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Renting advice

Getting the best out of your budget

The first step to finding a flat or a house to rent is to set your budget and evaluate what you will get for it. Once you know how much you are ready to spend, you make a "wish list", including number of rooms, area, distance to transportation links, outside space, etc.

It is very likely that you will need to compromise on some fo you requirements through your search. So you should get your priorities straight as soon as possible. However, it is generally better not to mention what you are ready to compromise on to your letting agents right from the start. Let them show you flats and decide upon seeing them whether you can picture yourself and your family leaving there. You really want the agents to look for the best properties for you... and you never know, they might actually find the dream flat you have been looking for.

Once you have settled on a flat or house you like, it is time to make an offer. Making the right offer is a difficult step as you need to find the right balance between getting the best deal possible and losing the property to another tenant with a better offer. Below are a few tips to consider when preparing your offer:

  • How long are you willing to commit for?

    A longer lease with a proportionally longer break clause can be traded against a slightly lower rent. If the landlord is not keen to commit for a long period of time, it might be that he/she is intending to sell the flat or raise the rent in the near future. Look out for the signal!

  • Is the property at the market rate?

    If you hardly see any other properties that fits all your requirements, it may well mean the flat/house you have found is under the market rate. In that case, negotiating the rent too much probably won't be in your interest. On the other hand, if you have seen many similar properties within the same price range, than you might be in the position to negotiate the rent.

  • For how long has the property been on the market? And when are you ready to move in?

    Whenever a flat has been on the market for a while, the landlord is not getting a return on its investment. Consequently he or she might be ready to accept a slightly lower rent should you be able to move in quickly.

    You need to consider your ideal moving date and whether the property will have been empty for a while when you do move in. You might want to minimise double renting on your side, yet you need to consider the lack of revenue for the landlord.

    However there are a few good reasons a landlord would not mind having an empty flat: it might be that it needs refurbishing or redecorating. Still, most of the time, owners would prioritise renting their property as fast as possible. You can ask for a flat to be held until your wished moving date, but then you might have to accept the asking price, or risk loosing it to a faster tenant.

  • Do you need the property to be refurbished? Do you need any of the furniture removed?

    Check the flat/house thoroughly when visiting it as you will need to include any refurbishment and repairs, or furniture removal as part of your offer. Also make sure that any requests you have made are conditional to you taking the property, and are written in your initial offer. Once the initial offer is accepted, the landlord is not contractually obliged to accept any further requests.

Advice for choosing an estate agent/letting agency

You often do not choose the agents but randomly settle for an agency because it is renting the flat you decide to go for. While this is true most of the time, you can still look around for agents according to your personal needs.

You have different types of agents, the major ones such as Foxtons, Chards, etc. and the local ones. The major agents tend to charge higher administration fees and little room to negotiate. Some agents will act only as a letting agent while other will also do property management. Renting can sometimes turn into a horrible experience so it is always worth asking how the property will be managed and ask around for any recommendation for good letting agents. Unfortunately, there is no review sites for estate agents but you can leave a review about your past experiences on our area pages.

If you are budget tight but have some extra time, you can also look for renting an accommodation directly from its owner (you can for instance find properties Gumtree or through friends). The advantage of doing so is of course a likely lower rent and no administration fees. However, be aware that there are many fake advertising for great properties on the web (being asked to pay a deposit through Western Union is usually a good hint!).

Advice about moving house/flat

You have several options available for moving houses, depending on how much belongings you have, how much you want to spend and whether you are wiling to do some of the packing and moving yourself. Moving is always a stressful time so it is important to have the appropriate support to help you through the moving process. Many people in London do not own a car so you will find many companies providing extensive moving services or smaller ones which are just a 'man with a van'.

If you are the busy type and/or with lots of belongings and furniture, you might want to hire a proper removal company. Their services range from providing boxes, packing everything for you, organising the moving (parking, check list, etc.), moving to your new flat/house on the agreed date, to unpacking all the boxes for you. Obviously, prices vary depending on the level of services you get. You will easily find companies by searching for removal companies on Google.

