We’ve all been there – you’ve viewed a property, you immediately love it and you can visualise yourself living there. This often comes after hours of viewing awful properties with the same rent, so you feel even more certain that there’s nothing out there, and this is the only good property available. You may even have a sneaky mention from the estate agent that it’s rare for something like this to go on the market, or that there are five other people viewing it today.
It’s easy to go into panic mode, make a snap decision and put down the holding deposit for fear of losing the property. But you need to pause, assess the property fully and ask yourself (and the estate agent) a few questions.
1.Does the location work for you?
It may be the most beautiful flat in the world, but if it adds 45 minutes to your commute, along with an infrequent train that stops at 9pm and an increased cost for travel, then it might not be worth your time. Always check your commute at the exact times, and have a look at access to the places you visit most frequently. If you can’t get to your friends in the evening without a lot of trouble, the likelihood is they’re not going to bother trying to get to you either. Getting up two hours earlier to get to work is not only likely to make you much more grouchy (and tired) but bearing in mind weather, transport works and other factors, you may end up coming in late more often, which doesn’t look great at the office.
Beyond commutes, does the location feel safe? You can check the crimes on that street by using police.uk
and be sure to walk down the street at night before saying yes – try and have a walk around on a weekend as well as a weekday so you get a sense of noise, busyness and any issues.
2. Can you afford the property?
It’s easy to start with a clear budget when looking for a property, but when finding nothing, increase it, just a little. This starts a creeping climb of prices, where you end up convincing yourself you can afford somewhere that simply isn’t possible. Do the maths on the monthly rent, and don’t stop there – have a look at what the council tax will be, and ask about the average bills. Consider whether gas cookers are used, what kind of heating is in place, and whether there is double glazing. The type of property will also have an impact on how much you spend on your heating bills – a high ceiling older house is going to cost more to heat than a small, modern flat on the second or third floor.
3. What are the charges?
It’s easy to forget that different estate agents will have different fees and expectations – if you’re staying with an estate agent that you already rent with, there might be some loyalty discounts you could ask about. You will have built up a good reputation with them. Whilst there may be some changes to estate agent fees in the future, it’s always worth writing down what costs you’ll be facing upfront. Some things to ask:
- How many weeks rent is required for the deposit, and when it is due?
- What is the referencing fee cost per person?
- What are the tenancy fees?
- Are there any other costs?
- Are there any other costs to be expected further into the tenancy (exit fees/renewal fees)?
It is worth noting that the government is apparently set to ban tenancy fees in the future, but this is not likely to come into play until 2019. For many, especially if you have to move unexpectedly, or are depending on the return of a deposit from a previous property, the upfront payment for a new rental can be a tight squeeze. Consider whether you have the savings, have got enough time before moving to get together the deposit and first rental payment, or whether you’ll have to use an overdraft facility, credit cards or borrow to make the original payment.
4. What’s the condition?
When viewing a property in the sunshine, it’s almost impossible to imagine that come winter it might be damp, mouldy and drafty. Similarly, when viewing a well insulated property in the winter months, you may struggle to consider that it has little ventilation, or that there are noisy neighbours in the street at all hours. Assess the rental property as carefully as if you were going to be a buyer. If you notice issues, ask whether these will be fixed before your tenancy begins.
5. Is the timing right?
Whilst the rental market often moves quickly, don’t be pushed into accepting a tenancy start date that’s earlier than necessary. Often a little crossover with your previous tenancy allows you to move all of your items easily, and give you time to clean your old place, but just because the agent wants to let it from a certain date, don’t add unnecessary costs to your new rental. Ask what the available date is, how much flexibility there is, and don’t get talked into accepting a date that doesn’t work for you.
6. Who lived here before, and why are they leaving?
Whilst it’s good practice to ask why sellers are selling their property, it can also give you a good insight if you ask about current tenants. Knowing that the tenants lived in the property for a long time before leaving to buy their own property suggests it’s a good place to live and was affordable. A long list of short lets might suggest an unpleasant property, a difficult landlord or nasty neighbours. In some cases, if the former tenants have been evicted there might be issues with the property that require fixing or some demanding post you may have to deal with if they are being chased by debt collectors. None of this is necessarily problematic, but it’s always worth having this information before you enter the tenancy agreement.
7. How long is the tenancy agreement?
This comes down to your personal preferences – if it’s a short let with the chance to renew, both you and the agent/landlord get to see if you’re a good fit. It gives you the flexibility to leave again if the property disappoints. However, you may also have to pay renewal fees every time you agree to continue your lease. If you are looking for somewhere long term, make this clear to the agent, and see what options there are.
8. Does it have everything I need?
It is easy, especially if you’re a long term renter, to lower your expectations when searching for the perfect home. The dreams of having a bath, an open plan kitchen and a garden area usually disappear into a cloud of ‘one days’ as you choose a place with a cramped kitchen diner and a small shower out of convenience. After all, you know what’s out there, you’re never going to get everything you want. But what about the things you need? For example, it’s tempting to say yes to a property without car parking. However, if you haven’t checked out the restricted parking or expensive car parks nearby, you may be letting yourself in not only for higher costs, but endless evenings spent running out to move the car, avoiding the parking warden, or walking for miles just to get home. Other considerations might be storing your bike safely, easy access or limited stairs for those with pushchairs (or those transporting their own furniture!). Before you view a property, figure out what you want and what you need – and don’t compromise on the ‘need’s.
9. Can I make changes to the property?
Some properties (usually ones that have been recently refurbished) cannot be adjusted, even down to things like hanging pictures on the walls. On the other hand, slightly older properties that may not be in the best condition, have a lot more potential, and often you will more likely to be able to make changes, paint walls, or even have pets. This choice is down to how personalised you would like your property to be, and how much work you’re willing to put in. For many, the idea of having the freedom to improve their home is worth choosing somewhere slightly less finished. Others may just want to live somewhere comfortable with minimal effort. Often some changes, like nails for wall hangings, are allowed as long as you get approval from the landlord beforehand. If the property looks like it will need a fair bit of TLC, ask the estate agent what changes are approved.
10. Check the paperwork
No one wants to think about things going wrong, but tenancy agreements work like every other contract – they’re supposed to be two-way. Just as signing is your promise to pay your rent regularly and keep the property in good condition, it also outlines your landlords responsibilities and limitations. Read the contract thoroughly and make sure you know what happens if something breaks, or works have to be done, or if there are regular inspections of the property. Also always be sure to confirm your deposit is being held in the DPS deposit scheme – this is a legal requirement in the UK and means your landlord cannot simply withhold your deposit.