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Future of Property

Why we became the world’s first property platform to show air quality data

This week, we released a comprehensive update to the SearchSmartly platform. Amongst the many improvements that we’re very excited about, one is particularly important to us.

Our mission at SearchSmartly is to empower our users to find the best homes for their unique needs. Transparency through data, technology, and trust is how we deliver on that promise. We know that in the stress and time that property search consumes, it’s easy to miss out on things that do matter. Which brings us to air quality.

In the UK alone, 34,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution. It’s one of the greatest – yet most silent – threats to our society. This problem is particularly grave in metropolitan areas like London, our home city. Secular trends will only make this issue worse: according to the UN, a further 13% of the world’s population will migrate into cities by 2050. It doesn’t take much to recognise that this will result in more congestion, illness and death.

The path ahead

There is light at the end of the tunnel. COVID-19 provides us with a generational opportunity to embrace a modal shift towards active travel. Our own user data shows a 77% increase in willingness for Londoners to cycle to work. Cities are doing more to ban cars from the centre of cities. There is progress. But it isn’t enough. More transparency is needed to empower people to make holistic decisions for a better, healthier life. Knowing the air you and your family breathe around your home is an important step in this journey.

We are proud to be the first property search platform that not only leads with the user’s lifestyle needs in mind, but also their complete wellbeing. With the inclusion of air pollution data in our search results, we continue in our efforts to help our users to find the right place to call home.

This is one step. There’s still a long way to go!

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Agents

Property in the post-COVID world

For the property industry, COVID-19 has brought about a host of unprecedented challenges; changes that will be felt by all stakeholders.

We at SearchSmartly believe that what will emerge is an industry that is more technically-savvy, customer-centric and thoughtful in its approach to the wellbeing and living of society. The depth of these changes is likely to be strongly affected by how long this crisis, and its associated economic impacts, truly lasts. This will be led by changes around repayments and new ways of doing business driven by entrepreneurial, energetic estate agents who aim to out-perform the status quo of a pre-crisis industry.

Empathetic approaches to repayment

From the onset, unemployed and furloughed staff will likely be disrupted with rent and mortgage payment issues. With an estimated 9 million people affected, this strain will ultimately force landlords and agents to adopt more flexible means of re-payment. The government’s introduction of payment holidays will likely lay the foundations to this. Supported further by the protection of consumer credit scores – which can strongly impact an individual’s financial wellbeing – we believe this will encourage banks and mortgage providers to adopt a more thoughtful, inclusive approach to consumer protection. In doing so, more flexible payment agreements could become commonplace in the future.

New technology to enable new business

With the inability to provide physical property viewings, agents have quickly had to adapt to providing video viewings to customers. Although not an entirely new concept, video viewings will likely become more of a norm within the property industry as social distancing enforcements and temporary restrictions on movement adds to its adoption. This could very well be the tipping point in which technology becomes readily adopted in increasing proportions within the industry. As consumer demands begin to shift and fragment, the best agents will adapt in the delivery of their customer service.

Remote-working becoming the norm

In a Post-COVID world, remote-working will likely become more commonplace in a professional setting. As a result, what we could begin to see in the long-term is the growth of community-first relocation. With less emphasis on a daily commute into work, consumers will make decisions about where they live based on factors that matter to them: proximity to loved ones, nearer to green spaces, access to great cycling paths etc. No longer will commuting become a leading factor in a customer’s relocation efforts. 

Ultimately, the grey skies set upon us all in the industry will clear. Beyond the clouds will emerge a landscape in which the property experience for consumers will adapt to changing needs, and the estate agency world will adapt to new business realities in a post-COVID world. 

Categories
Property Advice

COVID-19: Tenancy Deposit Guide

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect us all, many tenants, letting agents and landlords may be in the dark around issues concerning their tenancy at various stages. As a result, we’ve decided to shed some light on this for our users and those who may seek value in it. 

