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Apartment Building

Houses vs. Private Halls

 Exeposé • 30 October 2016

I’m now in my third year at Exeter, and in my time here, I like to think I’ve gained some wisdom about student life. I know where to go for a kebab after a night out, and have mastered the fine art of submitting an essay on BART at approximately an hour before the due date, almost every time. I’ve also twice survived the first term rush to secure housing, despite the Guild’s constant assurance that nobody need worry about a thing until January. 

In my second year, I lived in a shared house with friends. Then when they jetted off to study abroad, I moved into Unite halls with a flat full of strangers, rather like Freshers' all over again.

Both have had their ups and downs, and with the wisdom I like to think I’ve gained, I’ll be breaking down the pros and cons of each. In my first year I secured a nice student house with three friends from my halls in early December. It was in the Mt. Pleasant area, a decent twenty minute walk to both campus and town … and absolutely freezing, which brings me to that inevitable battleground of shared student housing – bill contentions. Everyone wants to save money, so the obvious thing to do is keep the energy costs low. Which means no central heating, no matter how many jumpers you have to wear. Add to that my lovely Victorian style window having single glazing and a few gaps at the edges where the wind whistled through and it’s no surprise that I had a stubborn case of freshers' flu on and off from September to February. 

Assuming you find your house with a group of friends, be aware that living with your mates adds a new dimension. Where before you bickered about who bought the next round of drinks, now it’s who barricades themselves in the bathroom every morning, or refuses point blank to take out the bin. If you’re straightforward about things, it’s usually fairly easy to work through these issues, but it’s always a good idea to remember to take a step back and think clearly before you blow your top when the internet bill arrives. 

This brings me to the next issue with student houses … hygiene. Not merely messy housemates, as these are pretty par for the course wherever you live. But sometimes the cheap house that seemed like a great find can come with some unexpected visitors. Case in point, despite my landlord’s well-meaning but ultimately half-hearted efforts to dispel them, my kitchen last year was invaded by several slugs at approximately midnight, every night. I and my housemates waged war with copious amounts of salt, but it was still an undeniably dangerous expedition to get a glass of water after a night out. A dodgy drainage system also had us out in the back garden in wellies doing some nasty unclogging work (food thankfully, not poop). 

All this being said, there are definitely ways in which a house is far nicer than halls. For one, you get much more space – bedrooms are often bigger, and there’s a living room as well. All the more room to throw house parties, and we were lucky enough to have the previous tenants leave behind a TV. It’s far cosier having a big sofa to curl up on than binge watching Netflix in your room in halls. Having a house with your friends, cheesy as it sounds, can make you feel like a little family. 

This year I’m living in Trust House, owned by Unite, which alleviates many of the issues mentioned previously. Bills are included, which means utilities are quite literally on tap, and the maintenance team are far more reliable than most landlords. There’s also a pretty cool common room, with pool table, sofas, study space (handy if you can’t find room in the library on campus) and a massive TV. The vending machine with Ben & Jerry’s is very much appreciated when I’m craving a late night snack. Trust House is also in a much better location than many student houses, something I’ve learnt to be thankful for after two years trudging up Exeter’s hills. Having said that, there are hidden costs – I never thought I’d miss the creaky washing machine in my house until I realised I would be sharing two at Trust House between a few hundred people, and that its £3 per go. Noise can also be an issue – during first year I expected late night parties, but now being woken up at 3 a.m. when the flat above decides to host a heavy metal karaoke session is a lot less welcome. 

Nonetheless, after a year dashing to be first to use the shower before lectures, I deeply appreciate having an ensuite bathroom in Trust House. My room is roughly the same size as those in Lafrowda, small but wonderfully warm compared to last year, and I’m pretty pleased with the double bed. You can book Unite halls with friends, but even though I didn’t, the staff were nice enough to take my flatmate preferences into account, and I arrived in September to find myself placed with four girls, who are all lovely. 

All in all, despite sometimes being a bit on the mouldy side, student houses are a lot of fun, and offer a new sense of freedom after being in halls. But if you’re struggling to find a place, or are looking for less hassle, there are many private halls to choose from too.

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