First-timers guide to renting: how to find a house or flat
First things first, let’s raise a toast – if you’re reading this article, then presumably you’re on the cusp of leaving the warm familiarity of your family home for the first time. Which, it goes without saying, is a big deal.
There are any number of reasons for taking the decision to fly the nest, be it to begin university, move into a shared house with your mates, or a simple desire to move into a flat and get your own space. Whatever your individual circumstances might be, what is certain is that this is a bonafide milestone moment. With this being the first time that you’ll be moving out and renting a home, the prospect of going it alone is likely a daunting one, and for good reason – it can be hard work!
As with many things when you do them for first time, your first time renting a home and the process of making this happen will be a little overwhelming. There is a huge amount to consider from start to finish and, for somebody who has never gone through the experience before, there are a number of potential banana skins to skip around as you go through the business of finding, moving into, and then adjusting to it all.
This first-time renting guide has been designed to make your first-time renting an easier, more streamlined affair. We’re writing this under the assumption that you will already have saved up the money needed to cover the cost of deposit and one month’s rent upfront for your new home.
If you haven’t yet raised this money, you can use our guide to budgeting and saving to help you do so.
Know how much you can genuinely afford to spend on rent each month
So, about rent. If up until now you’ve been in the position where you’ve had little to nothing to pay in rent payments each month, you’ll initially find the dent that rent and bills makes in your spending power bruising.
These are the things to consider when you set out to calculate what you are able to spend on rent and bills on a monthly basis:
- Renting Pointers
- For the foreseeable future, or most certainly in the short to medium-term anyway, the money that you will need to pay to keep a roof over your head will account for the lion’s share of your monthly outgoings from hereon in, even if you opt for a home which is at the cheaper end of the price spectrum. This is why the first step is to know exactly how much you can afford to spend on rent each month, according to your wages/salary vs. your outgoings – you can do this by creating/finding a budget planner template online, or by downloading a budget planning app like Toshl or Expensify.
- It can be all too easy to set yourself a comfortable low target amount for rent which you don’t want to go above – unfortunately, you might find that this is wishful thinking unless you want to live somewhere that resembles a broom cupboard. To get a solid idea of the going rates for rental properties and house shares in your area, visit a website like rightmove.co.uk or gumtree.com – doing this will help you to find out what kind of properties you can afford to rent on your budget, and subsequently allow you to set a maximum figure for rent which is both affordable and realistic. After all the area in which a property is based, its distance from the centre of town etc will dramatically influence price.
- An affordable amount of money to spend on rent is typically said to be up to 35% of your income, but in reality this might be impossible if your earnings are modest. Instead aim to spend no more than half of your income on combined rent and bills expenses. It is important to free up the remainder for other living costs and, most importantly of all, fun.
A final note of warning: when you’ve set yourself a monthly limit on how much you’re able to spend on rent and bills – such as gas & electric, council tax, water – according to your budget, be sure to stick to it! The chances are that as you attend house viewings you’ll stumble across a property which is perfect in every way, and upon stepping inside to look around you’ll immediately fall in love with the place – in case of such an event, beware!
Contrary to what an estate agent, landlord, or even your prospective housemates might say, spending £10 to £20 a week more than your monthly budget allows for can and will make a difference – even over the space of a year, an extra £520 or £1,040 is a sum of money that you will miss.
Even if you see a place which is your dream home, remember, it’s not worth getting yourself into serious financial difficulty a few months down the road. Character features, such as a high ceiling or breakfast bar, or a little extra space, for example, are great, but it won’t seem so great if having them means you can’t afford to live.
Renting a home on your own vs. entering a house/flatshare
The first decision you’ll have to make before you start searching for your new home will be this: do I want to move into my own place or should I share with other people?
Now there are two key factors that will determine which option you choose: your budget, and your personality – or more specifically, your willingness and ability to live in a confined space with other people.
- These factors are…
- In terms of your available budget, as a deciding factor this makes things pretty simple – you either have the money to live solo or you don’t. It’s not breaking news that the cost of renting a property is pretty expensive nowadays.
- If you’re earning a low to modest income, it’s practically a given that the cost of renting somewhere on your own will be impossible on the budget available to you. To give an example, if you are fortunate enough to find a flat to rent for £400 per calendar month, this cost plus bills, which will often fall around the £150-200 mark, will set you back £550-600 before you’ve even blinked. Once the cost of doing a food shop has been added to the mix, along with other essential costs like keeping your car on the road or the cost of commuting to work, your essential living expenses will spiral even more. For most people it spirals to the extent that it is just too expensive to consider. One way around this, however, might be to keep your eye out for a studio flat with an all bills included clause, though the disadvantage to this is that such a home will undoubtedly be a bit small and dingy.
- On the subject of your personality and living preferences, however, it all starts to become a little less black and white. Whilst with money you either have a sufficient budget to live alone or you don’t, your own individual personality, needs and wants, likes and dislikes, must be carefully considered. Do you find the prospect of moving out on your own genuinely terrifying because you don’t want to live in a house or flat alone? On the other hand, does the thought of sharing a bathroom with somebody else and having little to no true privacy outside of your bedroom make you feel a bit nauseous? These things are just as important to consider as money matters.
Should I rent my new home through a private landlord or use an estate agent?
