BY NICKY MCELHATTON Photograph: Tyler McNally For students in Belfast, homes are like leaves from deciduous trees and we shed them once a year, opting to move into new digs rather than renew the lease. For me it is no different. I’ve lived in Belfast for six years and in that time I’ve had as many houses. Moving house is apparently one of the most stressful things you can do in life. I would have never believed that until this year. After shortlisting properties online, the first step is to view them. I phoned up to book appointments- who knew Belfast had so many estate agents? Some houses even have multiple agents advertising them. But viewings aren’t as straight forward as they seem, as I quickly found out. Imagine a wet July night. We arrived early to be sure to make a good first impression. The apartment building leered in front of us. Not as magnificent as the photos online had made out. It was run-down, dirty and grotty. How they thought it was worth £600 a month was beyond me. Yet here we were- and we weren’t alone. Another group stood waiting for the estate agent to arrive. Turns out we’d be waiting a long time for that to happen. He never showed. He had instructed the other group that they were to buzz themselves in to the apartment and the current tenant would show us round. We tried the intercom. Dead tone. We tried another apartment number. This time the voice of an old woman answered but she understandably refused to let us in. Frustrated, we looked about for another way in, and just as we were about to give up, a woman came to the door and let us in. We followed her until she disappeared to her own abode. When we got to the floor the apartment wa
s on however, we were met with another obstacle. This floor was also locked and we had no key. Upon knocking the door, there was no answer. We had no choice but to descend the staircase, back to where we started, with an eerie, unsettled feeling in our stomachs. This experience was not the only one that gave me trouble sleeping at night. An estate agent once showed me a property and before he put the key in the door, it swung open. This was enough to leave me uneasy, but
as the door opened it revealed floor to ceiling damp, craters that had been punched or kicked through the walls, a horrible smell, and mismatched furniture squeezed into tiny box rooms as if arranged by a maniac. No, this house was not for us. Eventually, we found a property we liked, within our price range, and all we needed to do now was sign the lease and get our keys, right? Not quite. Estate agents then wanted us to jump through all the unnecessary hoops they’d created. Gone are the days when a security deposit was all you needed to secure a house. Now you have to fill out an application form, with a non-refundable £20-£40 admin fee. In addition, some agents run background checks. This can involve either asking for a reference from a previous landlord, from an employer or both. Some even ask for a credit check to be done, and some even go so far as listing in a table what properties they allow you to rent based on what your income is. Is it just me or is this ridiculous? Surely if you are able to pay your deposit that should be proof enough for them that you are able to pay your rent month to month. What business is it of theirs to know every little detail about your income? It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. After much searching and weeks of traipsing around South Belfast, (I now have calves to match any sprinter), we finally found the perfect house. This just proves that even though house hunting can be a real heartache, if you persevere and grit your teeth, you’ll find the right house for you.