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Moving to London (Part III): Documentation 

After sifting through what probably feels like hundreds of properties, you’ve finally viewed a home that makes you shout – “this is the one!”. The good news is that the end of your property search is finally in sight. Having reached this exciting stage in your search, the final steps ahead are to make an offer that the landlord will be willing to accept, and to submit all the relevant documentation to rent the property.

Submitting an Offer

Submitting an offer is just that – an offer. This shows that you are very serious about committing to the home, but it is no guarantee of securing the property. Considering the competitiveness of the London rental market, there are often several applicants placing an offer for the same property at one time, and the landlord has final discretion on who they will choose. It is therefore crucial to put your best foot forward to make your offer stand out, unless you’re willing to let that property go. Here are some tips to help you make the most competitive offer you can: 

  • Be quick: landlords give preference to first offers over later offers. At SearchSmartly, we help you make the most competitive offer possible by providing you with an offer form early on in your search journey. This form includes all the relevant information landlords may ask for and prepares you to put your offer in as soon as possible.  
  • Stick to asking price: try not to negotiate too aggressively, especially if it is a busy period in the market such as summer. Most properties in London go at, or even above, the asking price. Your offer is therefore going to be less successful if you try to negotiate a lower price. 
  • If you are going to negotiate pricing, a rule of thumb is that most landlords will not go below 5% of the asking price. Consider the prices of similar properties in terms of quality, location and number of bedrooms to come up with a sensible offer before negotiating.
  • Paying upfront: offering to pay several months rent in advance can make your offer more competitive. It can also give you some negotiating power for a lower rent. 
  • Furniture: ensure that any requests regarding furniture are included in your offer, such as asking for a specific piece of furniture to be replaced or added. If you ask for such additions, be aware that the landlord may ask for a higher rental price. 

With multiple applicants vying for the same property, there is a risk that you will miss out on your ideal home by not having your documentation ready, allowing another applicant to get their offer accepted first. The following sections outline all the relevant paperwork you will need in order to avoid such a situation. Some documents can take some time to gather, so starting early is always advisable! 

It is also important to remember that the documentation stage of your property hunt is not just for the landlord to check that you are a suitable tenant. As a tenant, you have certain legal rights in the UK, and now is your chance to ensure that the tenancy agreement is complying with the law. Make sure to read the written tenancy agreement carefully before signing. 

Proof of Identity:

 First and foremost, landlords must check whether the applicant is legally allowed to rent in the UK. By law, applicants must be aged 18 or over and have the right to rent (either by way of British citizenship or through a relevant visa). In order to prove this, you may be asked for: 

  • Passport or driving license 
  • Proof of current address e.g. a utility bill 
  • Visa / associated documents to prove right to live in the UK (if coming from abroad) 

Proof of Income or Guarantor: 

Eligibility to live in the UK is not sufficient to rent a property. Landlords also will ask for evidence that you are able to meet the monthly rent of the property, normally through having annual earnings of 30 times the monthly rent (sometimes 36 times the monthly rent). For example, if your rent is £900 per month, your annual income must be at least £27,000. If you are sharing with more than one person, it is your combined income that would have to meet this requirement. Documentation to prove this could include:  

  • Recent pay slips 
  • A letter from your employer confirming job title, salary and length of employment  
  • Current employment contract 
  • Tax return for the most recent tax year 

If you are self-employed, it is likely you will be subject to stricter checks. This could include: 

  • Three years’ worth of income evidence 
  • Bank statements 
  • Company details (if you work for your own company) 
  • Invoice records 

Referencing: 

Landlords may also require a character and/or employment reference in order to ensure that you are a reliable and suitable tenant that the landlord is able to trust with their home. This could include:

  • A letter attesting to your character from a former landlord, former flatmate or school
  • A reference from your employer both supporting the suitability of your character and your income

If unable to provide a reference from your landlord, a useful alternative could be to prove that your deposit was fully refunded or to present your previous tenancy agreement and rent receipts.

