Finding a Flat: Private Accommodation in St Andrews
At five o’clock on a cold February morning, I found myself standing in a queue outside Bradburn & Co., a letting agency on South Street in St Andrews. My hands clutching desperately to a double-shot espresso, and my toes slowly numbing from the frigidity of last year’s “mild” Scottish winter, I—along with my two future flatmates—huddled together hoping that this would be our lucky strike, that this time we might manage to secure private accommodation for the following semester. Each of us had put quite a lot of time and effort into the flat-finding process, but it had been difficult to stand out amongst a crowd of students offering the exact same credentials as we were (namely, a spotless record with university accommodation services, and a signature proving that a guarantor could cough up rent if need be).
Three hours later, the agency opened its doors to the public, and a mad rush of potentially soon-to-be-homeless students flocked towards the front, grabbing at the application forms offered by the woman who had been so unlucky to have been assigned the opening shift at Bradburne that morning. Once we had them in our hands, we quickly scanned through these documents for the available 3-bedroom flats. To our dismay, there was only one property of that size. Yet, to our delight, it was located just down the street from the agency! The three of us simultaneously broke out into a sprint towards the address, fully conscious of the two or three other groups in hot pursuit of an identical target. Somehow, we managed to be the first to arrive, which meant that we had scored a favored and highly-coveted position: we would be the first to view this property, and thus, the first to return our application to the letting agency. However, we never heard back from Bradburne ever again.
The extremely competitive nature of the process, and the (in my experience) ironically unaccommodating disposition of most letting agencies, can make the flat search quite stressful, especially for students who are already overwhelmed by the challenges of transition inherent to our programme. But I do not mean to scare you away from private accommodation! I personally made the decision to move out of halls for a few reasons: (1) after two years of living with a roommate, I was ready to have my own space; (2) hall food had been worse than I expected, and I wanted to be able to cook for myself; (3) I looked forward to experiencing living on my own, and taking that responsibility upon myself.
With the gracious approval from my parents, I began my search. There are a few things I wish I had been thinking about early on. For example, I wish I had started looking sooner. Getting a head-start on the process is definitely an advantage, but at the same time, it is important to still take some time to seriously consider who you might want to live with. You should also have the necessary documents prepared and ready to go for when you need them. These include two letters of reference, one from a Warden or previous landlord and another from a personal contact, and a parental guarantor statement (a legal document stating that your parents/guardians are willing and able to cover the costs). Finally, although you might feel like you should snatch up whatever comes your way first, hold out for the better prices. In our case, my flatmates and I were only days away from signing onto a lease before another opportunity was made available to us—because we waited, we are now each saving almost 200 pounds a month! We didn’t end up finally signing our lease until a few weeks after Spring Break, well after many of our friends were already sorted.
Following up on the cost of private accommodation in St Andrews, I am sorry to admit that—like most things in this town—rent does not come cheap. But with a little bit of patience (and a healthy dose of luck), private letting can be affordable, if not even less expensive than living in halls. As far as average prices, you can expect a range of 450 to 750 pounds per month for something in-town, and somewhere around 400 to 500 pounds per month for something further out-of-town. These are just estimates, so I’m sure you could find quite a few exceptions.
Another option to consider is University Managed Accommodation, which straddles the line between private accommodation and residence halls. My reasonably-priced, spectacularly-located flat is all thanks to this university-maintained service which lets privately owned properties. Although there are a limited number of such properties available, it is definitely worth a shot, as these tend to be cheaper than average. Also, as these landlords are directly accountable to the university, any questions/concerns you might have after you move in are addressed quite quickly. Check out this site for more information: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/accommodation/ug/current/managed/.
Having said all of that, I highly suggest that WaMStA students coming to St Andrews for the first time go into halls—that sense of community cannot be replicated in a smaller, more detached flat. In your third or fourth year, however, you may decide that you want a bit more independence. For those of you who are considering private accommodation, I hope you can find my advice as a helpful starting point for your own search!
- The University’s Renting Guide (https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/media/residential-and-business-services/studentaccommodationservices/documents/right%20to%20rent.pdf)
- St Andrews Housing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/343914865678965/?ref=ts&fref=ts)
About the Author: Amanda Blair is a second year studying International Relations. She is from McLean, Virginia.