England’s capital is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic, lively and fast-paced cities in the world. In addition to being the financial hub of Great Britain, London is at the pulse of Europe’s of fashion, art, entertainment and commercial scenes. You can see the city almost buzzing with an urban energy at any time of the day or night.London offers an abundance of experiences in terms of diversity, culture, sightseeing, shopping and nightlife. It is the place to be for those who are interested in new educational or career opportunities. People from all over the world are drawn to the Big Smoke, regardless of their nationality, age or gender. For years now, the city has been home to a huge number of expats from across the globe.
If you are moving to London, one of the first things you will need to do is find accommodation. Most of the residents in the capital prefer renting to buying, considering the high property prices. However, some of the laws and procedures around the lease of real estate in the UK may be different from the US or other European nations. You should therefore familiarize yourself with the system to some extent before making any kind of decision. The best thing to do is to consult with a licensed relocation company or an estate agent. Alternatively, you could educate yourself about the markets, policies and procedures followed in this country. To help you get started, below is an expat guide to renting property in London.
In spite of being densely populated, Europe’s favorite metropolis has enough accommodation options to suit the needs, lifestyle and situation of most residents… although budget will almost certainly be a challenge.
The trend of leasing real estate instead of purchasing it has created a “Landlords’ Market”, which means that rates are on the rise, with little or no room for negotiation. Like in most other places, the closer you live to the heart of the city, the more you are likely to pay.
If you are moving into a new home with a family and would like as much space as possible, look at areas that are slightly set apart from the main city center, like Hampstead, Barnes, Wandsworth or Richmond. These neighborhoods are known for their green spaces and good choice of schools. When choosing an area to live in, don’t forget to factor in proximity to work, school, supermarkets, and other places that you will frequent regularly. The last thing you want is to spend hours commuting every day.
Remember to keep the different transport zones in mind:
– Zones 1 and 2 refer to the centre of the city and are therefore more expensive
– Zones 3 and 4 are comprised of suburbs with semi-detached houses and are less expensive than places in the centre
– Zones 5 and 6 are the cheapest, but the commute to the city can take over an hour during peak times, and it is still a challenge to find a reasonably priced home.
Before you start your search, be clear about your budget, preferred and requirements. You will also have to decide if you want a furnished house or not.
Types of residential property
England’s real estate market has 7 different type of houses, but larger properties are hard to find in the capital, because of the lack of space. The more common types of accommodation in London are:
Flats: Often referred to as an “apartment” by Americans, a flat is a self-contained living unit that is a part of a building. A majority of Londoners live in this type of house, which could refer to a studio, a maisonette or a flat with varying numbers of bedrooms. Homeowners with large houses often divide the premises into different units and lease some of them out to various tenants. Almost all the buildings have communal areas, such as receptionsfoyers, lifts, stairwells and fire-escapes, which are shared by the residents. A flat could be spacious or compact, but offers you less privacy compared to the other types of property. Many people move into flatshare arrangements due to the high prices of renting properties in London.
Detached Houses: Many people with families aim to own a detached house. However, in a place like London, this is no easy feat, mainly due to the lack of space. A detached house is a multi-story, single standing property that does not share a wall with any other structure. The isolation offers you more space along with a higher level of privacy and maybe even a garden. Most of the detached houses in the city are located outside of central London.
Semi-Detached Houses: This type of property can be best described as a pair of houses joined together by a common wall; one side of each house shares a wall, while the other sides are detached from other structures. The residents have a fairly high level of privacy, along with the option of extending their houses where required.
Terraced Houses: Often referred to as a ‘townhouse’ in other countries, a terraced house is a residential property that is located in a long row of identical houses. Both sides of each property share their walls with the neighbors. The only exceptions are the homes at both ends, which are called end of terrace houses. You will often find terraced houses in the old industrial towns like Bath, Manchester, and some parts of Central London. They exhibit a style of medium-density residence which originated in Europe sometime around the 16th century. These houses can be compact or spacious but offer you limited privacy and often do not include a yard or garden.
In addition to the common types of houses mentioned above, you may also find cottages and bungalows, although these are rarer.
Durations of contract
Like in most places, you can decide the length of contract that will be drawn up when you are renting a house in London.
