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Finding a place to rent in London is a tricky old game. This is mainly due to the fact that it's a game that's simultaneously being played by thousands of other people, many of whom have more money than you, and consequently a massive advantage.
However, knowledge is power. Enter the fray with these crucial pointers about the London renting market and you're far more likely to emerge at the other end clutching a shiny set of keys.
Get real about your budget
Not only will this eliminate wasted time schlepping around gaffs too grandiose for your puny income, it will positively affect your quality of life for months or even years to come. Look at it this way: it’s no fun living in Shoreditch if you can’t afford a pint.
Moving somewhere trendy? Forget about this stuff.
A month isn’t four weeks long
Rent is often misleadingly advertised as, for instance, £300 per week. You’d think that makes the monthly amount £1,200, right? Nope. Multiply by 52 to find the annual total (in this case £15,600) then divide by 12 to get – ta da! – £1,300. That’s a hundred quid difference they’re hoping you don’t notice until too late. You’re welcome.
Rent isn’t the end of the story
Council tax (yay!) can vary drastically from borough to borough. Westminster, rather cheekily, has among the lowest rates in the country, at £678.14 per year. Kingston-on-Thames conversely charges over a grand more at £1678.65. Work out how much you’ll owe at www.gov.uk/council-tax-bands. When selecting places to view, also factor in broadband, electricity and water bills (in that order, if you’re anything like us); add these to your rent to get a realistic picture of your outgoings. If the total is within £200 of your salary, you’re going to have a bad time. ‘All-inclusive’ deals are the holy grail because they eliminate this faff, but tend to be lodger-type situations within family homes, meaning you might save cash but be condemned to an unseemly daily scramble for the bogs.
Be wary of letting agency charges
Letting agents love fees like your gran loves Strictly. ‘Admin costs’, ‘credit checks’, ‘inventory fees’ – they go by many names, and the average spend on these stealth levies is a startling £239 per London renter – and have been known to rise to as much as £600. There are, of course, some advantages to renting through an agency. If you ever have a dispute or a serious problem like an electrical fault there’s generally a full-time office staff dedicated to getting the issue resolved, rather than a harried private owner who might or might not pick up his phone. If you find an agency through a reliable portal such as rightmove.co.uk you can be confident that, while you might have shelled out a little extra dosh, everything will be above board and they’ve got your back in a crisis.
But it can be pricey. If you have your heart set on a particular place via an agency then you’ll have to suck it up, but for the less fussy openrent.co.uk is a good place to search for landlords who deal direct, with zero (or minimal) fees. Equally, a little digging on Spareroom or Gumtree will normally turn up a handful – it’s often a much friendlier arrangement. And flexible, if you need to move out before your contract is due. And cheaper, though it should be noted, again, you’re on a less secure legal footing should any disputes arise.
This guy: not necessarily the answer to all your problems.
Sharing is caring
Housesharing is a key component of the London experience: an opportunity, during those all-too-brief glory days between mum’s house and your first sprog, to forge intense bonds with interesting new people and curate your own little urban family. Many loathe the idea of sharing a kettle and a toilet seat with Joey Random, but needs must in a time when average London rents are heading north of £1,500. ‘Speedflatmating’ is a legitimate – if cringey – way of sussing out the flatmate scene. Sites like Spareroom encourage users to fill in a detailed profile in the name of attracting a like-minded live-in buddy. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you have enough friends in the same boat to start your own household. Our advice is to take the plunge and follow your instincts: for all his faults, Joey Random usually has at least one hot friend.
Cheaper options are out there
Organisations such as camelotproperty.com, adhoc.eu or ambikaproperty.com offer indefinite-term ‘guardianship’ schemes, essentially placing tenants in empty buildings to keep squatters away and maintain upkeep. You can’t choose who else lives there, and in theory you could be turfed out with as little as a fortnight’s notice, but the buildings are generally nice and roomy with cheap rents and locations far better than you’d get for the same price on the open market. If you don’t mind living simply for a while without too many possessions this is a charmingly boho option well-worth looking into.
The Underground isn’t the be all and end all
There’s no denying it’s handy to be close by a tube station, but don’t let that put you off looking into areas that aren’t on the network. London’s buses are regular, clean and safe (and a bloody good laugh after the pubs close). Cycling, as well as being free, healthy, carbon neutral and in most cases faster than public transport, is safe (and getting safer all the time) in London so long as you stick to the rules of the road. Freeing yourself from the TfL tyranny and hopping on two wheels means you’ll save heaps of money on commuting, as well as the lower rents in tube-less parts of town like Camberwell or most of Hackney.
'This is the No 38 bus to an affordable lifestyle.'
Do your homework
Carry out some basic research into the area you’re considering moving into before arranging a viewing. You’ll be spending most of your time there, after all. Scaredy cats can check out maps.met.police.uk for a sense of how likely they are to be shanked. For the more positive among us, Time Out’s area guides are the best way to guarantee you’ll never be far from a flat white, a margarita or the hottest hush-hush cultural destination.
