Tackling the rental market in London can be a daunting prospect. London’s property is some of the most expensive in the world, yet this high value makes it a tempting investment, and both sales and rental markets in the city move extremely fast. It is not uncommon for new properties to appear on the market and find a buyer or renter mere days, or even hours, later. If you want to rent a corner of this city for yourself, you should be prepared for a challenge worthy of your very own episode of Location, Location, Location. With a wide range of places on offer however, the savvier property-hunter should definitely be able to find what they’re looking for, so allow me to share a few things I’ve learnt over the years as a London renter.
Before you can have any hope of finding your dream house or flat to rent you must have a clear idea of what you want from a place. How many bedrooms do you want? Could you live with a shower-room rather than a bathroom? Does your enormous dog desire a large garden in which to frolic, or do you need a balcony for your extensive collection of pot-plants? Draw up a list of all the things you’d like your new property to have, then work out which of these are your deal-breakers; which things would you sacrifice for a property that provided almost everything for which you were looking?
As a renter you also face a further decision, that buyers generally avoid – do you want a property that comes furnished or unfurnished? This decision usually comes down to a toss-up between whether you can live with the landlord’s penchant for wicker armchairs and the cost of furnishing an entire flat yourself (remember to factor this in to your budgeting if you pick the unfurnished option). You can alternatively opt for a semi-furnished property, which will usually provide the larger pieces of furniture, and electrical appliances if you’re lucky, leaving you free to cover the inherited horrid sofas with your own cushions for example.
Besides a wicker armchair or two, think about the less cosmetic factors that might put you off a place. In a concentrated city like London, property squeezes into the oddest of spaces. Would you feel safe returning to your flat down a dark alleyway, and having to climb several flights of rickety metal stars just to reach your front door? (On viewing just such a place I personally decided I wouldn’t!) Could you deal with a train hurtling past your bedroom window at eleven minutes past the hour several times a day? Location matters. It’s surprising what quirky features of a property one can put up with for the convenience of its location. When I have been hunting for a new place in the past, my parents advised me to apply ‘The Pint Test’ to any potential new homes: where was the nearest corner shop for a pint of milk, and where was the nearest (and least stabby-looking!) pub for a pint of beer? They reasoned that any property well located for both these amenities was sure to be a good place to live.
With your dream rental property in mind, off you go to the estate agents. And now the fun really begins. Estate agents have something of a bad rep here. They are noted to be pushy and aggressive, although this is less surprising when you learn what a significant proportion of their income is made from commissions. What has offended me more about estate agents I’ve dealt with since I moved to London was the fact that they all drove like maniacs – off-putting when you’re on your way to a viewing in their car.
The key to dealing with estate agents is knowing the rental market yourself; that way you are well-placed to detect any (pardon me) bullshit that they may be pedalling. Agents can spot an uninformed, pliable renter a mile off, and they will talk you into an unbreakable contract for a tiny studio flat with no natural light and a bathroom shared with the old man down the hall before you can blink. Develop a translation tool for decoding estate agent-speak, and question them for the true meaning behind their characteristically positive patter. I was once taken to see a flat with ‘split-level mezzanine bedrooms, perfect for professionals’. What greeted me were three rooms with precarious-looking built-in bunk-beds. ‘Conveniently placed for the nearby tube station’ may mean you can count the number of commuters in each carriage from the comfort of your sofa as they rattle past your window. Think somewhere sounds too good to be true? It probably is. If they’re around when you go and visit a place, have a word with the current tenants. Ask them what they like about the flat, and, more importantly, what they don’t! There may be an antisocial neighbour upstairs who is fond of a late-night living room rave, that you won’t discover until you’ve signed on the dotted line and committed to living beneath them for 12 months.
But once you’ve found somewhere you could see you self living and you’re keen to make it home, move fast. Be prepared before you start the flat or house-hunt, and have in place your deposit (typically 6 weeks’ worth of rent) and the first month’s rent which is usually demanded up front. As rental property moves fast, and a landlord can usually be assured of obtaining his or her asking price for a place, you should demonstrate that you are able to provide all necessary funds and paperwork instantly; this makes you a more tempting future renter than the person who could get this together in a couple of weeks. Some landlords or property management companies (who oversee the running of a property once a tenancy has been agreed) will want to see your payslips to be convinced you’ll be able to make rent regularly and they won’t have to send the bailiffs round to repossess your TV to cover their costs.
If possible have a solicitor look over the contract for you. Ensure you are happy with all the terms before you sign up to your new flat. Most rental contracts on London properties are for a 12 month period, if you’re lucky, with a 6 month break clause. This means you can leave the property after a minimum of 6 months, although you will usually have to give a month’s notice of your intention to move out to your landlord. If you’re after something shorter, don’t bother with estate agents and try looking online on the short-term let notice boards on Gumtree or Spareroom.co.uk.
But once the keys are in your hand, an inventory check has been completed (the last thing you want is for your deposit money to be used to the pay for damage caused by the previous tenant) and you’ve moved yourself in, pour yourself a large drink. You’ve done it! You’ve negotiated your way through the pitfalls and challenges of the London rental market. And just think how much better prepared you’ll be when the time comes to find your next place. Sorry, what’s that? You thought your work here was done? Ah, no, my friend. This is London; no one ever stays put for too long. But that’s what you love about living in this vibrant and exciting city, right?
Written By Flora Tonking http://theaccidentallondoner.blogspot.co.uk