Thanks to our friends over at the Tenancy Deposit Scheme for providing their expert, impartial advice. 

Pre-Tenancy

I am a tenant who is about to move-in without a check-in/inventory run, how can I best deal with this?

  • Without the ability to have a re-move inventory or clean, we advise tenants to work with landlords to have a written record of issues on photo/video so that it is not held against you on checkout. We advise that all correspondence is done via email to maintain a trail for future reference. 

I am signing a tenancy agreement for a future date but am currently out of work so unable to afford a deposit, what can I do?

  • If you are unable to currently afford a deposit, you can work with the landlord to agree to pay the deposit at a later date. Alternatively, it may be possible to pay the deposit in instalments with the landlord having to protect the deposit for 30 days within receiving it. 

Mid-Tenancy

I am unable to pay this month’s rent, can this be taken away from my deposit instead?

  • Unfortunately in this instance, it would not be possible to use your deposit against any rent due until the end-of-tenancy process. 
  • According to the law, it is only possible to use your deposit against your rent once a record of rent payments have taken place, after which any outstanding unpaid rent would be able to come out of your deposit.

I have lost my job, what does this mean for my tenancy?

  • Should this unfortunate event occur, you  should work together with your landlord to establish a rent reduction or an affordable repayment plan. 
  • Under the government guidelines, the landlord is unable to use your deposit for the rent. It is only possible to use the deposit to pay arrears once the tenancy agreement has come to an end. 

I am a student who is about to leave a rented property, do I have to pay rent?

  • You will have to pay rent if you are still under contractual obligation. The only time this is not needed is if you reach an agreement with the landlord that it is no longer due, or to end the tenancy early with no further obligation to financially cover the remainder of the tenancy agreement. 

Post-Tenancy

My tenancy is about to end during self-isolation

  • During this period, landlords and agents are expected to work alongside tenants to navigate through these problems. A suggestion includes:
    • Tenants doing a video call and a virtual walk-around

My tenants are moving-out during self-isolation

  • During the pandemic, it may be more sensible to give a maximum of 4 weeks from the end of tenancy date for the delivery of a check-out report.
  • Landlords and agents are advised to maintain an email trail advising the tenant that a check-out inspection will be unable to take place immediately, therefore delaying the return of their deposit. 

My tenancy agreement ends during isolation, how do I best navigate this?

  • Normally, a check-out report should be completed as close to the tenancy date as possible, and to avoid any doubts about cleaning or damage being caused by anyone other than the tenant (for example, contractors or prospective tenants). During the pandemic, it may be more sensible to give more time (up to 4 weeks from the end of tenancy date) for the delivery of a check-out report in order for any traces of the virus to die out before the check-out is conducted. However, this will delay the return of your deposit, and may make it difficult to ascertain the source of any damage found on check-out.
  • For this reason, we suggest that tenants offer a thorough video walk-around of the property as close to the end of the tenancy as possible to provide documentation of the state of the property on checkout, and to expedite the return of your deposit.

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Uncategorized

Guide to Renting with Pets in London

The Ultimate Guide to Renting in London with Your Pet

Finding somewhere to rent in London is hard enough as it is. For owners of pets, this is made several times harder because of the difficulty in finding pet friendly landlords and properties. SearchSmartly decided to find solutions that will put any London pet-owner at ease when looking to rent in the city

Guide to renting with pets

Renting a property as a pet-owner depends on the willingness of the landlord to accept pets in their property. Landlords are concerned about damage to the property, noise, and fouling. In order to put your pet’s best paw forward, we have assembled a few steps you can take to help you secure a lease.  

Step One: Prepare a Pet CV. Use the CV as an opportunity to talk about your pet’s behaviour and personality. You should also mention any training your pets have received and how they behave inside of the home. Include details of your pet’s last vaccinations and flea & worming treatments. Here is a Pet CV template that you can use to address any concerns your landlord may have regarding your pet. 