The method by which landlords and agents require references differs. Some may ask for a written reference, in which case you could ask your reference to write a letter, others may use an external referencing company who will ask for your reference’s contact details in order to get in touch with them directly. 

Deposits: Always agree on the terms of your contract before you pay for your deposit, and ask for a receipt for any money paid. There are laws in place to protect your deposit: 

  • It must be refundable 
  • It must be protected in a Deposit Protection Scheme 
  • It cannot be worth more than 5 weeks’ rent (for properties with an annual rent of up to £50,000) or 6 weeks (for properties £50,000 or more). 

Once the holding deposit (equivalent to one week’s rent) has been paid, the landlord or agent should remove the property from the market.  

Landlords may ask for more than one type of deposit:

  • A security deposit (5 or 6 weeks’ rent): this is held for the duration of your tenancy. Any damages made to the property will be deducted from this deposit. If no damages are made, this will be returned to you in full at the end of the tenancy. 
  • A holding deposit (1 week’s rent): this is paid at the offer stage in order to ensure you are a serious applicant for the property. It effectively reserves the property for you, and will be refunded to you once the offer is accepted. Some landlords take the cost of this off the subsequent security deposit once contracts have been signed.

Other costs: Always ensure you check all costs involved before signing any agreement: 

  • Rent price: although the rent price is advertised, it is worth double checking what the monthly rent is. You can also ask the landlord whether the rent is negotiable or not. 
  • Bills: confirm whether bills are included in the monthly rent. If not, you can ask for an estimate of how much bills may be and which energy rating the property has. Properties with energy ratings of A or B for example will cost less than those with C or D. All properties advertised on SearchSmartly have this information at the bottom of the page. If bills are included, remember that you do not have to stick to the same energy provider that the landlord has chosen – you are able to change if you wish. 
  • Council tax: properties in the UK are subject to council tax. Certain groups may be exempt from paying, such as households where all tenants are students, so it’s worth discussing at the viewing.

Overall, documentation is a vital part of the property search process and is often the last hurdle standing between you and your new home in London. Although it may seem complicated, our team here at SearchSmartly are here to make the process as stress-free as possible. From the moment you submit your first viewing request, after filling out your search requirements here, our agents will support you through the process and answer any questions you may have. 

Ready to move ahead with the next steps in your property search journey? Why not explore other parts of our guide and find out how to search for a property, make a viewing and move in.

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Moving to London (Part II): The Viewing Process

Having taken the time to discover great flats and houses that match your needs, let’s say you’ve come across the perfect home. The next step that you’ll now need to take is to start organising a viewing. This is an exciting stage in your property rental journey, as you can finally see what the property looks like for yourself, picture your decorations on the walls, and check that the home fits all your requirements. The majority of agents will be able to do both in-person and virtual viewings (either by sending a video, or by doing a live video call), so if you are abroad or unable to travel, not to worry! Typically, you should look to start your first viewings 3 to 4 weeks before your planned move-in date. This will allow you to spend up to a couple of weeks on viewings, while still leaving plenty of time for paperwork and final admin tasks.

Considering that this is likely to be the only opportunity you will have to see the property before you move in, it is important to make the most out of your viewing. We’d recommend that you make a list of things you would like to check about the property, as well as any questions for the agent or landlord. Here, we have compiled a list of recommended points to check on viewing day: 

General features

  • Bedroom size 
  • Storage space
  • Water pressure and hot water: check the taps to ensure that there is hot water running and if the water pressure is high.  
  • Signs of mould/damp: Landlords have a legal duty to ensure the property is mould and damp free. Mould and damp is a health hazard – if you spot any during your viewing, ask the landlord if they will be addressing this before you move in.
  • Temperature: in the UK the weather can become quite cold. Ensure that the heating is working and ask whether there is double glazing, as this can make significant savings on heating bills. If you come from a hot country – don’t expect any air conditioning unless you’re willing to pay for a premium flat!
  • Smoke alarms: ask the landlord where the smoke alarms are and when they were last tested. 

