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Student accommodation guide: how do I choose housemates?

Last week we began out guide to finding student accommodation in Cardiff, asking "when should I start looking for student accommodation?" Despite the hype, there's no need to panic - don't rush. But it's good to think ahead, and this week we turn to that all important issue: who do I live with? How do I find housemates?

When it comes to student renting in Cardiff, who you live with is as important than where you live. At this stage in the uni year, give yourself time to make friends and get to know them properly before signing anything. You don't want to end up living with Scumbag Steve:

Scumbag Steve - Can I Borrow Everything

The chance to pick your housemates for your second and third year is a great opportunity. Living with your friends can be great fun, one of the highlights of the university experience. But when it goes wrong… well, just insert Psycho shower scene music here!

Choosing housemates is a big decision, so make sure you’ve had chance to get to know different people. You may well end up living with your flatmates from halls, in which case you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting. But moving out of student halls and into a student house can be a good chance to take your pick of who you live with, perhaps with friends from your course, or student society, or sports team.

This raises the delicate question of how to approach someone. If you're the one to first broaching the subject, it can be a somewhat nerve-wracking experience, almost like asking someone out - what if they reject you? The shame, the humiliation! But waiting for one of your friends to ask you to share can be just as bad, like "picking teams" in school. Will you end up being the Johnny-no-mates, who the last team doesn't want, saying "Oh, you can have them" to the other side? The best thing to do is not to sweat it. Don't be afraid to raise the subject - most people will be pleased that you want them as housemates, even if they have other plans. 

It's important to remember that just because someone’s a good mate doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to live with them – some friends are best kept at a slight distance! It’s worth discussing things like whether you’re a night owl or early bird, whether you expect to share meals together or do your own thing, how often you expect the washing up to be done, and so on. Whoever you choose to live with will involve the odd argument and some give-and-take, but things will be a lot easier if you’re roughly on the same wavelength.

Cartoon: "We’re looking for someone who’s broke, leaves her dishes in the sink and borrows stuff without asking. If you have a boyfriend who stays over all the time, that would be ideal."

For example, most of us let the washing up pile up on occasion, but if someone’s room and kitchen in halls is a dump every time you go round, ask yourself if you’ll be able to live with their abandoned dirty stuff strewn around the place all year round. At the other extreme, if your friend has an OCD-like insistence on cleanliness and tidiness and insists on daily deep cleaning, and you’re of a more average level of tidiness, consider whether you’ll really be a good fit for each other.

Another issue is budget. If one of your friends has Bank of Mum and Dad ready to pay for them to enjoy all mod cons with breakfast bar and jacuzzi, but you're already struggling to keep your overdraft in check even in Talybont North's most budget accommodation, then you might have some negotiation to do in terms of expectations and how much you're prepared to spend on rent and bills.

Remember, once you’ve signed that contract, you’re committed to living in that house and with those people. It isn’t easy to drop out or change housemates once the ink is dry – if you do want to back out, you will be responsible for finding a replacement, or coughing up for the rent anyway. And it’s very difficult to try to kick someone out if they go off the rails. Just to repeat: it's a legally binding contract, so make sure you’re happy before signing.

But don’t stress too much about your housemates… it is just for a year, it’s not like you’re getting married or anything! In the unlikely event that things go badly, you won’t have that long to hang in there. In most cases, you’ll have a ball. The people you end up living with at uni often end up being friends for life, not to get too sentimental about it.

Next week we'll have a student guide to the different areas of Cardiff - Roath, Cathays, Heath, City Centre... where's the best place for you? Stay tuned!

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