Step Two: Be prepared to pay a higher deposit, have less flexibility on the asking price or pay for any professional end of tenancy cleaning services. But hey, if your landlord is impressed with your pet CV, and if you maintain the property correctly, you may not have to! A reference from your previous landlord addressing those points would add leverage to your offer. 

Step Three: Search for properties matching your lifestyle. 

  • Use the SearchSmartly filter to find a list of properties suitable for your budget, commute, and lifestyle requirements. 
  • Book a viewing with the property that is of interest to you, completing the registration form when prompted to do so. 
  • Fill in your contact details, move in date, and add a comment about your pet in the notes section. 

Keep in mind that newbuilds don’t generally allow pets, but unless it’s a strict building association policy, having your pet CV at hand, would help you negotiate with the property landlord. 

We hope you find this information useful. Do let us know in the comments or feel free to get in touch via our website. 

To start your search click here

To download a Pet CV template, click here

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What do I need to secure a property?

For many first-time tenants, it can be difficult to know what is needed to secure a rental property. 

After speaking with many of our customers, we’ve decided to answer some frequently asked questions on what financing and documentation is needed. 

What documents do I need to secure a property?

In order to legally rent a property, there are several documents that are required in order to go through this process. These include:

  • Proof of Identity: A valid passport/driving licence (UK residents only)
  • Proof of employment/study: This will need to be an official (typically on official institution letterhead paper) letter confirming your place of employment/studies 
  • Proof of employment: For some agents, they require prospective tenants to be able to provide pay slips for their previous three months of employment as proof of ability to pay; this can also apply to students so always be sure to have it prepared in any case that it is requested
  • Proof of funds: In addition to this, some agents may go as far as requesting bank statements in order to clarify that potential tenants have the ability to pay the rent 
  • Proof of address: More applicable to UK-based residents, agents may also request a proof of address. This will usually be in the form of an official letter dated within the last three months. This can be a tax/utilities bill. 

What if I’m not employed, or don’t have a stable income?

There are two ways around this: you can provide a UK-based guarantor who will agree to pay the rent on your behalf in case you fall behind on payments, or you can pay 6 months of rent in advance as a guarantee to the landlord.

Do I need a UK bank account to secure a property?

No – for most agents, the ability to pay the deposits required from foreign accounts is totally acceptable. However, this may vary from agent to agent so be sure to ask about this early in the process

What deposits are required to secure a property?

Once you have agreed on a property with an agent, there are two types of deposits that are required, these are:

  • Holding Deposit: This deposit is typically asked for once an agreement has been made but not confirmed in contract. It’s important to note that once this has been paid, you have agreed to rent the property and the agent has agreed to rent it to you. This will be worth 1 week’s rent. 
  • Security Deposit: Once paperwork has been signed off, agents/landlords will ask for a security deposit. This is to ensure that rent is paid whilst also acting as protection against damage to the property caused by the tenants. This will be worth 5 week’s rent. 

Can a non-UK citizen be used as a guarantor? 

As the UK continues to be a popular destination for international students and young professionals, the question of a guarantor being a non-UK citizen remains ever-relevant. Generally, due to the enforce-ability of having a guarantor, they need to be a UK citizen, which can range from being an extended family member to a friend. In the circumstances where a guarantor can’t be provided, agents/landlords will offset this by asking for six months’ rent upfront. 

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Uncategorized

Introduction of the Tenant Fees Act

Tenants across England from June will be relieved to hear that the upfront costs of renting will be considerably reduced. Thanks to the Tenant Fees Act – which puts a ban on lettings fees, tenants from June 1st will no longer be expected to make payments for services provided by agents and landlords such as:

  • Administrative fees
  • Credit check fees
  • Viewing charges
  • Reference fees
  • Tenancy agreements

The act pertains specifically to any new agreements signed from June 1st 2019 whilst tenants currently in agreements that precede this will get the rights to this from June 1st 2020.

