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Tips for Finding Your First (Perfect) Rental Home

Part of me loves moving.


I'm one of those weird people who loves getting up early for flights and packing suitcases and also one of those people who loves house hunting, and packing up every last belonging into a box and whisking it away somewhere new. I love a fresh start - I love Mondays. We're a rare and unusual breed.

I think part of it is the satisfaction of having everything neat and orderly and organized into their very own boxes - my heart is a-flutter just thinking about those scenes in movies where all their moving boxes are brand new, uniformly sized and emblazoned with impossibly neat "kitchen", "bedroom" and "living room" sharpie. We all know the reality is more binbags and ancient, parcel taped boxes that you nabbed from the recycling, but a girl can dream, right?

One thing I don't love, however, is the stress. Viewing flats is all fun and excitement - imagining where the sofa will go, figuring out which draw would house your cutlery and picturing your rugs at home on the floor - but actually getting your hands on it can prove to be quite the miserable task. Finding a rental home in London is practically the olympics of house hunting - Flats dissappear in a matter of hours, rent is sky-high and landlords can be cheeky - so I'd like to think that Martin and I have acquired a bit of a Usain-Bolt-edge about us. I've compiled our very best tips for finding (and securing) that perfect Rental Home, so that you can learn from all our cancelled viewings, naive mistakes and contracts with no break-clause!

1. You Need A Spreadsheet!

Heard of google docs? You need it. The most stress reducing part of hunting for flats together has been to set up a google spreadsheet that we can both collaborate on to add properties we're looking at, and info about them. It means we're always both up to date and can make edits and changes together. 

Use your spreadsheet to keep track of all the properties you'd like to view, have viewed and important info about them. Make sure you have columns for the address, the area it is in, price per month, viewing date and time estate agent, a link to the listing and also a notes section (trust me, you need reminders like "the one with the pretty windows" or they will all blur into one) This will help you view it all at a glance and keep everything together. You can also easily compare.

We also added the phone number for the estate agents, available-from dates and distance to the nearest train station, which was important for Martin to get to work. Think about what is important for you and give it it's own column - for example it could be "distance to work", "has a bath? Y/N", "Wheelchair Access" etc etc etc. You don't necessarily need to fill in every tiny detail, but there will be things that matter to you that will help you compare and contrast. 

2. Ask About Agency Fees, Reference Checks, Inventory checks, Renewal Fees.

Letting agents are really good at making you want a flat, but they're also good at adding a lot of extra money for emails here and bits of paper there. Some agents will charge for certain services and others wont, so it's good to know exactly what you'll be expected to pay from the beginning. As well as the rent, you will usually need to put a "holding fee" down  from the start (which will count as part of your first months rent) for them to take it off the market and "promise" it to you. These fees in London can be quite high, so make sure you know what you're in for if you're looking in the south!

 Then, you'll need to provide a security deposit in the event that you damage the property. This should be held in a Tenancy Deposit Scheme and returned to you at the end of your tenancy, less any charges for damage to the property or unpaid rent. Be very very wary of landlords and letting agents who refuse or do not plan to put your deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Scheme. At viewings, you can always ask about this and most letting agents will look at you like you are mad for even suggesting that they wouldn't. Still, it is always worth it to ask. 

Additionally, most letting agents charge other fees. Some of these may be paid by the Landlord (or accounted for in the rent) but some fees may fall to the tenants. You should look out for charges for reference checks (to prove you work where you say you do), credit checks (to prove you can and will pay your rent) and additionally, you may need a guarantor check if you are self employed like me.

Then, just before they let you move in, most landlords and letting agents will arrange an inventory check for when you move in and when you move out. It varies on whether you will be expected to pay for either, both or one of these, so make sure you check about those, too. These checks take an inventory of any damage whatsoever to your flat that was there before, so that landlords can't accuse you of causing damage that was already present. Additionally, the exit inventory checks are there to document damage that you may have caused so that Landlords have proof when it comes to charging you for repairs. 

