Monthly Archives: June 2014

Renting a Flat in London

I have lived in London for 3 years and lived in 4 flats. I moved here from Norwich. I lived in my first flat in Hammersmith for 2 years. Then in my third year in London I moved house 3 times. These were not small moves consisting of ‘throw some clothes in a bag’. These were big moves. I have lived with my girlfriend for 10 years, so we have lots of stuff, and thus, lots to think about when moving. I was going to make a big flashy website, but honestly I don’t have the time. So, if you are thinking of moving to London, or want to move flat whilst in London, I thought I’d compile a list of the most important things to consider which either I didn’t do first time round, or wish I had known when I moved.

1) Check the council your flat falls in as it will affect your affordability. I rented a flat in Warwick Avenue which was in Westminster and my council tax was under £48 a month. Westminster is the cheapest borough in England so you can afford a better flat given this (Wandsworth is very cheap too). It is worth checking beforehand. I lived in Hammersmith and Fulham and paid over £100 a month. A friend lives in Waltham Forest and his is significantly higher than this. Check first.
2) Conduct all conversations with estate agents in writing. Cannot stress this enough. Estate agents just want you in the flat. They don’t care about suitability or fulfilling their promises. In one flat I was promised loads; a washing machine, a new fridge freezer etc. Arrived and it was empty. They subsequently denied ever having promising me these things. Get it in writing.
3) Check the estate agency fees. They vary hugely from £90 (my first flat) to an eye-watering £450 (my most recent flat). Ask before you get excited about the flat as it might hamper your plans.
4) Estate agents are not your mate. They are the landlord’s mate. Remember this. When viewing a flat, even if you love it, don’t let on. They want the rent to be as high as possible. Every single flat I have lived in, I have got for cheaper than the advertised price. Be sensible
5) Write as many questions as you can, and get them answered by email. I mean really think. I once moved into a flat in Shepherds Bush, assuming I could get a parking permit off the council as I lived in the borough. I arrived at the council and they provided an S106 document saying the landlord was granted planning permission to convert the house into flats only if all tenants were prohibited from getting parking permits as the borough was too congested. I wasn’t told. I thus had 8 weeks to move out and I had to get a lawyer to get me out of the contract. Think of everything. I once lived in Warwick Avenue and it was in a ‘Conservation Area’ so I couldn’t get Sky, meaning I was paying £40 a month for a service I couldn’t even use as I was on a 12 month contract which rolled from the old flat. You will still inevitably miss stuff, but be as thorough as you can. Really.
6) Check your surroundings. I lived opposite Charing Cross Hospital for 2 years and the constant sirens going in and out of A and E was unbearable. My brother lives in a first floor flat on a bus route, outside a set of traffic lights. Every time a bus stops, it makes that loud hissing gas decompression noise, and everyone on the top deck can see him watching The Simpsons in his pants. My friend lives in Ladbroke Grove but is very near a church, and waking up hungover to endless church bells at 9am on a Sunday is not a fond reminder of a rural life you used to live; its just annoying. Check your surroundings and plan for the worst. It will probably happen. Think about what you need every day, and how the flat fits into those plans. By this I mean that, for example, most people need a supermarket; even a little Tesco Metro of Sainburys Local. This sounds trivial, but if your immediate area doesn’t have one of these, trust me, it will be a real pain the arse. One flat I lived in only had a Tesco Metro which was about a 5 minute drive away, and the local shops all had a stupid £5 minimum spend on card, so every time you want milk you end up spending loads of debit card charges. So think about what you need; local shop, ATM machine that doesn’t charge (my local machine used to be £1.85 and over a 6 month period I must have wasted over £50 on charges), bus stop, a decent takeaway, a GP etc etc. Thinking about it, check your surroundings is one of the most important tips.
7) How new is the flat conversion? Any conversion done after 2003 has to comply with sound regulations. Old ones don’t. I lived in a beautiful Georgian stucco fronted house in Warwick Avenue, but the conversion I was in (the basement) wasn’t really a conversion; it was just the original rooms (I imagine it was a pantry when the house was built in 1800) with a kitchen added. As such, the sound regulation was atrocious. I could hear the neighbours upstairs having a poo, talking on the phone, walking around like an elephant. The lesson is, get a new conversion. Honestly. I left the flat almost 100% due to noise. Check when the conversion was done