Furnished properties

Double-check whether the property is furnished or not when making the viewing. Although there might be furniture there at the time, this may not be included when you move in. If the property is furnished, check for: 

  • Couches, beds, tables, and chairs: Are these of a good, safe standard? If something is broken, will the landlord be willing to repair or replace it before you move in?
  • Appliances: Is a fridge, freezer, dishwasher, and washing machine included? 
  • Curtains/blinds: Are these included, or will you need to arrange your own? If you are a light sleeper, do they block out enough light?
  • If anything is missing, ask the landlord if they are able to replace it before you move in.

The neighbourhood

Viewings are an ideal time to not only check whether you like the house, but also whether you would be happy living in the area. Here are some important factors to consider when walking around the neighbourhood at your viewing:

  • Public transport: how close the property is to public transport, and what the running times of the bus and train services are. 
  • Amenities: are there restaurants, supermarkets, pubs, bars, gyms and schools nearby? At SearchSmartly, we show the distance between the property and their nearest amenities.
  • Noise levels: is the property overlooking a busy street, train tracks, or an airport flight path? Stick around for 5-10 minutes and keep an eye out for any signs of noise. You may even wish to open the windows to see what noise levels might be like on a warm summer day when you might want a breeze flowing in.
  • Others: there may be other considerations that are important to you, such as whether the area is well-lit at night, or who your neighbours will be. 

Broken or damaged items

  • Make sure you check throughout the viewing whether any items are damaged or broken, both inside and outside the property. If you cannot see any apparent damages, you can ask the landlord/agent if there is anything you should know about.
  • If any items are broken, ask whether they are going to be repaired. If not, it is important that you take a photo on the first day you move in so that it is clear to the landlord that the damage was there before you arrived. 
  • Ask what the procedure is for any items that become broken or damaged during your tenancy, including checking what the emergency number is.

Overall, with just a little bit of preparation, you can make the most out of your viewings and really make sure you only commit to renting the right place for you to call home. And remember to stick to your ‘dealbreakers’ without being pressured into renting a place that just doesn’t fit your needs.

At SearchSmartly, you can request viewings at any time through the convenience of our smart search platform, and relax while our friendly support team gets you booked in for your viewings. Our team is there to answer any questions you might have, from viewings to contracts, and will check up on how your viewings are going to make sure you have all the support you need.

Ready to move ahead with the next steps in your property search journey? Why not explore other parts of our guide and find out how to search for a property, prepare the relevant documentation and move in.

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Moving to London (Part I): The Search Process

Moving to London is an exciting prospect, but the task of finding a new place to rent can be daunting. 

Narrowing down where to live within such a large city composed of many neighbourhoods with their own distinct feel and amenities whilst considering your budget, your commute to work or study, and the amount of space that you need can feel like an overwhelming balancing act. 

To help make this process as easy as possible for you, we’ve compiled a four-step guide to finding a property to rent in order to ease any stress related to the process. 

Searching for a property: when to start looking?

It’s important to give yourself enough time for your search, considering that there are different types of properties and processes that you may come across in London. Properties in London are usually advertised 1-2 months before the move-in date. Therefore, we’d recommend that you begin to look 4-6 weeks before you wish to move in.

What to consider before your search

It’s a good idea to consider the main constraints of your search before you begin – this could include the likes of:

Budget: Housing prices vary hugely in London, and at times can be notoriously expensive. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set a monthly rent budget. Many rental properties do not include bills (which can be an extra 25% of your monthly rent cost),  as well as additional charges such as putting down a 5-week deposit. Ensure to leave space for this within your budget.

Location: London is an incredibly diverse city, so your experience may differ widely depending on where you choose to live. When thinking about location, it’s worth bearing in mind your commute, whether that be to work, university or your child’s school.

Space: Consider how much space you want in your property. This includes not only the number of bedrooms and bathrooms but also the internal area of the property in terms of square footage. You can use tools like the SearchSmartly platform to search with criteria like minimum bathrooms and square footage. 

Amenities: How near do you want to be to the tube or bus station? Is green space, health and fitness, a lively neighbourhood, or good local schooling important to you? Considering this before you even begin to search will ensure you don’t live in a neighbourhood lacking your key amenities.

