How it all began

9th Oct 2016

The idea for How’s Your House was born from a feeling that many people experience at some point during a tenancy - regret.

When I first left home in Scotland to attend University in Southampton in the Autumn of 2008, I needed somewhere to live. I had not long returned from a summer part working as a PR in Malia and part relaxing in Thailand and was at a crossroads in my life. One afternoon while watching Homes Under The Hammer, I decided property development may be my calling. I had two immediate problems presented to me however; I didn’t have a job and the country was in a recession where mortgages were almost impossible to obtain. A quick Google search later and both problems were solved as I came across a Property Development course at Southampton Solent University. This would give me the knowledge I required to make it as a Property Developer while at the same time passing three years to allow the recession to blow over. This did however present a new problem - the course started in 4 days time! I phoned the University to discuss the course, was given a conditional placement there and then, packed my car and set off for the South coast. 

I arrived in Southampton the day before my course started with nowhere to live. After spending the first two weeks of my student life sleeping in my car, in between attending lectures I finally found somewhere to live. I rented a studio flat that was a converted loft and stayed there throughout my first academic year. The location wasn’t ideal; there were no appliances in the kitchen, no TV and for the first couple of weeks no heating or water due to the conversion being completed just before my arrival. At the time however, I was desperate and the temporary heat from neighbouring flats was more appealing than the cold, inside of my car in the evenings. The lack of preparation that resulted in me being in this situation made me promise to myself that for the next year, I would do my research properly before moving on.

Fast forward nine months and my first year at University was drawing to an end. And with it, so was my tenancy in my studio flat. I had discussed moving in with a couple of my coursemates as they were currently living in Halls of Residence and we decided to look for a house together. We searched across the city to try and find something suitable and were in the main shocked and saddened by the poor condition the vast majority of the student properties in the city were found to be in. Eventually we found a nice house near the city centre. It was a two up, two down that had been re-configured and extended. The extension contained a bathroom on the ground floor and a large en-suite on the first floor. The extension also allowed for a third bedroom to be included in the property and so it suited our needs perfectly. The house was clean, tidy and much improved on the properties we had already viewed. The landlord advised us that due to the condition of the house it had proved very popular with students and didn’t remain on the market long. We decided; as most tenants do in this situation not to miss out and signed the contract there and then. Deposits were also exchanged during the viewing and we had our house for the next year. We moved into the house on the 1st July 2009 and everything was going great.

Then the winter came.

As the seasons changed, we noticed that the temperature in parts of our house dropped along with the weather outside. This continued into the winter until it was almost freezing. Upon further investigation of the extension, we discovered that it had been constructed with only one layer of bricks and had no insulation in it whatsoever. The extension retained no heat and was always as cold as it was outside. I’m sure you can imagine this was less than ideal when the only bathrooms in the house were contained within the extension. Also with the en-suite being attached to my bedroom (a ‘privilege’ I was made to pay a premium for in my monthly rent!) , the cold seeped through into there as well. To make matters worse, there was no heating or form of extraction installed in the extension and so it very quickly produced large quantities of mould which made me in particular, very ill. Despite numerous calls to the landlord about this, nothing was ever done about it. In fact, we ended up buying our own electric heaters to use in the bathrooms (pretty dangerous so close to water!) and deducting the cost of them from our rent one month just to get some heat in the rooms. One night in early 2010, my housemates and I were discussing the problems we had encountered in our house since we moved in (there were numerous others ranging from the no external bin access to the chimney stack being supported in the loft by a 2 x 4 that had come to light but the extension was by far the main one!) and we were researching to find out if there was any way of getting out of our contract. Unfortunately though, with the contract being a year-long tenancy, coupled with the distinct lack of student lets mid-way through an academic year, we were stuck where we were. In the end we were resigned to the fact that for the time being there was nothing we could do. We were concerned that a property that had looked so promising on the surface could have all the problems we had discovered hiding underneath. The consensus was that if we had known about the secrets the house contained and how unresponsive the landlord was before we had moved, we would never have signed the tenancy agreement in the first place. And so How’s Your House was born.

The above experience got me thinking. There must be a way to stop this from happening. Surely a tenant has the right to know as much information as possible about a property before they sign a tenancy agreement? Surely people would use this information if it was readily available to them? I began scouring the internet in search of such a tool so that I could pre-warn others about the underlying issues in my house. However each attempted search returned the same results - none. I therefore decided to create one myself. Nevertheless, as much as I wanted this to happen, the problem I had was the sheer enormity of the task. It was impossible for me to complete on my own. So I created a platform for everyone to use to help each other. How’s Your House works by allowing those living in a rental property to write a review on the property and add it to the sites database. They give the property’s address, some information on the surrounding area, the landlord/Letting Agent and the option to add some free-text about their experience living there. When a potential future tenant is viewing the property, they can search for the address on the site and read reviews on the property from those who have lived there previously. I use Trip Advisor regularly whenever I’m going on holiday to scout hotels before I go. I figured if people do this to decide where they will stay for two weeks, surely they should be afforded the same opportunity to learn about somewhere they may live for months or even years!

How’s Your House is completely free to use. The whole point of the site is to make the information available to everyone - not just those who can afford to view it! The overall aim for the site is to give free promotion to the landlords who look after their properties and tenants. They should get the recognition they merit and be given the repeat business they deserve. It will also allow tenants to know exactly what they are signing up for before they rent so they don’t get caught out like I did.

How’s Your House can be used by absolutely anyone. If you are currently renting, or have rented previously then please take the time to write a review on your property (good or bad!) for others to use as an essential tool in their search. Together we can provide the information to each other to help redress the balance and make renting fair.