Saving for a deposit on your own home, not to mention getting a mortgage you can afford, can prove an almost impossible task for many Brits these days.
As a result, many have turned to lettings, and according to Money Saving Expert, over a third of households in England and Wales are now renting their home. If you are currently looking, or considering a rental property, here's what you need to know about the ins, outs and potential pitfalls involved.
Finding the perfect property
No doubt you will already have an area in mind when you start searching for a property, and there are some handy online tools to help you find the right one in your chosen location. Both Rightmove and Zoopla, which list hundreds of thousands of properties, allow you to set an alert when a property comes up in your preferred area or street.
Be aware that rental properties tend to go fast, so have your references lined up and ready to go, and your first month's rent and deposit (usually four to six weeks' rent) in the bank. That way if you find the right place, you can snap it up before your competitors.
A word of warning though - set a budget and stick to it. That first month's rent and deposit will amount to a fair chunk, and it's likely you will have other expenses on top (letting agency fees, buying furniture, moving costs etc.) so don't be tempted by a property you can't afford.
Doing the deal
Even when you've found the perfect property, there are potential snags and warning signs to look out for.
For instance, keep an eagle eye out for any problems when you view the property, checking for signs of damp on walls and ceilings, dripping taps, and check that basics such as toilets, cookers and light switches work. If you do spot any flaws, you could even haggle down the price.
Then consider who you are renting from. If it's a privately let property and the landlord seems unreliable or unreasonable, it might be worth looking elsewhere. If you're in serious doubt about their credibility, you can even check that they really do own the property via the Land Registry, though it does cost £3 online.
Letting agents should be a member of a professional body such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents, and do watch out for agent's fees. Non-optional fees must be clearly displayed alongside rental prices now, and you should also check for potential extras that might arise.
It is essential that you find out whether your deposit is protected. If you have an assured shorthold tenancy, as most renters will, the landlord is legally obliged to put your deposit into one of these Government-backed protection schemes within 30 days.
Finally, when you get your hands on the contract, read it thoroughly and carefully. Things to look out for are the length of the contract, any scheduled rent increases, who is responsible for the maintenance of communal areas, if it is part furnished or furnished, what is included? If there is anything you don't agree with or you believe is unreasonable, negotiate with the landlord or letting agent to have it amended, and don't sign anything you're not happy with.
When it comes to moving into your new home, it is essential that you check through the inventory, and inspect the property carefully for any damage not listed. If you find any, take photos and send copies to the landlord or letting agent so that both you and they have a record.
Check with whoever is managing the property as to the utilities providers, and whether the landlord has a TV licence for the building or if you need to get your own. Take meter readings as soon as you move in so that you can get in touch with the providers. For safety's sake, find out where the stopcock and fuse box is. You never know when an emergency might occur.
You will more than likely be free to change utility suppliers if you so wish, but if you decide to have a prepaid meter, a water meter, or wish to decorate the property, do check with the landlord first.
If you decide to move on, you will no doubt be keen to get your deposit back, and that means leaving the property in good nick. Check through your inventory and fix anything that has been damaged, even if it's just picture-hanging holes. Then check your contract as to cleaning. Some specify that carpets and curtains must be professionally cleaned, so you'll need to take this into account. Once you've done the above, it's wise to take a few photos as proof in case there are any disputes.
If you have a standard assured shorthold tenancy agreement and your deposit is protected, your landlord should return your deposit to you within ten days, providing you have left the property as it should be.
In most cases tenancies come and go without any problems, but if a dispute does arise between you and your landlord, you can get free advice. Citizens Advice can offer advice and support, while the housing charity Shelter has free advice helplines and specialist advisors that could help you negotiate if a problem does arise.
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