Your financial situation Landlords and agents will ask you to prove that you are a reliable tenant that can pay the rent for the duration of your tenancy. Common financial qualifications include having an annual income that is at least 30x the monthly rent, or if not, having a UK-based guarantor that meets this prerequisite or being able to pay 6 months’ rent upfront. Organising this and setting your budget accordingly before you search will avoid any delays down the line.

Housemates If you’re not looking to live alone, it’s worth considering who you will be living with. Sharing with those who have similar budgets, schedules and lifestyle often makes life easier.

Other dealbreakers A few other things to consider may be whether you want the property to be furnished or unfurnished, and whether you have a pet – not every landlord is willing to accept them!

How to search

Once you’ve identified what’s important to you, it may seem difficult to find a property that ticks all these boxes. Search methods include using search portals (such as SearchSmartly) and contacting estate agents and landlords directly.

SearchSmartly allows you to combine all of the above prerequisites into one search. The website’s commute feature will help you overcome the challenge of pinpointing ideal areas to live in by identifying all the properties located within a certain time of up to two commute locations. You can also identify the amenities that are important to you, be that parks, gyms, restaurants or schools. Additionally, you can filter your results by the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and the internal area (in square footage) of the property. Give it a go here.

Types of Properties

Once you have made a search, you will notice that a few different types of properties may be available:

Private flats/houses: These are self-contained, including kitchens and living rooms. Usually rented through individual landlords, these properties have no bills included in the price (unless stated otherwise). Find an example here in St Johns Wood.

Built to rent (BTR): Built to rent properties do what they say on the tin – they have been built specifically with renters’ needs in mind. These properties often have communal features such as shared social spaces, gyms and a concierge. Here’s an example in Wembley.

Co-living/flatshare: This option allows you to rent a room in a shared property. This option is ideal for those looking to live in a social environment with other housemates. Bills are usually inclusive of utilities and extras.

Overall, the search for a property in London can be greatly simplified with some prior planning. If after all of this, you are struggling to find anything that matches your requirements, a handy tip is that estate agents often have alternative properties that may not be released on the market yet. When using SearchSmartly, let our operations team know if you need alternative properties and we’ll be able to help. Good luck with your property search and enjoy your time in London! 

Ready to move ahead with the next steps in your property search journey? Why not explore other parts of our guide and find out how to search for a property, book a viewing, prepare the relevant documentation and move in.

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To buy or to rent?

Is renting cheaper than buying?

For the first time in six years, renting a home is cheaper than buying. Although it is only happening in four areas in the UK – North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber, and Scotland, the trend might expand further if the pandemic continues. The average private-sector tenant in Britain spent £71 per month less in rent than if they were repaying a mortgage with a 10% deposit. This equates to a monthly spending of £1,054 on rent compared with £1,125 on the mortgage. The new trend might be convincing for many, thinking that they can avoid the headache of a mortgage and significant expenses, and still be better off than home buyers. But what are the actual advantages and disadvantages of renting or buying a house? If you are at a crossroads between buying and renting, this post is for you.

Pros of renting

Flexibility is one of the most important renting pros for many tenants. You can move out at short notice, and move to another home without making a significant commitment to one place. The maintenance of the place you are renting is the landlord’s responsibility, and all the repairs are their duty. 

Additionally, with the flexibility of living in many different places and with different people, you get to know yourself and your preferences about your décor, localisation, utilities and many more. This knowledge might be useful for the future when you actually do buy a home. 

Cons of renting

Renting a home is more expensive in some regions than in others. London’s rents are much higher than North East’s rents, but it also corresponds with the quality of life and work possibilities. Many people use the argument that renting is ‘’paying someone else’s mortgage’’. 

Moreover, as the maintenance of the property is the landlord’s problem, they often fail to ensure the quality or withhold the deposits for general wear and tear. In unfavorable circumstances, tenants have to account for repairs and maintenance on their own. In addition to the ‘questionable landlords’ argument, many tenants are worried that they will be asked to move out within short notice. The constant uncertainty is one of the significant disadvantages of renting. 