Once you’ve raised deposit money to put down on the property you want, know what your rent/bills budget is, and have decided whether to live on your own or go into a shared place, the next thing to think about is whether to find a rental property through one of the many estate agents out there, or instead rent through a private landlord.
- As a first-time renter, finding a property through an estate agent would undoubtedly help to keep things simple. Estate agents will have a sizable portfolio of properties which are available to rent, or shared properties which are looking for a new tenant. By and large, the properties will be if not necessarily pretty, depending on the house or flat you’re viewing, at least fit for habitation. Also, the deposit that you put down will be held by a third-party organisation who will hold it, under the Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme, rather than by a private landlord themselves. In short, it is easier to find a property and it is almost a given that, legally speaking, everything will be above board – not that this suggests private landlords are all rogues. Far from it. It’s simply the case that landlords tend to be vetted to some degree, meaning that there is little to no chance that you’ll unwittingly experience any difficulty with a rogue private landlord.
- On the flipside, the downside to using estate agents is that they can be very expensive to use. There will be all manner of ‘administration fees’ and ‘credit check’ fees to pay for, among others, which can easily add hundreds onto the initial cost of renting a property.
- Private landlords – who are especially easy to find via Gumtree – represent more of an unknown quantity and are a little more of a gamble, particularly for first-time renters. On one hand you can undoubtedly get a better deal through a private landlord than you would otherwise, in terms of your monthly rent. It’s not uncommon to find incredible rental opportunities on sites like gumtree.com and roomshare.co.uk which are below the market rate for the type of property you are looking at. And more often than not, private landlords are really nice. That said, while you can get real bang for your buck through a private landlord, a rogue, unregulated, or outright weird landlord can also cause you no end of headache in more ways than can be possibly be imagined.
So to summarise, if you’re willing to take a gamble and fish for a better deal or you know somebody who you can rent a property through, the private landlord option could be ideal. If, however, you want to play it safe first time round and keep things easy and convenient, an estate agent might be preferable.
Things to look out for when you are attending property viewings
The business of actually viewing a property with your own eyes is one of the most parts of the process – online ads will almost always show images of a prospective property from good angles and in good lighting but rarely the nitty gritty bits.
When are you being shown around, these are things that you should pay particular attention to:
- Look out for…
- How well the property appears to have been maintained by looking at windows, doors, gutters if possible, etc.
- Checking if the property is central heated. If not, what kind of heating is there – these things will greatly impact the cost of your bills, as will how well insulated the property is.
- The taps, bath and shower, and toilet flush – do they all work properly.
- Find out what furniture and fittings will be included with the property.
- The existing tenants – ask them what the property, neighbours, and landlord is like.
- Safety – are there gas safety certificates? Are the locks on windows and doors adequate?
Checking these things early could save you some real bother at a later date.
Found your perfect pad? Act quickly to beat the competition
So after much searching online and/or any number of visits to estate agents and the subsequent property viewings that followed, where you’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, you and, if applicable, your soon-to-be housemates have found a home which is just what you’re looking for. How all that’s left to do is to actually make sure you beat the scrum of other applicants and get it.
Good, reasonably priced places tend to get snapped up quickly, so you’ll need to be prepared and act fast to make sure that you’re not pipped to the post by somebody else. As mentioned at the beginning of the guide, the assumption has been made that you have the money to hand for your deposit and first month’s rent initial down payment – here are the other things that you’ll need to hand to get your property fast:
- Begin your house hunting early. It’ll more often than not take a month or so to move into the property you want, or longer still if you’re looking at student houses.
- Schedule a viewing the moment you see a property you are interested in – if you are keen, it is likely that others will be too.
- Have a reference from your employer ready to hand, along with ID documentation, such as a passport, birth certificate, or provisional licence. Also, seeing as this will be your first time renting, it would be wise to find somebody who is willing to act as a guarantor – it is becoming increasingly common for estate agents and landlords
- Be ready to check and sign a tenancy application form quickly. This will allow the estate agent/landlord to process your application and run any credit and reference checks.
As a side note, any fees that you will be asked to pay – which you will be, if dealing with an estate agent – are non-refundable, in the event that your tenancy application is rejected. With this in mind, be sure to speak to somebody about what criteria must be satisfied for you to have your application accepted – it could save you a lot of money!
Play it safe when making payments and signing contracts
Although the likelihood of being scammed when you hand your money is very slim, it’s better to err on the side of caution all the same. Fortunately it is easy to take a few common sense measures to protect yourself from unscrupulous estate agents and rogue landlords.
- Be vigilant
- When the time comes to hand over your deposit money and first month’s rent to an estate agent or private landlord, you should always seek to make the payment electronically – by doing this your payment will appear on your bank statement and act as evidence of payment of sorts. Don’t forget to ask for a receipt of payment too, however.
- Always ask for a copy of the contract when you move into a property. That isn’t to say that it will necessarily be a scam if you have found an informal room share on somewhere like gumtree.com, but it is better safe than sorry to request a contract all the same.
- Don’t trust any ads that ask you to make an upfront payment via Western Union or the like to an offshore ‘landlord’.
- Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Even if you’ve been there and done it before, the matter of finding a new home to rent can be a stressful business. For a first-timer, on the other hand, the experience can be positively mindboggling – hopefully this article will work as intended and make your house hunting a little easier and simpler.
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