If you only want to rent a place for a limited period of time, a short-term agreement may be the most feasible option for you. These homes usually come fully furnished. At times, rental amounts may include maintenance and utility charges, although this is usually not the case. Most expats prefer shorter contracts during their fact-finding trip.
If you are sure about renting out a house for more than six months, a long-term agreement is more likely to suit your needs. However, do keep in mind that these contracts can be hard to terminate midway. These homes can be furnished or unfurnished, depending on how much you are willing to pay.
Some tenants negotiate for a 6-month break clause in their long-term lease, as it allows them to get out of it before the renewal date. This is ideal for those who have been transferred to London for a project, which could get terminated or extended. Check if you have the option to renew the lease, and see if you can agree on the annual increase beforehand.
Depending on the duration of your contract as well as the clauses in it, the parties involved will be required to give one or two months’ notice for an early termination.
Finding rental property
The hardest part of moving to London is knowing where to begin the house hunt. For this, you have to familiarize yourself with the different residential areas to know which ones suit your needs and fall within your budget.
Before you make the move, get to know which area you will be working in and look at all the residential neighborhoods in that proximity. Check which are the safest areas for expats by connecting through online forums. Then make a list of all the facilities that you will need on a regular basis and narrow down your search even further. For example, if you have children, find out which areas have the most schools and playgrounds. Continue your search till you have at least three or four neighborhoods in mind. Also enquire about the types of properties and their approximate rents.
The next step is to start looking for suitable accommodation in these areas. You could refer to people you know, online sources or the local newspaper. Once you come across a posting that meets your requirement and budget, you will probably be asked to contact the owner directly. However, it is best to consult a licensed real estate agent, who will not only help you with your search but can also assist you with the negotiations, rental procedure and paperwork.
Do keep in mind that the real estate market in London moves at a rapid pace. Chances are that several people will show interest in the property you like. While it is imperative to act fast, do not sign a contract in haste, without an inspection or prior to checking the terms and conditions carefully.
A majority of the landlords in London furnish their properties before leasing them out. If the house you look at has furniture and electronic appliances, the rent quoted is likely to be higher than an unfurnished one. Houses and apartments with parking spaces are uncommon and therefore come at a premium.
Make sure you check whether the amount quoted is “inclusive” or “exclusive” of utility bills. If the rent is “inclusive”, it will generally cover only gas, water and electricity. Telephone bills are always the tenant’s responsibility. Find out if you will be liable to pay a monthly council tax to the local authorities.
General repairs to the property caused by normal wear-and-tear are the landlord’s responsibility, as is the upkeep of gas appliances. However, you will be expected to pay for any damage to the property or furniture.
It is standard for landlords to ask for a refundable deposit, usually equivalent to six weeks’ rent. This amount is used as security to cover damage costs or unpaid bills once you move out. Asking for a month’s rent in advance is also the usual practice.
Some homeowners refuse to refund the deposit amount when tenants move out. It is important to insist that your rental deposit is stored with the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, as this will make it much easier for you to get your money back at the end of the tenancy.
Signing a lease
Years ago, many landlords and tenants worked with verbal contracts alone. However, a person’s word isn’t legally binding and definitely won’t help you resolve a dispute. It is therefore imperative to have a written contract which has been read and signed by both the parties.
In most cases, a written contract contains basic information, such as:
– Names and contact numbers of both the parties
– The address of the property being rented
– Monthly rent and payment terms
– Security amount and deposit protection scheme
– Start and end dates
– Exit clauses
– Additional fees
– Subletting criteria
Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the rental agreement very carefully before accepting them. Go through all the clauses in detail, even those in the small print. If you can, it is best to have a professional lawyer study the contract and give you the go-ahead.
The Citizens’ Advice Bureau can help if you have any problems or disagreements with your landlord. Every local authority has a tenancy relations officer, who will intervene in the case of a dispute. Visit the website of the local authority or www.direct.gov.uk to get in touch with this entity.
Before you can sign the lease, the landlord will probably ask you for references to prove that you are a suitable tenant and will be able to pay the rent without any problem. You could provide your:
– Employer’s contact information
– Bank statement
– Alternate identification
Many homeowners also accept a letter of reference from a previous landlord.
Have you rented a property in London? Share your experiences in the comments.