10 top tips for renters!

to let signsA significant 15% of us rent our homes privately from landlords, according to Paragon Mortgages, and the market is currently hot.

Demand from tenants is high and average monthly rent has risen for all but five months in the last five years, to £735, according to LSL Property Services.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
This increased demand means that good rental properties are not on the market for long. Well maintained homes in good locations are like gold dust and they command high prices.

To get the best rental property in your budget you need to plan ahead, and be diligent about checking available properties every day. Of course, you should still be thorough – check your deposit is being held in a proper deposit protection scheme and ensure you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy contract. But do this before, or on, your first viewing, so you can be good to go if the place is suitable. That way you can beat the competition.

The following tips will give you a headstart:

1. Know your market – Before you need a new place get an idea of how quickly properties come and go by visiting Rightmove regularly. Register with letting agents to get first dibs on new properties, and ask if places usually go for their advertised price or a bit lower. It is important to know if your chosen market is hot or not, because it will affect how you go about your search.

2. Check your credit file - Most letting agencies will do a credit check on behalf of your prospective landlord, so make sure you know if there are any nasties in your file that might spoil your application. You can check your own credit record before you start looking by visiting Experian or Equifax.

3. Go prepared - If you are searching in a 'hot' market, find out what it costs to reserve a property (sometimes about £100-£200 for the agent to market it as 'let' on Rightmove) and take that amount along in cash. That way, if you like it, you can literally bag it there and then. Ray Boulger, property expert and senior technical manager at John Charcol, agrees: "Be prepared to say yes there and then if you really like the property. Chances are someone else will really like it too, so if you can show interest first all the better."

4. Ask plenty of questions - Does the place have broadband? Can you get it fitted? Who are the utility providers and what are the average bills? What is the minimum term they want you to sign up for? And crucially, why did the last tenants leave? As Boulger points out: "They might have had a new job, a new relationship....or neighbours from hell you are about to inherit for the next 6 months!"

5. Don't rely on Rightmove - Plenty of people still let property without using an agency and it is worth asking around to see if anyone knows of something suitable, or check private ads in your local press or on Gumtree.

6. Don't go alone – It is amazing what you can miss on one short look around a property, so an extra pair of eyes can be invaluable. And since you will probably have to sign up for six months it could be an expensive mistake if you miss a very big flaw in the property. Boulger says: "Take someone with you on the viewing - it is always good to have another opinion and they might notice something you don't."

7. Room for negotiation – If you are looking in a market where demand isn't particularly high, it's worth trying to negotiate on the rent, especially if the place has been available for a while. Boulger says: "Always see if there is scope to negotiate, especially if you're able to offer six months' rent in advance. Many landlords currently want the security of the rent being paid in advance and so will sometimes prefer a lump sum over a monthly payment. This could also be a way to secure the property if it's in high demand."

8. Have your documents ready – In a hot market, agencies want tenants who make their life easier. So as well as being able to stump up the deposit quickly, make sure you locate your proof of ID, proof of address, payslips and bank statements. If you can take them along to a viewing, you have a head start over everyone else if you like the place.

9. Be flexible – You may not want to move in for another three months, but that probably won't suit the landlord, so be prepared to move quickly if necessary. It could be the deciding factor between you and another prospective tenant.

10. Sell yourself – In popular areas the landlord knows they will get lots of interest, and will be presented with a list of suitable and keen tenants from which they will choose. So you need to point out your benefits. Boulger explains: "Landlords want tenants in stable employment, who are not party animals, don't have pets, and those who are looking for a 12-month tenancy rather than six months."

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