Before Renting in the UK — Costs and Considerations
While most working travellers will be eager to sort out their accommodation as quickly as possible (especially those sick of dossing and dreaming of their own cupboard space) there are some important things to consider before jumping into any rental agreements and particularly before signing any kind of contract. Firstly, it can be a good idea to get a job before you settle down, becasue this can save you a lot of commuting time.
It can be tempting to say ‘yes’ to the first decent flat/room you see, but take the time to look around at a few different places and compare location, prices, terms and inclusions. Also be wary of additional costs that may not be included in the advertised rental price of a property, extra bills can significantly increase your weekly outlay for accommodation.
Generally the things you should consider are:
Location - different boroughs (suburbs or neighbourhoods) in London and the UK have a different vibe or lifestyle and of course price, associated with them. It’s not only the cost of accommodation in the area that you should consider but also the cost of shops, restaurants and pubs in the surrounding streets. See Where to Live for some ideas.
Transportation Links - before signing a lease anywhere, you should be sure to walk to the nearest transportation links to see what travel in and out of the area is like. Catch the bus, train or tube at rush hour and see how long it takes you to get to other key areas, especially where you work. In general, walking proximity to a Tube or National Rail station is highly sought after and is an important factor when searching for accommodation. A bus stop nearby is the next best thing. After all a flat or house that has a great living room/kitchen/garden is no use if you have to catch a bus, a Tube and a train just to get to the shops!
Furnishings - most UK flats and homes are rented furnished, with basics. In an average London flat you might expect there to be a fridge, closets, beds (at least mattresses), a couch and dining table with chairs, which is of great convenience to the moderately transient traveller. If your flat is advertised as furnished be sure you determine exactly what is provided. If something is in a particularly poor state - ask to have it replaced; it is the landlord's responsibility to provide the basics, in good repair, in a furnished flat. Also keep a record of any furniture, linen, crockery or utensils you purchase for the house/flat. Most property owners will do an inventory of what is in the flat when you move in and when you leave, so be sure to keep track of anything you have paid for and want to take with you when you move out.
Bond /Advance Rent - most, if not all, rental arrangements will require you to pay a bond which is usually equivalent to a full month's rent. You will usually get this bond back after you have moved out and the place has been inspected (it can sometimes take time to get your bond back so make sure you have sufficient funds to continue your travels/move to new digs in the meantime). It’s also important to enquire carefully about any repairs you ask to have done, or any work that is being done on the flat in general, as you might find that substantial and unexpected amounts are deducted from your bond when you get it back due to such repairs. In addition to a bond you’ll probably be required to pay the first month’s rent up front, so make sure you have enough money put aside for this. Always ask for a receipt for any payments you make to a landlord and keep a record of your rental payments. Never hand over any possessions – especially your passport or any other identification – as part of your bond. This is illegal and you should be wary of any individual or company that makes any such demands.
Length of rental agreement – most rental agreements are for 6 or 12 months. Be sure to read the terms of the agreement carefully in regards to the rental period as some landlords may ask for a fee (deducted from your bond) if you leave the property before the agreed time, to cover them for loss of rental income.
Estate or Letting Agencies - unless you find flat-share accommodation through friends, specific traveller accommodation companies or through travellers' mags and web-sites, most of the ads for flat rentals in the papers are through estate or letting agents. Often you'll ring a mobile number only to find that it's not a private number after all but an estate agent – some ads will state AGY to indicate this. Estate agents can be very helpful if you need advice on accommodation options in your area or you just want to get an idea of prices. You'll see their shop fronts all over London and you can walk in to see if they have anything that suits you. You should be able to get advice, ideas and information on what is available, and view properties without having to pay for anything. Some agents have better reputations than others. Unless they operate in a highly traveller populated area, letting agents may not be used to dealing with working travellers from overseas and your experiences with them will be very different. But if you are aware, ask questions and read your lease very carefully you should have a good experience. Be sure to ask up-front what their fees and charges are, as some can be quite pricey.