If you like your place and are planning to stay a second year, some agents also charge for renewal fees. This is essentially a charge for them to renew the contract between you and your landlord, but if they can charge you for it, they usually will. I believe these are in the process of being abolished in the UK, but I thought I'd leave the info in just in case!

Most of these charges are to be expected, but it is important to know exactly how much you need to cough up before you've even moved in, particularly in the south of the country where it can get pricy. 

3. Document Everything

This part is a little bit negative nelly, but it's definitely something to bear in mind. Most Landlords are reasonable people who just want you to look after their property, but it never hurts to keep proof of everything. Make sure to check over the inventory check when you move in and insist on any extras be added to it. You probably paid for it, after all.

We were very meticulous about photographing and documenting every little bump and blemish in the property, as we didn't want to get stuck paying for problems we hadn't created. Additionally, when you have issues with the property (for example - if the washing machine breaks) make sure to get all of this information written down in an email to your letting agents, and anything the Landlord agrees to in writing, too. (For example, if they agree to let you paint it purple, make sure you have proof they allowed it, so that they don't conveniently forget when the end of your tenancy rolls around.) I'm not saying that Landlords are in general this sneaky, but there is always a few and it never hurts to be cautious. 

4. Check Your Credit Score

Don't let this one catch you off guard! Many letting agents use an outside company to check your credit score and therefore can't look at your score on a personal basis. Many landlords and agents will be put off by a score that's anything lower than "fair" - even if yours is low simply because you've never had any credit.

If you've never paid the bills, a phone bill, bought anything on finance or been registered to vote, make sure you check where your score is at and do some research on how to raise it. It can be as simple as registering to vote at your address, or taking out a credit card and buying small items which you immediately pay off. Take care not to keep checking your score as this can cause people to wonder why you are checking it so often, and of course be very careful with any credit cards and be sure to pay them off entirely at the end of the month. 

5. Get on Zoopla, Rightmove, Movebubble and OpenRent

I'm sure you've done this already, but here's my tactic for making sure you've seen every property you might want to. Make accounts with all of these platforms, use their "save this property" feature to collate all the ones that are a fit for you or you might want to view, and then take a moment every few days to add these saved property to your spreadsheet-of-dreams. Be sure to check back every few days as new properties are added all the time. 

6. Assess the daylight situation

This is, naturally, personal preference but you will notice when you go to viewings, that letting agents will walk through the property turning every light on as they go. Obviously it is their job to show you the very best side of the property, but sitting in your house with all the lights up all day long is probably unrealistic when you're actually living there. Be sure to take a moment to step back and assess how light this flat will be when there isn't 6 spotlights glaring down on you. Some people prefer a dark and cosy nest anyway, but for a plant-lover like me, bright-and-airy is a must. 

7. Look for power outlets, the type of heating, the internet connection, etc

These are things that can get overlooked when you're whisked up in the excitement (and, probably, awkwardness) of viewing a property. It can be helpful to make a quick mental (or even better, physical) note of placements of things like power outlets and the internet outlet. These things are not the end of the world, but particularly in small spaces, extension cables running all over the place can be a bit limiting. Also be sure to check what kind of utilities it has - for instance gas heating is generally cheaper than an all-electric heating system, but is generally avoided in blocks of flats to limit the risk of fires and gas leaks. 

8. Investigate the Council Tax Band

Once you've found a property you're interested in, be sure to check it's council tax band to find out just how much you'll be paying per month in council tax. If you are a student you won't be required to pay this. Council tax bands can vary even between flats in the same block (especially when converted from houses - looking at you London) Some letting agents will pass on your details to the council once you move in to arrange payment of council tax, but it can help to check to avoid any nasty surprise bills. 

tips for finding the perfect rental home - actual practical advice and things to consider when renting in the UK (and specifically London) - Annie Dornan Smith | illustrated home and paper goods UK -