fees and massive loans, expensive textbooks and compulsory field trips de rigueur, haggling over rent and admin fees when housing is far less of a proportion of our annual costs than for our Southampton predecessors seems pointless.

While this transition has been taking place, a similar revolution has taken place in buy-to-let housing. Gone are the hobbyist types with their regular jobs, eager to keep their tenants happy in a market where reputation is everything. Now it’s the age of landlords with more houses than they can keep track of, certainly more than they can maintain in any reasonable standard. Southampton’s universities have expanded their courses, meaning more students desperate to grab the accommodation early. Fallen out with your landlord over a leaky roof, rotten windows or defective boiler? So what, there’s thousands of students ready to take your place.

Put these two situations together and you have young people with, let’s be honest, little concept of the value of money, already shelling out a fortune for their education, worried that they’ll have to slum it for a year, fighting for the custom of unscrupulous millionaires, themselves happy in the knowledge they’ve pushed up rent prices higher than anywhere else in Britain and content to sit back and rake in the profit.

How will the SUSU letting agency combat this? It’s difficult to see. Can they make students take their time, researching into landlords, resisting overpaying? Can they make landlords slow the relentless rise of prices, turning a blind eye to complaints about unsatisfactory houses, running off with our deposits? Certainly SUSU is trying to make a difference, but is it enough?

I don’t think so. Landlords will continue to use the agencies that arrange the lets with the most profit and the least hassle. Freshers will continue to sign up for the first place they see, for fear of being the one still standing when the music stops. This is a well-intentioned step in the right direction but we need to see much more done.

Perhaps it’s time for the union to consider the situation students are in now. A SUSU letting agency might have been the right thing when proposed in 2010 but in 2014 it just isn’t going far enough to make a real difference.

For me, we need to find a different solution. Perhaps we should follow the lead of undergraduates in Birmingham, who set up the country’s first housing cooperative for students. It’s actually a common thing in America, particularly California, where thousands of students live in accommodation they all have a share in, keeping rent low both for themselves and students who continue to use private landlords.

I’m convinced that here at Southampton, we have the skills and need to make something like this a reality. It’s the only way to really make the landlords and agencies listen to us and quit exploiting students across the city.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a student house any time soon, don’t panic. There’s loads of houses, there are plenty of students to share with and the union is doing their bit to make your life easier.


Leave your response!

  • Ex student (Class of 2006)

    £35 per person per week in 2006? I’m pretty sure the average price was closer to £300 per calendar month back then, though I have no idea what it is now.

    I’m also finding it difficult to believe that it’s the most expensive in the country. Is this excluding London?


  • Rich Tea

    Nice article but a few key points have been overlooked/sensationalised.

    Walk around the city at the moment and you’ll see hundreds of “To Let” boards. Pop in to the agencies in town and you’ll find many flats/houses in the student letting lists. There is no housing crisis. Take your time, check the details, slow down, save money + get a nice place to live :-)

    Student numbers have actually fallen in Southampton ( in the recent year so the supply demand issues has lessened and in future years new halls of residence will open the market for students even further. If you don’t like agency fees then vote with your feet and keep searching, you will find some letting agencies who charge reasonable fees (or none at all) however you do have to accept that you will very likely pay some form of fee for paperwork, background checks, references and contracts (it’s how these guys make a living – whether you think they’re parasites or not they are running a business and providing a service). If you think the letting agencies are a rip off just wait until you buy your own place and see what solicitors charge (upwards of £700+ VAT just for their time and then you have to pay several hundred pounds for the actual documents/searches etc).

    On the point of rip-off-rent I think the vast majority of the Southampton housing stock in the Buy To Let (BTL) market is not really typical student property. Private developers in Southampton have invested heavily in recent years e.g. Park Central, Splash, Empress Heights etc (albeit there was a slight dip following the market crash of the late 2000s) while the City Council worked to promote the city as a commuter venue e.g. 1 hour 15 minutes to central London. The % rental yield is mainly taken from this housing stock and not typical Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) which now required licences and are mainly student dwellings. I also think there may be a bit of an issue around the quoted increases in rent. The average student rent here is about £250-£300 ( with a slightly older article places us middle of the road ( and a more recent survey shows we’re not doing too bad compared to others ( What would be interesting would be to look at cost vs quality. On a personal note several years back (2005) I was paying £58 per week in a six bed house… pretty standard rent among my friends. The cheapest I heard anyone pay was £45 (that was a single bed room though), so well done to you for finding a £35 p/w room… or was it a box/shed/bench… seems like sensationalist journalism there and certainly not reflective of average rent at the time.


    Simon Boyce

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a good reply.

    I did have a look for a range of figures for average rent over the last few years but there wasn’t much data I could find. The chaps I knew in the £35pppw house were certainly happy there and I don’t recall that being exceptional (I was in halls then but the following year I think I paid £45 or thereabouts?)

    On your other points, there are obviously costs involved with buying but over a three year degree the one-off costs are insignificant compared to the savings you make against rent, agency fees, lost deposits etc. I had a good look and found houses around SO17 at various prices and compared them with the rents on similar student houses in the same roads, also I looked into the kind of rates on mortgages and deposits someone setting up this sort of arrangement would be taking on. Obviously a full study into the figures fell beyond the scope of this article but I did take the time to be thorough about it.

    Certainly what you say about taking your time, doing the legwork and finding a nice place at the right price is good advice for everyone. Thanks again for the feedback!


  • Porn secretary to the PM

    Didn’t need to find a house, built my own.


  • Sam no so Ling

    SUSU has been talking about a Housing Agency for over 4 years. The fact that is has been passed at an AGM and the last President promised it twice(!) in his manifesto, seems to have made no difference.

    So much for democracy.


  • Agent

    I think all of the students are being played as pawns for the new student website and letting agency. If you read all the articles you will know that they are actively slagging off agents to bully there own business under the uni banna so you feel safe apparently. If you feel you have been mistreated by an agent you can go to the OFT. In Portswood and Highfield most of the properties are tenant find.(not managed) so you can’t put all the blame on the agent as its nearly always the landlords fault. I’ve been in the industry for many years and can confirm that there are good agents out there and they do want to help and work with tenants and build relationships with students and the uni. With regards to the uni letting agent, slagging off agents it is not a good or trustworthy way to start a business. I can only imagine what else will be going on as they have not even started yet.