It was just a couple of days into January when my boyfriend popped the question. No, not that question, but the one that fills every Londoner’s heart with fear and head with anxiety: do you want to move in together? Now of course, my instantaneous answer was yes and I was immediately excited, but anyone that has ever looked for a room or a flat in a city as busy and over priced as London, knows just what stresses may ensue.
Following these stresses, I have devised some of my own top tips for not getting taken for a ride by evasive estate agents and shifty private landlords. I also worked in property for two years after university, so I do have a decent knowledge on how the snaky stuff works, what can be said to get discounts and what you should never say on that all important viewing. Prior to all of this of course, you need to find yourself somewhere to view, somewhere you might actually consider calling home one day, and you can read my top tips for finding the best place here!
Let’s just assume that you have battled through the fire and selected, out of 12,569 cold calls from seemingly every estate agency in a 112 mile radius, some properties you would like to view. The pictures look decent, the rent is in your budget and the location is where you need it to be. You are on that first viewing.
Offering: Unless you are really in love with a place
or completely crazy it usually won’t hurt to make an offer on a place that is below the asking price. A property is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. And guess what? Agents advise landlords to market their property ABOVE what it is realistically worth, so people come in with offers below the asking price. If something is on the market for £1500 per calendar month, the chances are the landlord will have been advised to expect between £1350-£1400pcm, but obviously this can vary depending on area and how pushy the landlord is. Also, do not allow agents to put you off with the ever illusive ‘other people’ they have interested in the property. Sure, things move quickly but there is always time to be objective.
Fees: Prior to June 2019, agency fees in the UK can be insane amounts of money. After June, the amount agents require for a ‘holding deposit’ which is what you pay them to stop marketing the property, will not be able to exceed one weeks rent. At the moment it is seemingly limitless. Our agent charged £500 to take the property off of the market which was pretty standard as this amount comes off your initial move in monies later. However, this was on top of their own fees for referencing, inventory checks and producing the tenancy agreement etc. All of this was an itemized to be an additional of £680, as well as 6 weeks rent for the actual deposit, and one month rent upfront to take possession of the property. Thanks, but no thanks. We managed to negotiate this ridiculous charge from £680 down to £350, which when split between two of us
was still way more than any estate agent deserves to get was a lot more manageable than £680.
Referencing: Once you receive your referencing documents, complete them straight away. The agent won’t be able to send you a tenancy agreement (or at least they shouldn’t) without you passing referencing sufficiently and confirming the details of any guarantors if they are required. So don’t hang about on this one; get them filled out as soon as possible.
Contracts: When the agent sends you the tenancy agreement, sign everything sooner rather than later. Don’t be one of those people that needs to be chased 48 hours before move in. After you have signed your tenancy agreement and usually some prescribed information from whichever company will be protecting your deposit (which is a legal requirement), the only thing that is left is to pay your move in monies (minus the holding deposit of course, that you have already paid!) Most agents understand that not everyone has a pile of spare cash sitting in their bank account, so if this is paid in installments this is often fine as well, as long as all funds are cleared prior to the commencement of the tenancy. If you are splitting it with someone, just be sure that you have proof of what has been paid to where in case there are questions asked. Most move in monies are calculated the same way and can be very confusing. See below my below calculation/formula to help you along:
Holding Deposit paid first
First months rent + 6 weeks deposit + agent fees = Total
Total – holding deposit paid = move in money left to find.
The Math: An important point to note when calculating the weekly rent, do not just divide the monthly rent by 4. Instead, take the monthly rent, times it by 12 (months) and divide by 52 (weeks). This will give you the weekly rent, which can then be multiplied by however many weeks rent you need to pay for your deposit.
Final Checks: After you move in, there will often be an inventory completed. This may be by an external company or by the landlord themselves. Once the inventory has been completed, the document will be sent to you to review. If you agree with everything on it, let the agent/landlord know that it is fine. Some places do require you to sign something to confirm this. If anything is missing or if there is huge black sink hole in the middle of the floor that has been missed out or even seemingly minor scratches and scuffs of a surface that have been omitted, tell the agent or the landlord right away. You don’t want to be held accountable for damage you didn’t do at the end of tenancy!
And there you have it, you have just moved house.
Advice for Saving on Fees
- Try a private landlord – lots of them do not charge for referencing and when they do it is considerably less than agencies.
- Ask about fees on the viewing. Not only does it show interest, but it shows that you are expecting charges. You appear savvy to the agent. Ask what the monthly rent is and confidently follow it up with ‘And what about the agent fee?’ When they retort with £5420 per second of their time, simply ask ‘Is there flexibility on this or are these fixed fees?’ Some places are flexible, some are not, but you get nothing if you don’t ask.
- Take your time. Even if you need to move in very soon, do not appear desperate to the agent as they will often take advantage of your inept vulnerability and need to find a place fast. Avoid saying that you will take it then and there because you lose all of your bargaining power and more to the point, if you drop a hint that you will offer asking price, only questions will follow when you offer below asking price.
- Save first. However much you think you need, double it or at least get 50% more.
Have you ever moved house before and experienced higher than normal fees, dodgy agents or lunatic landlords? Let me know your stories below.