Flatmates - flatmates make living in London, and other major cities, affordable and fun. If you know people that live in London already, chances are they have a spare room, or a friend with one. If you are on your own, there are plenty of rooms available in partially full flats, and you can often find these ads in publications such as TNT Magazine or Southern Cross, or by contacting companies such as Accommodation London who list their vacant rooms in shared flats on-line. Often people at your work will know someone with a room available. In general you should not have a problem finding an affordable location as flatmates are always moving around, travelling etc.
One word of advice: sometimes rooms are easier to come by than flatmates! If you are signing a lease for a three bedroom flat, you should try to be sure that you have three people ready to move in that are planning to stay for the duration of the lease. It’s also a good idea to meet with potential flat mates and see what they’re like. After all you’ll be sharing a kitchen, bathroom and TV with these people, so it’s good to see if you’re compatible before moving in.
Council Tax - is a compulsory tax levied by the local government or borough council and is paid by all residents of that borough or neighbourhood. This quarterly (usually) fee is passed on from home owners to renters. Therefore if you sign a lease and rent a flat, be sure you have received all the information on the Council Tax due for that property. The Council Tax invoice will be posted to your address and it is to be paid by those who have signed the lease. It is not usually a huge amount, though this varies from borough to borough, still it’s something you don’t want to forget about.
Heating/Electricity/Water bills - Council tax isn’t the only expense you will have to factor into your accommodation expenses. Be sure to find out what the likely costs of heating are, and how the flat is heated. Electric heating is expensive and is therefore not ideal. Some flats and houses have central heating though this is not common. Beware of renting a flat that shares a heating system with other flats as you lose some usage and cost control of the heating. Also ask about the cost of electricity and water bills for the flat/house (usually paid quarterly) to get an idea of what your total monthly outlay will be. Some flats/rooms include all bills in the weekly/monthly price which is very handy.
TV Licence UK/Cable TV - The UK actually requires all those who own a television or television equipment to pay for a TV licence. The revenue for this goes towards the funding of free-to-air channels like the BBC. TV licensing regulations are very strict and if you get caught with a TV at an unlicensed address (you’ll be notified by mail if your address is unlicensed and given time to buy a licence) you can expect a hefty fine from the UK TV licence enforcers. If you do have a TV but no licence, do not leave it in the bottom floor sitting room in front of an open window – you’ll be a prime target for an inspection, not to mention thieves! You can find out if your property is licensed or change your current license to a new address at TV Licensing. The viewing on free-to-air TV is quite limited, with only five channels, so cable networks such as SKY are very popular. Some flats/houses will already have cable TV which will either be included in your rent or part of your additional bills.
Telephone/Cheap Internet UK - Telephone charges are obviously part of your bill obligations in most flats. Many people prefer to use a mobile phone only and to not have a general land-line for their flat thereby avoiding any hassles paying bills if there are numerous and transient flatmates! If you do decide you want a land-line it’s worth shopping around as there are many cheaper carriers than British Telecom. It is also worth looking into phone and cheap Internet packages in the UK (especially if your time in Internet cafes is costing you a small fortune) that include phone line rental and Internet access at a reasonable monthly price. Visit www.homephonechoices.co.uk to compare phone companies and costs. It is also worth noting that it can take some time for phone and internet lines to be connected (sometimes three weeks from the time you order the line) so if you are connecting or activating a new line at your property, organise it sooner rather than later.
When checking out rooms/flats:
- Check how secure the building is;
- Check the water pressure in the kitchen and bathroom;
- Check storage space;
- Check lights and light switches work;
- Check what appliances/utensils are in the flat;
- Ask about the heating;
- Ask what bills (if any) are included in the price, and if not how much they usually are;
- Check if your mobile phone gets service in the area;
- Check the general state of the walls, floors, carpets, tiles;
- Check how far the flat/house is from transport, shops and conveniences.
Arm yourself with other WORKgateways' useful tips and information.