The quest to find a flat in London is an involved process and with all the different types of properties, ways you can rent, ways to search for accommodation, knowing what to look for and figuring out the rules, it can get confusing. I know just how overwhelming this can be when you are new to the UK. Rental properties are snapped up quickly. If you are an expat, you can have a disadvantage with the lack of credit score and UK based references. Those from the UK will find it easier to find a flat.
To save you having to wade through the tricks and pitfalls of the game I am going to give you the best resource for finding a flat in London. This guide to finding a flat in London covers the key things you should know when searching for a flat including:
- When to start flat hunting
- Things to know as a renter and as an expat renter
- Setting a budget
- Learn the London flat terminology
- Creating a list of deal-breakers and must-haves
- Researching neighbourhoods
- London expat neighbourhoods
- Using websites and apps for finding flats in London
- The viewing – what to look out for
- When you’ve found a place – offer, contracts, etc
- How to deal with issues if they occur
The guide to flat hunting in London comes not only from my experience and others I have helped over the years but also contributed to by my amazing partner who is an estate agent. With his expertise, we have made sure you have all the tops tips to make your flat hunting go smoothly.
Please note this article isn’t about finding a shared house which will be covered in another article.
When to start flat hunting
It’s normal for you to want to get a flat before you arrive in London and by all means do go online to get a feel of what is available. However, I recommend not starting the process until you arrive. Not only will it be easier but you will also have the important things established (like a job or bank account). Plus, you will have the ability to get a sense of the neighbourhoods, safety, commute to work and much more once you are in the city.
If you do want to start searching for flats before arriving in London tend, then start you search 4 to 6 weeks (as this when properties tend to come available) prior to your desired move in date.
This is not to say it is impossible to get an apartment before you arrive. However, in my time of living in London, I’ve only met one couple that successfully got an apartment before arriving in the UK. They had a friend that was willing and able to go house hunting for them and assist during the process. Plus, they had enough money to pay 6 months rent upfront.
Another alternative is to employ a Search Agent, they will hunt for a flat on your behalf. Simply they will take all your requirements, view the properties, set-up virtual viewing (if you want) and as they have knowledge in the industry pick up any issues with the flat or negotiate.
A Search Agent will normally have the following fee structure:
- Retaining fee – Payable upon instruction prior to the commencement of the search.
- Success fee – a percentage of the annual rent. Payable – Upon signing the rental agreement.
Things to Know as a Renter in London
Some of the key things to know about flat renting in London are:
- Your annual salary (as a general rule) needs to be 30 times more than the monthly rental price. This will vary between different agents and landlords but is a good benchmark to have in mind. If you are renting with other people the combined salary of all on the agreement will be taken into account.
- The tenant fee ban is being introduced on the 1st of June 2019. Here are the Permitted Charges in accordance with the Tenant Fee Act 2019:
- First month’s rent in advance
- Tenancy Deposit 5 or 6 weeks depending upon the rental amount
- Holding Deposit maximum one week’s rent
- Early termination when requested by the tenant a charge not exceeding the financial loss experienced by the landlord
- Utilities, communication services, TV licence and council tax
- Default charge for late payment of rent limited to interest charged at 3% above Bank of England base rate, when rent is more than 14 days late
- Default charge for replacement of lost key or security device equivalent to cost incurred
- Changing the tenancy documents after the commencement of the tenancy
- With the changes in June there will also a cap on deposits agencies and landlords can request. If the yearly rent is under £50,000 a year the maximum deposit that can be requested in 5 weeks rent. For properties that the rent is over £50,000 the maximum deposit is 6 weeks rent.
- There is now a Zero Deposit Guarantee which means you no longer have to pay a deposit upfront, instead these deposit guarantee will request 1 weeks’ worth of rent and a yearly admin fee. You will not get your money back using this method so if your rent is £1,000 a month and therefore, you’d lose around £200 + the admin fee. If there are any damages during the tenancy you will still be liable for these.