By eliminating such costs, it’s expected to save renters up to £800 off fees that have historically stifled a proportion of the market. As a result, the government estimates that these new fee bans will save 4.8 million renters around £240m a year.

This ban does however exclude the following payments/costs which landlords and agents can be expected to charge for:

  • Refundable deposit capped at five weeks’ rent (six if the annual rent surpasses £50,000)
  • Refundable confirmation deposit capped at one week’s rent
  • Changes in tenancy agreement for occupancy changes, pets, or subletting capped typically at £50 but can be variable (with evidence provided)
  • Early termination fee
  • Default fees for late payment of rent or replacement of lost keys or door fobs

For agents and landlords, charging illegal fees could cost fines up to £5,000 for first-time offenders whilst an unlimited fine can be expected for repeat offenders within a five year window.

Here at SearchSmartly, we work strictly with reputable agents who abide by the new acts implemented, ensuring that all proposed tenancies exclude illegal or unscrupulous behaviour that do not benefit potential tenants. If you are looking to move, why not start your search with us and our trusted agents.

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Tenants’s rights, responsibilities & tenancy agreement

What you need to know about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, as well as key points you need to be mindful of when reviewing your tenancy agreement.

In this article, let’s look at the rights and responsibilities for tenants, as well as how to review your tenancy agreement carefully.

First things first, you should always make sure that there is a written tenancy agreement between you and the landlord. The most common agreement in the UK is called Assured Shorthand Tenancies or AST. ASTs are superseded by the law, so in the event of a dispute, the law takes precedence over any wrongly drafted clauses in the agreement.

Key points you need to watch out for in your tenancy agreement

  • Agreed rent per month and mode or payment.  This is an obvious one – just pay attention to the rent amount that it has been calculated accurately, especially the conversion from per week rent (that’s how rents are often advertised) to per month (there are more than 4 weeks in a month).
  • Tenancy start and end dates, and the process for ending the tenancy early. There should ideally be a notice period of 1 to 2 months depending on the tenancy period.
  • Break clause. It is common to have a break clause in long-term tenancy agreements. We recommend having this clearly spelled out so that you have the flexibility to move out easily in the event of a change of circumstances for you.
  • Process for periodic rent review. We have seen agreements that have an inflation-linked rental price increase every year.
  • Deposit amount and how it will be protected, along with details of when the deposit can be fully or partly withheld (e.g. to repair the damage you have caused, deducted when you are vacating the property). The landlords are now required to put the tenants’ deposit into a Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme and provide the receipt to the tenant within a few days of giving the deposit account. The landlords lose some rights (related to tenant eviction) in case they do not put the deposit amount into a tenancy deposit scheme.
  • Property managementThis can be a topic of contention during the tenancy, so pay special attention to this. It’s not uncommon for landlords to hand over regular repairs and maintenance work to private agencies – make sure you have their full contact details, including emergency phone numbers. If your landlord plans to take care of property management, make sure to talk to him/her in advance on how quickly he/she can respond to emergencies – for example, if there is a water pipe leakage in the middle of the night, or there is a major issue when the landlord is living abroad or away on holidays in a remote location.
  • An outline of the bills you are responsible forTypically all utility bills and council tax are payable by the tenants, while any building management fee is paid by the landlord. Occasionally, gas heating in the flat may be covered by the landlord if there is a central heating system in the building.
  • Pets. Most landlords are adamant that they will not allow pets to reside in their property. Sometimes, if the property is part of a purpose-built apartment block, this can be dictated by the regulations of the building, leaving no margin for discussion. Make sure you are fully aware of the rules that apply to the property regarding this matter.