Pros of buying 

First of all, buying a house is an investment. In the case of buying a house, unlike renting a property, the mortgage payments will eventually pay off your debt. Any renovations or improvements are effectively investing in your asset, which should reward you at a later date. 

From a more personal perspective, your house means your rules. You can choose the décor, number of pets, number of tenants and the look of the garden. With this said, you can rent a spare room in your house and make extra income. 

As a nation that has historically loved to own their own homes, buying a property certainly has its appeal!

Cons of buying

Inevitably, there are some disadvantages to owning your own home. 

Firstly, it will be more difficult to move if you buy a house. As one of the pros of renting was flexibility, to sell and buy a house in a short period can be a real burden and a source of stress. Additionally,house prices and the unexpected costs to maintain a house can be very high. There are also additional costs of ownership, such as service charges and ground rent for leaseholders, and homeowners insurance in the case of older properties.

To pay off the mortgage and maintenance cost, you must guarantee a consistent income, even if you have a good credit score. Moreover, you have to consider that interest rates can increase and your monthly payments alongside them. 

Whether we convinced you to buy a property or rent it, check out SearchSmartly’s intelligent property search platform , where you can find houses, flats and rooms satisfying your individual needs. 

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How to submit an offer

How to Submit a Successful Offer on a Rental Property

You’ve invested lots of time in your search, and now you’ve finally found the perfect flat to rent. 

Once you are at this stage, it’s really important to act quickly to maximise your chances of securing the place, particularly when other people may also be interested in the same flat.

What’s the most important information you need to have at your fingertips to get your foot in the door? And how does the whole process work?

SearchSmartly has compiled a useful guide to make sure you’re fully prepared. 

First of all, you’re going to have to formally submit an offer on your chosen property. Your estate agent will provide you with a template form to fill in, but this will include key information about who you are, how long you’re interested in renting the property for, what you are willing to pay for it, and any other critical details such as whether you’d like the property furnished or not. It’s important to get this right to make your offer the most interesting one for the landlord, and avoid making some common mistakes that can result in your offer being rejected immediately.

When you have submitted your offer, you will be asked to pay a holding deposit equivalent to one week’s rent in order for the agent to take the property off the market during your referencing process. This period is when all paperwork and background checks will take place and can typically last for up to three weeks.

Price and Tenancy Dates

It goes without saying that the more you are willing to pay for the rent, the more likely your offer will be accepted! Start by checking if the asking price for your flat is reasonable by comparing similar flats in the area.  Also, ask if any bills (water, electricity or gas) are included in the rent. With this information to hand, if you are willing to pay the asking price then this will maximise your chance of getting your offer accepted. If you feel the asking price is too high based on your research, you can put in an offer below the asking price. We have seen offers at 3-5% below the asking price getting accepted in some cases, but bear in mind that this will only work if there isn’t much interest in the property – perhaps because it’s slightly older, or if there are too few people searching in that particular area. In places where there is lots of demand, particularly in parts of London, the ‘winning’ offer can be above the asking price!

Every property has a date from which it is available to move in. This is typically when the outgoing tenant has vacated the property, and will usually be advertised in the property listing itself. The closer to this date that you can move in, the more attractive your offer will be. This is because your move date will reduce the potential ‘void’ period for the landlord where nobody is paying any rent, and will improve their return. 

‘Void’ periods can impose high costs for landlords, as can the listing fees that they have to pay to agents every time a new tenant moves in. As a result, shorter tenancies are generally less attractive to landlords. Consider offering to sign a longer contract to make your offer more attractive. It is most common for tenancies to last around a year, but you could have a lease of two or three years.

Contract

Make sure you check the contract carefully. There are a number of things to look out for and to negotiate, such as if the property is furnished. Make sure you agree on refurbishment or purchase of additional furnishings in the offer. For example, if you love a flat and are happy with the asking price but want a mattress included with the furnished bedrooms, it is perfectly reasonable to make this a condition within your offer. The same goes with replacing old furniture or fixing any fittings that don’t appear to be working as they should.

