The rental market can be a savage beast, so if you're planning to make the leap into independent living, bear these eight questions in mind.
You will feel stretched if you pay more than a third of your salary on rent, so figure out how much you are willing to part with a month. Some letting agents will ask for a guarantor if your salary is less than 2.5 times the rent, i.e. your parents would foot the bill if you couldn't pay.
It's normally easier to find what you're looking for on a property search website such as Gumtree or Spareroom (if you're just looking for a room), or Zoopla or Rightmove (if you're looking for a whole property). It can be easy to just go with the first house that looks cheap enough, but the rental market can be a hotbed of dodgy and semi-dodgy characters so it's worth checking what the letting agent situation is before going to view. Find out if it's let through an agent or direct with the landlord, if they are accredited with a national body, and what fees you're going to be charged (less than a week's rent is a good deal).
Make a checklist of what you want in a home but keep an eye out for things that are less obvious. Is there double glazing to keep the heat in and the noise out? Is there enough space in the kitchen? What's the shower pressure like? Are the doors and windows secure? How far is the nearest public transport, supermarket, and park?
If you have friends to move in with, make sure you have an honest chat with them about how many parties they'll want to have, if they want to share cooking, and how likely they are to stick around. Be prepared to compromise in order to sustain your friendship. If you're moving into an existing flatshare, don't be afraid to ask about how sociable they are and why the last person left. Sometimes existing flatmates will put potential new flatmates through a gruelling audition process, and others are just desperate for anyone who appears sane and will pay the rent. Take your time and avoid moving in somewhere you could end up hating by just being yourself.
Sometimes the landlord will cover the council tax and utilities - so they'd effectively be included in the rent. This can add up to over £100 a month so it's always worth checking. If you pay for gas and electric check that the letting agent isn't entering you into a non-negotiable rip-off deal with a shady supplier. Also check if you have a phone/broadband connection already in place, or if you need to set that up.
Before handing over your money, ask to see a copy of the tenancy agreement and make sure you understand it before signing. You will normally get a few days where the landlord or letting agent carries out checks on your suitability to read the agreement (prepare to have proof of address, your employer contact details and ID ready to give them). Sometimes agents will ask for a holding deposit to deter timewasters, and this can put extra pressure on you to make a decision because if you don't put down the money, someone else might get in there first. Remember it is normally possible to request changes to the contract - and any repairs or cleaning needed in the property - before putting pen to paper.
The six weeks' worth of rent you hand over as a deposit at the start of the tenancy (along with the first month's rent) is meant to pay for any damage you leave behind when you move out. As long as you report wear and tear, and take reasonable care of the property you should expect to get the money back. Some landlords may withhold money for damages, but they are required to protect your deposit in a national scheme in case any disputes arise. Make sure you get a copy of your deposit protection certificate within a month of moving in.
Check everything in the property works, and if there is any damage. Send the landlord or letting agent a list of issues - ideally with photos - and any repairs that need performing. Some letting agents will carry out an inventory check at this stage anyway. As well as moving your belongings, this is also a good time to update your address with relatives, your bank, the NHS, subscriptions and the HMRC. If you have responsibility for bills, remember to register with the council, water company and energy suppliers. And, make sure you're registered to vote.
Further information here:
Dan Wilson Craw is communications and marketing manager for Generation Rent, a campaign group calling for professionally managed, secure, decent and affordable private rented homes in sustainable communities. Before joining Generation Rent, he was a spokesman for PricedOut, the campaign for affordable house prices.
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