On the other hand, if you have very few things and are on a budget, you might want to hire a 'man with a van'. You will find many offers on Gumtree and they generally cost between £40 to £60 an hour, depending on the number of men helping you out. They will come to your flat/house on the day of the moving and drive the mini van. You will need to estimate the volume needed so make sure to ask what type of van it is. Also, word of mouth and friends' recommendations are always preferable to choose a 'man with a van' service.

Handling the inventory check-in and check-out

Most agencies provide their inventory clerk to carry out the inventory checks at the time of moving in and moving out. The resulting inventory checks will be compared in order to decide whether the agency will refund your deposit in full. Below are a few recommendations:

  • Clarifies with the agency or landlord who pays for the check-in and check-out inventories. Usually, the landlord pays for the check-in and the tenants for the check-out. This should be written in your rental agreement.
  • Be there at the time of both inventories and insist on following the inventory clerk through the house.
    Most of the time, the inventory clerk will tell you what he/or she will go through in the house, and that you can review it and make amendments later. You are indeed legally allowed to add anything to the inventory within 7 days of receiving the hard copy. However, it is far better if all comments are initially added by the inventory clerk as to avoid any discussions with the agency.
    Quite importantly, should you disagree with the content of the inventory check, do not sign it (unless you have amended it already).
  • Check whether the flat has been professionally cleaned and whether you are satisfied with the level of cleanliness.
    The mention professionally cleaned means that people from a cleaning company came in with products to clean the flat. Ask what it means for the agency and what is included (i.e. if you have carpets for instance, check whether they have been steamed & shampoo'ed). It is subjective whether a flat is clean so I would recommend you document what has been actually done upon moving in.
    You are usually not contractually obliged to call in a cleaning company upon moving out, nor are you to necessarily use the lettings agent's choice (which may be more expensive than the market rate). Again, check on the Internet for such services. You can also choose to do the cleaning yourself but you should refrain from doing so in order to avoid any argument.
  • Review the contract carefully when you receive the hard copy before signing it and return the signed copy within 7 days. Do not forget to ask for a counter-signed copy by the landlord that also includes any amendments made. However, as long as you have sent your changes within 7 days, the initial version is not valid.
  • Take pictures of anything that you think might be left to interpretation at the time of check-in and check-out.
  • When leaving a property, some things will naturally have been used and tarnished. This is referred to as 'fair wear and tear'. The definition might vary sightly depending on the inventory clerk so you might want to clarify what is and what is not 'fair wear and tear' with him/her. When checking out, make sure you are not charged wrongly for things that should be fair wear and tear (e.g. a broken glass, walls naturally fading due to age, etc).

Advice on security deposits

Letting agents and landlords will ask for a 6 to 8 weeks security deposit, payable either at the signing of the lease or no later than a few days before moving in the property. The deposit is being used by landlords as an insurance against failure to meet the tenancy agreement requirements, unpaid rent or bills and damages to the property. The deposit is recoverable at the end of the tenancy.

Tenancy deposits are now regulated by a stringent legislation in the UK and the government has created Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) schemes in order to protect tenants over abusive landlords. The letting agent or landlord is required to put the deposit into one of those schemes within 30 days of receiving the money and should give you information about which scheme is being used.

And the end of the deposit, the letting agent or landlord will generally organise for a check out inventory in order to assess whether any damages have been done to the property. During the inventory, it is important to differentiate between 'fair wear and tear' use and actual damages to the property. For instance, a handful of broken glasses, walls becoming a little grey-ish after a few years, or a small nail in a wall should be considered as fair wear and tear – and therefore not incur any penalty. However, cigarettes burns on the carpet, failure to clean the property (if it was clean when you moved in) or larger damages and neglect are payable by the tenant and are likely to incur a partial or full withdrawal of the security deposit.

