House hunting in London is one of the most stressful things you can do in the UK. It is probably what whoever coined the term “Rat Race” had in mind when he/she did. It’s genuinely exhausting and unbelievably time-consuming but after moving homes quite a few times in London, I’ve become something of an old pro at the process and after my recent bout of house hunting, I figured it was high time to distill the things I know (and have experienced) house hunting in London into a blog post detailing the start-to-finish process of house hunting along with things to look out for and most importantly, ways to save money! Let’s jump in shall we:
a.) Find a place you’re interested in (most likely online but walking into estate agents can also be a good way to do this too).
b.) Arrange a viewing (you’ve gotta see it in person)
c.) If you like the place, make an offer. Don’t be afraid to be cheeky with your offer (if it’s not realistic, you’ll know soon enough). If you don’t like the place you viewed – go back to step a
d.) If your offer is accepted – go to step e. If your offer is not accepted – make a counter-offer (hence why you initial price shouldn’t really be the highest amount you’re willing to pay) and carry on with this until you reach a mutually agreeable price point between you and the landlord
e.) Once the offer is accepted, pay your holding deposit (1 or 2 weeks rent – which will be deducted from the total amount you will pay so don’t worry about that). This will ensure you have the property secured and no one else can jump in with a higher offer than you and sneak away with it.
f.) Complete your referencing. The estate agent will guide you on their specific process. Typically all you have to do is submit your details and they (or their referencing company) will take things from there.
g.) Once the referencing is completed, sign your tenancy contracts. You can do this weeks in advance of the actual move in date and it’s important to sign this sooner rather than later.
h.) Finally, pay the balance of the amounts you owe which is typically – 6 weeks rent as a security deposit, 1 month’s rent in advance and your agent’s fees (or no fees at all if you go directly to the landlord). Try to do this part with enough time for the money to arrive in the bank account BEFORE you move in.
i.) Pick up your keys and move in!
j.) After you move in, check the inventory. Make sure everything they say is in the inventory actually is there and that everything is in the condition it says it is in. Rememeber, missing or damaged inventory can be deducted from your deposit but if you report this at the start then they will not be able to deduct this from your inventory (try to keep all communication written so you have evidence of this later)
THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
1.) Be prepared for the eye-watering house prices. Like any global city, London is pretty expensive to live in. Renting or buying, houses are several times the cost of anywhere else in the UK and the sooner you realise this and get onboard with this, the easier it will be for you to focus your energy in your house hunting efforts on the things you can control.
2.) If you go with estate agents, you will have to pay a fee. In the past, I would have avoided estate agents and gone directly to landlords but in London, a lot of landlords rent their stuff out through estate agents. The agents understand the market better and can do all the necessary checks and so if you try to avoid estate agents entirely, chances are that you probably will limit your search to a lot less places than you should (which only makes house hunting that much harder).
3.) You can ALWAYS bargain for lower house prices. The most I’ve shaved off the asking price is around 20% (but the asking price in that case as far as I was concerned was a bit unrealistically high) This doesn’t happen in most cities in the UK however in London, you NEVER pay asking price for rent. I was lucky with the first proper place I rented in London as there were loads of estate agents involved in the process for the same flat I was interested in and one of them offered no fees and a reduced monthly rental amount. I hitched that wagon all the till move in date as it was the best offer of the lot!
N.B: The most I’ve shaved off the asking price is around 20% though typically 10 – 15% can be achieved. Don’t be shy when it comes to negotiating the prices – only offer what you feel comfortable with.
4.) Things move fast in London. Some of the places available to rent are only available for hours! In fact, I remember one of the places we rented can on the market around 10 am, we got a call, arranged a viewing for 11 am and made an offer (which was accepted) within 30 minutes. By 12 noon, we’d paid holding deposits, signed paperwork and started the referencing. Point in case – you can find a place in London very easily! If you drag you feet for far too long (e.g. for a day or two) the property you like will be gone.
5.) On the flip side, don’t get desperate. There is always a lot of choice on the market and your best bet is not to get too emotionally attached to any property until all the paperwork has been signed.
6.) Rent in London is typically stated per week instead of per month even though you end up paying monthly. Most people just go for 4 X the weekly amount to get to the monthly amount which is wrong (and misleading) as there are typically more than 4 weeks in most months (except February – which then changes on a leap year to 4 weeks and a day). The calculation from weekly to month amount is: Weekly Amount X 52 Weeks / 12 months. Working backwards, the monthly amount converted to the weekly amount is: Monthly Amount X 12 Months / 52 Weeks. It’s a tad annoying to have to calculate this but it quickly becomes second nature when you hunt for houses in London.
7.) Make sure your deposit is protected by the deposit protection scheme. They will ensure that the landlord doesn’t use your money for whatever they like when you move out. This stage is very important and all landlord are legally obliged to comply.
8.) There are some agents who put up amazing properties on the market and then when you call up to ask about them they tell you “That property’s just gone! We do however have this host of (quite frankly, awful) properties to show you”…. My advice – avoid these kind of agents. Your first contact with them is already dishonest, there’s no reason to expect things to improve as you go along the process. Some times, the property truly has just gone but if you head the same thing more than once from the same company, then you know for certain that style is their marketing gimmick.
9.) Be wary about moving out of central areas to save money on rental prices. Transport can be quite expensive – especially if you travel during rush hour so you might find yourself no better off financially when living outside of central zones in London as the difference you think you’re saving has been spent on transport instead.
10.) If the property is listed using several estate agent, get in contact with as many of them as possible, some agents will suit you better than other ones and it is always recomended to go with the agents you feel the most comfortable with.
11.) Sometimes signing a longer lease (e.g. 2 years) can help you save money on the rent and giving you the advantage over other potential offers the landlord may be mulling over. If you think you can and probably will stay long term, it’s worth mentioning that during the offer process to make sure get that house/flat you want!
12.) If there are multiple estate agents showing the same property, don’t be afraid to pitch them against each other. In truth, they probably already know the landlord has the property listed with multiple agents and are innately competitive (you’d have to be when you’re in any sales role in London) and this can work to your advantage when it comes to negotiations.