Be upfront about what you expect and go into detail about this. You don’t want to discover later down the line that something you wish to have in the contract hasn’t been included when you’ve paid the deposit. 

Payment and Fees

For rental properties, agents will typically require that incoming tenants meet the financial eligibility criteria which is as follows:

  • The tenants earn 30 times the monthly rent, OR
  • The incoming tenants have a UK guarantor that can meet the above requirement, OR
  • Incoming tenants are able to pay 6 months’ rent up front.

The good news is that agents are no longer be able to charge renters any administration fee for tenancies by law, so make sure that this is the case by ensuring that the only payments you make relate to your refundable deposit and the rent that you pay in advance of your move. 

SearchSmartly Top Tip: Make sure you get this information in writing from the beginning so that you have a paper trail of what is agreed. This can be done via email. 

References

Get your references lined up from people who are likely to put in a good word on your behalf. Use people who know you and can attest to your reliability. For example you could use former flatmates or former landlords (where you’ve been a respectable tenant of course). 

You could also obtain a ‘character reference’ from an employer to show you are reliable. 

Make sure you have the documentation for your references ready to go before you put your offer in place, as things can move quickly and you’ll want to make sure there are no unnecessary delays on your end.

Deposit

Make sure you have enough money readily available to put down for the deposit. You’ll be in a great position if you have the money in your account ready to be bank transferred ASAP. The value of this deposit should be no more than the value of 5 weeks worth of rent.

We hope this information will allow you to secure that gorgeous flat you’ve been eyeing up in London and beyond. Good luck!

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How newly-grads Daisy and her partner found their ideal work-life balance London apartment

On our mission to transform the property search experience for renters and buyers, the team here at SearchSmartly often come across property search requirements that are often as unique as the individuals that use our service. Here, we’ll be highlighting noteworthy case studies of some of the most interesting user requirements we’ve recently come across.

In this week’s case study, we have Daisy.

Daisy is a recent graduate from Exeter University, and is originally from the North East. She is about to join the graduate scheme at a government agency based in St. Paul’s and is looking to find an apartment with her partner; a trainee solicitor based in Liverpool Street. 

Together, Daisy and her partner have a maximum budget of £1,700 per month and would like a cycle commute that is no longer than 45 minutes each way. As avid foodies, they would love to be close to a high street with a variety of eating options, and perhaps a few hidden gems that they could ‘wow’ their friends with. Daisy’s partner is a keen runner, and having a park nearby would allow him to keep up his hobby.

This insight led to SearchSmartly’s smart matchmaking tool providing a number of quality options of available properties in London that all met the couple’s varied requirements.

Below are three examples that caught Daisy’s eye:

  1. West London Studios, SW6 – £1,582 pcm This property stood out because of the locality of great eateries. Located just off the Fulham road, Daisy would be spoilt for choice on new places to try. With King’s Road also within walking distance, she knew the options available would be endless, including the likes of The Butcher’s Hook (where Chelsea FC was founded!) and Chimayo . Complemented by the existence of 5 local parks, weekend cycling was certainly on the cards.

2. West End Lane, NW6 – £1,599 pcm Within the confines of the lifestyle-centric, leafy West Hampstead neighbourhood situated close to central London. This option left an impression on Daisy and her partner largely thanks to the availability of green space. With the added benefit of great restaurants located nearby such as The Gallery and Pham House, this open plan apartment they found was worthy of a viewing. 

3. Dalston Square, E8 £1,690pcm The final property, located in the trendy Dalston district of London offered Daisy the opportunity to be in the heart of the action whilst having a pretty short commute to work; ideal for the days when London’s brilliant weather isn’t on her side. Within close proximity to an endless option of dining and evening entertainment, this popular location certainly caught the eye of the pair but with a higher price point, there was a potential compromise to be struck given the much shorter commute offered by the Dalston location. 

Using SearchSmartly, our users discover uniquely tailored, bespoke properties in the finest corners of London. If you are looking to relocate why not uncover your matches and find a place perfect for you