After the check-out has been completed, the letting agent or landlord will let you know whether they intend to make any claim against your security deposit. The letting agent cannot impose charges on you and you will have right to dispute these claims. In case you cannot find an agreement, you can raise a dispute and a third party will intervene (a mediator). There are conditions and time constraints about raising a dispute so you might want to check the latest regulations on the TDS website.

Advice on renewing your tenancy agreement

At the end of your tenancy, your letting agent or landlord will ask you whether you wish to stay in the property and you might incur rent increase and administration fees from the agents. Before committing to any increase in rent, it is important to know your rights and assess your negotiation leverage.

  • Are you good tenants ?

    If you are a good tenant, you have a good case to argue against a rent increase. A good tenant pays his rent on time and in full, looks after the property, lets the landlord or managing agent know of any issues in a timely manner so there is no unnecessary damages done to the property (for instance, leaks that remain un-repaired for a long time can prove very costly to fix), etc. Depending on the landlord and the agency, having good tenants is worth more than having a small increase in rent.

  • What is the market like ?

    Estates agents often justify a rent increase based on market value or the RPI. Check the average rent for similar properties on Rent Barometer. Remember that the rental prices shown are asking prices so actual prices will be lower.

  • Do you have to sign a new contract ?

    Sometimes, estates agents will ask you to renew the tenancy agreements by signing a new contract. This entails administration costs for both the tenants and landlords. In fact, you do not always need to sign a new agreement to remain in the flat.

    If you agree with your landlord on staying in the property under the conditions stipulated in your current contract, you do not need to sign a new tenancy agreement. At the end of the initial period, your current contract will automatic roll into a periodic agreement (also called a periodic rolling contract). The 'period' corresponds to the rent term: for example, if you pay monthly and you will keep doing so. The contract carries on until one of the parties decides to terminate it. Then, the notice period is at least the current rent period plus 1 (on a monthly paid rent, you would therefore give or receive 1 to 2 months notice. Landlords are often required to give +2 periods of notice).

    Be aware that some agencies will push both the landlords and tenants to sign new agreements and charge administration fees for that. But neither party needs to in most cases. It is important for both tenants and landlords to know their rights. Landlords usually sign two contracts, the tenancy agreement (between the tenants and the landlord) and the agency agreement (between the agent and the landlord). It seems that some agents play on the confusion between the two kinds of agreements to persuade tenants and landlords to draw new tenancy agreements when not needed. If your contract evolves into a periodic rolling agreement, the agency contract still stands and the landlord will still pay a commission to the agent on your rent.

Advice for signing your tenancy agreement

Once your offer has been accepted, it is time to sign the lease. There are a couple of basic things to check in your contract:

  • Make sure that all requirements you specified during your offer are included in the contract. If not, insist on it. Also ask for a list of furniture included in the flat and check whether it matches what the agent mentioned during the visit. This will avoid the frustration of having extra (or missing) items when moving in.
  • Do not settle for unwritten agreements. Most agents, whilst visiting a property, will answer your questions in good faith. But do not forget this is a business transaction; the good will of an agent might not be enough, and a landlord might disagree with some of the answers given.
  • Check that your deposit has been registered with a tenancy deposit protection scheme. This ensures that your deposit is kept safely during the duration of your lease. It also allows you to claim wrongly retained deposit funds at the end of your tenancy. Some agencies will also give the tenant the interests on the deposit.
  • Check for any abusive clause like forcing to keep the energy suppliers currently in use with the property.
  • Ask for the countersigned copy from the landlord. The deal is not complete unless the contract is signed by both parties. So you do want to get the final copy as soon as possible to start planning your moving.
  • If you intend to stay for a long period of time in the property, ask for a longer lease (for instance 2 years). It will be re-assuring to some landlords and will avoid you having to renegotiate the rent every year, or potentially pay administration fees for drawing a new contract.