8) The deposit. The landlord has 30 days to register your deposit with a Deposit Protection Scheme. If they don’t (as in, even if they do it on the 31st day), take them to court. They owe you between 1 and 3 times the deposit amount. In my case this was over £6000.00. Tenants have rights. Clue yourself up on them and protect yourself. Read Shelter’s website. It’s not just for homelessness. Tenants in London get screwed over everyday. A simple bit of law knowledge goes a long way
9) If the current tenant is in when you look round, ask them why they are leaving, but do it when the estate agent is out of the room. The old tenant will tell you all you need to know. And listen to them. I once had an old tenant whisper to me “there are mice here. Don’t rent it”. I dismissed them, moved in, and sure enough, there were mice. Was an utter pain. Listen to the old tenant.
10) What type of tenancy do you want? 2 years with a 1 year break clause? 1 year with a 6 month break clause? The benefit of a break clause is as the name suggests – you can break the contract and move out if it isn’t working out. The flip side is that after the break clause period, it’s very easy to evict you. Do you want security or flexibility?
11) In London, the landlord and the estate agent are separate. This is important to understand. In Norwich I lived in 5 flats in 5 years, and for each one the letting agent both advertises the flat, and then manages the tenancy. I have never had this happen in London (although it does occasionally). The letting agent just advertises the flat, and once you are in, you pass over to the landlord as his/her responsibility. Think about how this impacts motives and responsibilities.
12) Be friendly with your landlord. Even though I have moved house a lot, the landlords have actually almost always been nice blokes (they are mostly blokes). So, if you can interact with them nicely, you can avoid the estate agent arseholes and get stuff done quicker. For example, for two of my tenancy’s I wanted to break them early (one for the parking, and one for the noise). I asked the landlord to leave in a friendly way and he was fine with it. On both occasions the letting agent emailed saying I had to pay the landlord costs (over £1000.00), had to pay rent until the day a new tenant was found, and had to meet loads of other insane criteria. I called the landlord and arranged everything directly and ended up paying £0 costs, and set my own leave date. Be safe with them and (hopefully) they’ll be safe with you.
13) Do you suit the area you are looking at? Most people are aspirational and want to live somewhere nice, but what happens when you arrive? I’ve lived in rougher areas (Shepherds Bush) and posher areas (Warwick Avenue) and each has their own problems. In Warwick Avenue, I wanted to get up hungover and walk to the shops in my pyjamas and buy a bit of lunch, but in doing so, the posh old ladies with little dogs will stare at you, and the local deli only sells organic, farm-raised, gold-studded chicken thighs for £8. I don’t suit the area. Plan for this
14) There are no anomalies in London flat prices (except that they are too high). By this I mean that an area has an average price for a flat, and if you see a flat that is significantly below this, it is cheap for a reason. Now, if that reason is that the current tenant died and the landlord wants it to be rented in a day, then that’s fine. But more than likely it’s because the craftsmanship is shoddy, the neighbours are a pain in the arse, and in a week the windows will fall off (this actually happened). If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
15) Check out ‘Builtain’. When I moved to London there were tons of jobs which normally I would have called my Dad to do, or at least one of my mates who was an electrician and thus a ‘proper man’ at fixing things. I am not one of these blokes. ‘Builtain’ is a company that does all the stuff that you don’t know how to do like: if your garden fence falls down, if your halogen bulbs go and you don’t have a stepladder to reach the ceiling, if you stumble into your kitchen drunk and dislodge the work surfaces and you think ‘No More Nails’ is a poor alternative to fixing structural problems. They are like having a mate who is shit-hot at DIY; a great number to have in your phone.
16) If you have the money to pay someone to move your stuff for you, then do it. In your head you won’t think that moving your stuff is going to be that difficult so you rent a van and try it yourself. But hey, you’re new in London, and so you haven’t planned for your flat being on a red route so you have to park three streets away and lug your stuff up a busy high street, or you haven’t thought about the fact that the doors are too narrow for your new IKEA purchases to fit through the doors. Pay a company. Its £300 well spent

I could literally go on all day about this. But these are just a few of the most important things you should think about if you are moving to London, or if you are living here currently and thinking about moving. Hope you found some of them useful

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