There are various public sources available for information on tenants’ rights and responsibilities that you may want to review…

Understand your rights & responsibilities:

Understand the tenancy agreement (Assured Shorthand Tenancies or AST)

Understand the Tenancy Deposit Protection

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Your checklist when viewing a property

When viewing a property, there are a number of things that you will want to check.  After all, this is the opportunity for you to evaluate if it meets your requirements and if you need the landlord to make any changes to the property as part of your offer (e.g. repairs, add or remove furniture, etc.).

Also, using this checklist will help you to avoid making a decision that is based only on the emotional connection that you may have made with the property and its location. Renting a property is a financial commitment and you want to make sure that it’s the right home for you on all levels.

Outside the property & surrounding areas

Sources of noise & pollution

  • Is there any sign of a construction site or scaffolding? If so, find out what is the nature of the work being done (e.g. construction, refurbishment) and for how long is it expected to continue. This may be an issue, making the place noisy, disrupting traffic, limiting parking space, etc.
  • Is the building close to a busy street or busy crossroads with a traffic light? If so, check on which side of the building is the property located. If the windows look over a busy traffic light area, it may be an issue for you in the summer, when you’d want to keep your windows open.
  • Is it close to a school, hospital, fire station? These could all be sources of noise, especially if the property is not equipped with double-gazed windows. Make sure you are aware of and comfortable with being in close proximity to these.

Convenience

  • Where are the closest amenities, local shops and transport links? What are the opening times.
  • How do you get to the closest Tube, train or bus station? Are you comfortable walking along that route? Try it out and make sure it’s Ok for you as you’ll be doing this on a daily basis if you decide to rent this property.

Safety

  • Is there any security system in place, such as security cameras outside the building or in the common areas, burglar alarm, entry-phone system? Are the external doors well-secured?

Outdoor space

If the property comes with a garden or a terrace, it’s worth clarifying a few questions, such as:

  • Is the garden or terrace shared? For example, in the case of a rear garden, both flats on the lower ground and ground floor may have access.
  • Who is responsible for maintaining space?  Generally, this falls under the responsibility of the tenant (unless it is a communcal space) and you will need to add this to your budget.
  • How is the outdoor space secured? Who has access to the garden door? Can someone easily jump over the door to the garden from the street?

The neighbors

Ask about the neighbors.  Are they a young family with children (in which case you may need to be sensitive about hosting late night parties), young professionals, etc.? If you can, ask the existing tenants or the building’s porter or concierge to find out more.

Inside the property 

  • Is the property in good condition?  Are there any repairs required? In particular, check the flooring (any loose tiles?), windows (do they open and close properly), walls and the furniture.
  • Are the windows double-glazed? How good is the insulation? Are the windows secure and do they lock properly?
  • Are there any signs of mould? Are there any water stains on the walls or ceilings, that could be an indication of leakage issues? In particular, make sure you check the built-in cupboards if there are any. If there are signs of mould or water stains, it’s important that you get more context around the issue – was it a one-off incident or is this a recurring issue, how has it been fixed, etc. If you suffer from mould allergies, you may decide that this is not the right property for you.
  • What heating system is in place? Is there central heating? Some buildings have communal central heating and the heating and hot water are generally included in the rent. Are all the radiators functioning properly? Is there any sign of water leakage on the wall or floor next to any of the radiators?
  • Where is the boiler or the water tank located? If you are viewing a 1 bed property, the boiler could be located in the master bedroom (e.g. wardrobe), which can be an issue if you are a light sleeper.
  • Are all the taps working properly? Is the water pressure good enough? This is not systematically part of the ‘check-in inventory’ and low water pressure could be the sign of a significant plumbing issue, requiring a lot of work. You should systematically check that everything is in order before making an offer.
  • Where are the phone sockets, broadband connection, etc. located? Will you need to get an extension? If so, who will cover these costs?
  • Do all the kitchen appliances work? These are generally checked during the ‘check-in inventory’ but it’s best if you can learn in advance of any repairs that are required so that you can include these in your conditions as part of your offer.
  • What furniture stays and what goes?  If the property is tenanted at the moment of viewing it’s easy to get confused about what you will get when you move into the property and what actually belongs to the current tenant.