If it seems too good to be true…
It probably is. Unscrupulous scammers lurk ever-ready to pounce on the unprepared; as a rule of thumb, if the ad is poorly written, the photos seem doubtful given the price, the ‘agency’ ring you to say ‘sorry this one is gone, we have another similar property around the corner’, or if anyone asks you to transfer money before seeing a property, run a mile. Gumtree is notorious for these, though to be fair the vast majority of properties on the site are bona fide, and normally comparatively affordable. On the other hand: if you’ve rocked up in person, like the look of the place, the people seem professional and the paperwork is legit, you’ve found yourself a bargain. Damn you.
You snooze, you lose
The London rental market moves quicker than a doner kebab through a dog’s digestive tract. Decent digs are frequently snapped up on the day they’re listed, so a good strategy when house-hunting is to book a day or two off work and be ready to go from the crack of dawn with a charged-up smartphone and an Oyster card. Pounce on any and all new ads, and where possible call rather than email to ensure you’re quicker to the punch than everyone else. It’s also not a bad idea to have a holding deposit of £200-300 in your pocket ready to go, but only if you’re 100 percent convinced the landlord/estate agent is legit.
Your passport to literally DOZENS of underwhelming viewings.
Ask loads of questions
What are the neighbours like? Why are the current tenants moving out? What appliances come with the flat? How much are the bills? What’s that smell? You can’t expect letting agents to dish the dirt without prompting, so be a pest and save yourself a world of faff further down the line. Also, if you do uncover something amiss, you’re in prime position when it comes to haggling the rent down. And it’s really fun to make them sweat.
Turn on the taps
Hot water and decent shower pressure contribute substantially to your quality of life, and nobody wants to realise they’ve got iffy pipework once the keys are handed over. Even if you don’t care, anyone who has to sleep with you definitely will.
Don’t be too keen
Never forget that the chatty, matey geezer(ess) showing you around and laughing at your jokes is not your buddy. They’re a salesman, and you’re the sale – nothing more or less than a tallymark on their staffroom whiteboard. By this point they’ve invested time in you and will be eager to snatch your holding deposit and bog off to lunch. Make them work for it. Don’t be rude, of course, but if they do have some wiggle room in terms of a discount (or a fee waiver) you’re far more likely to find out by playing hard to get.
Contracts are for your protection as much as theirs
Basically: know your rights. This is especially pertinent when things go wrong – most things that go pear-shaped at home, from blocked drains to sticky locks to broken dishwashers, are your landlord/agent’s responsibility to fix. You’re paying them serious dosh, so make it clear you expect things repaired pronto, and if they choose not to it’s important they know you have the right to (within reason) withhold rent. If they never even offer you a contract to sign, look elsewhere.
Best to read this more closely than the iTunes terms and conditions. [Flickr: 24oranges]
Look after future-you
Exciting as it is moving into a fresh new pad, this is the time to pay close attention to the details that’ll mess you up at the other end of your tenancy. Photograph every last defect, every last chip. Log the electricity/water/gas meter readings. Get the inventory done. ‘Professionally cleaned’ is a phrase you must watch out for; if the place isn’t spotless when you move in, photograph the offending grime and email it to the landlord. Even if you’re not personally fussed about a bit of scuzz on the shower hose, at the end of your tenancy it’s now standard practice for agents to swipe £100 of your deposit for a professional clean. If it wasn’t pristine when you moved in, you’re well within your rights to refuse this. If you do need to hire an end-of tenancy cleaner you can do a lot worse than houseangels.me.uk.
Don’t let issues fester with your roomies
We get it. You saw the house first. And paid the holding deposit. So, dammit, you deserve the massive front bedroom with the bay window and en suite. Which is all well and good, but if your mate Alex is forking out the same dough for a single bed in a backroom with crappy wifi signal he will grow to resent you. Establish early doors a fair breakdown of rent based on room size. There’s always a honeymoon period of around a fortnight where these issues can be settled amicably. Miss that window, and prepare to be hiding in your precious room pissing in a vase for the remainder of your tenancy, desperate to avoid the crippling awkwardness every time you bump into Alex on the stairs. Same goes for cleaning rotas and who buys the milk – don’t be that guy.
Respect the landlord
If he says he’s going to pay you a visit then run the hoover round, brew a nice pot of tea and remember to ask after his kids. Simple stuff. Like all landlords he just wants an easy life, so if he’s convinced you’re wholesome young goody-goodies taking extra special care of his nest egg there’s every chance he’ll offer to keep the rent stable when your tenancy comes up for renewal. Or at least overlook the angry letter he received that time your mate puked in next door’s window box.
When it comes to physically moving your stuff there’s an easy way and a hard way. Asking shops for their used cardboard crates will certainly save a few quid, but random shapes and sizes don’t stack well and require multiple trips. It’s worth investing in uniform, stackable boxes from self-storage firms (shurgard.co.uk for instance), and bubblewrap for your crockery. Borrow a trolley, if you can. Rope in a couple of mates (especially useful if you know a driver) and not only will the job be done in a doddle, but afterwards you can treat your crew to pizza and a bottle of wine to toast your new home. If you can remember where you packed the corkscrew, that is.