Finally, ask about the landlord: who is he/she and what do they do? Do they own several properties or is the one you’re viewing the only one? Do they live locally or abroad? Will they be managing the property? A local landlord may be more inclined to directly deal with any issues in the property, while a landlord based abroad will probably use some form of property management agent. It’s also good to know a bit about the person who owns the home you’re living in.

If possible talk with the existing tenants. Ask about how long they have been living in this property and why they are moving out. Ask them about the landlord and there experience in getting things fixed. Speak with the porter or concierge (if there is one) – they can often be a minefield of information and would know the area and residents very well!

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Top tips when negotiating the rent

How to get the best deal?

Tip #1 – Don’t let your emotions over-control your decision

Even if you think that is the best property out there, don’t show your excitement. That property has not been designed for you (even if you think it is). You will design your own home after your MBA or a few years after it.

Tip #2 – Have the right information on the property to negotiate

The more informed you are on the property, the better it is. Here are some elements to know:

  • Property vacancy: For how long has the property been on the market? If it has been on the market for long, the landlord may be more willing to accept a lower rent than the asking rate.
  • Size of landlord’s property portfolio: Does the landlord own multiple properties or just a single property? If he just owns a single property, the he / she may be dependent on the rental income to pay for the mortgage, whereas a larger landlord may think of his overall portfolio income first, which can make him more flexible on tenancy terms like monthly rent, break clause, minor improvements to the property, etc.
  • General condition of the property: Any factors that may give you some space to negotiate a discount on the asking rent? For example, is the furniture worn down? Are there minor repair works that would ideally be needed but that you are willing to do without? In these cases, you may be able to negotiate a discount on the asking rent on the basis that the landlord will not need to spend money on getting things fixed before you move in.
  • Comparative rental information: we recommend that you do some research to find out the asking rent on comparative properties in the area, as well as the rent the current tenants of the property are paying. You can also do a general Internet search (on sites like ZooplaMousePrice) to find out if this property has been listed there by other agents for a lower price, or to find out previous rents for this property.

Tip #3 – There are many amazing properties out there!

The most critical aspect that will help you negotiate well is to have 2 or 3 good alternative properties on your shortlist. These properties should be within your budget, provide similar quality living space (location, area etc.) and be available for similar terms (duration of lease, etc.).

This will put you in a position where you can afford to ‘let go’ of a property and not feel pressurised to accept terms that may not reflect the market value of the rental property or not present a balanced deal.

It’s also helpful to plan your search so you have sufficient time to find the right property before needing to move out of your current accommodation. The general recommendation is to start searching within 4 to 6 weeks before your moving date.

So when you get a copy of the tenancy agreement, make sure you fully understand the terms that are outlined.  This will include the agreed rent, notice period, break clause, etc.

And don’t forget… you will not get a lower rent or better terms unless you ask for it!

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Steps to find your home sweet home

PropFinding.jpg

Here are some steps you can use to find your property.

Step #1 – Get Prepared

  • Your requirements – know what you want
  • Picture and have a description of your dream home
  • Be ready for the reference check, it will help you secure the place you will love. For LBS students, paying 6 months in advance is an alternative to provide proof of work and/or guarantees

Step #2 – Search for the right property

Step #3 –  Secure the place you fancy!

  • Negotiate with the landlord or agent on what you can. Up to 20% off the listed rental price is possible
  • Make an offer & complete the reference check
  • Before signing any reservation and making a reservation payment, write down your requirements – this is an important step
  • Complete & sign all required documentation and the lease agreement.

Step #4 – Organize and settle in

  • Identify removal firms and cleaning services etc. and negotiate with all of them
  • Organise parking if needed
  • Do an inventory check
  • Arrange and set up of your required utilities; gas, electric, Internet etc