- Your deposit should be protected if you rent a flat under Assured Shorthold Tenancy contract (AST). This will change if you are renting a short let (i.e. anything under 6 months).
- Pets can make searching for a flat more difficult as not all leases allow pets in the building.
- Read how to rent guide.
Things to Know as an Expat Renter
Being an expat can make renting in London harder especially if you are fresh off the boat! The more time you spend in London working, the easier it will get over time. Here are some things to consider:
- Not having a credit history will impact your ability to be accepted through estate agents. Some landlords will request that you provide 3 to 6 months rent in advance to ensure the landlord has security.
- If you wish to go down the guarantor route to avoid paying so much rent up front you would need a person that is a UK homeowner who is willing to act as your guarantor so this can be a challenge for expats.
- You need to prove that you can legally be in the UK so British Passport, EU Passport or working visa. The paperwork can’t be started until you can prove this.
Set A Budget
According to the National Statistics Office the top four categories of spending in England are transport, housing, fuel and power, and recreation and culture. Based on those statistics, in 2017 BBC released an article stating that Londoners are spending 41.1% of their annual salaries on rent so as you can easily see your money is gone quickly.
It’s no wonder that London is consistently ranked as one of the worlds most expensive cities to live in.
The best way to help you determine the budget you have available is to use a pay calculator and get a rough idea of your take-home pay. In my experience, this has given me a close enough figure to work with.
Now you can determine which neighbourhoods you can potentially afford; the next step is to consider how much money you will spend on bills and council tax. In the UK the renter pays property tax and will be based on the occupancy, the band the flat is in (from A to H) and borough you live in. The council tax will be based on a yearly cost, for example, I live in Bromley in a band c property which is £1,367 a year. Note that students don’t have to pay council tax, and single occupants get a 25% discount.
There are other factors to consider like food, utilities, transport, etc and you can read more about my breakdown of how much it costs to live in London.
Learn the London Flat Terminology
In Australia we always called a single-story dwelling a house. Whereas in the UK they call that version of a house a bungalow which makes me think of holiday houses in America for some reason. Where I am getting at is that the terminology will be different in the UK, here is a quick list to get you started:
- Flat vs Apartment – Simply just terminology, there is no difference between the two.
- Purpose-built – A block of apartments that were built as apartments when first constructed.
- Conversion (e.g. Victorian Conversion) – A building that was originally a house once upon a time and then converted into flats and one of the most common styles of flat living in London.
- Studio – Is an open planned living space and the bathroom will separate from the rest of the flat.
- Flat share/House share – The most common way of renting in the UK for expat or more affordable renting is flatshare which is living with others.
- Maisonette – There are different set-ups for Maisonettes but basically means that it will have its own private entrance.
- End of terrace, Terraced, Semi-detached are houses and not flats.
- Furnished vs. Unfurnished – Rental properties can come with various levels of furnishing so fully furnished, semi-furnished, or unfurnished. White goods are included in most cases – this includes refrigerator/freezer and washing machine. Don’t expect a dryer as there often isn’t space for these in flats in London. If a flat is unfurnished you can request the landlord to add furniture like a bed, wardrobe, sofa and dining room table however the landlord is under no obligation to do as you request and this will vary usually depending on the strength of your offer.
- PCM – In the UK you can here PCM which means Per Calendar Month.
- PW – Sometimes properties are advertised with a Per Week price.
- Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) – The most common type of tenancy if you rent from a private landlord or letting agent. You won’t have an AST if you share accommodation with your landlord. To read more about AST here.
- Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – This is only relevant if you are renting a property with at least 3 people who are not from 1 ‘household’ (for example a family) but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. For example, if you are renting with 3 other friends then this could become an HMO. To check if a house is an HMO here.
Don’t forget to read the essential you need for a flat in London.
Create A List of Deal-Breakers and Must-Haves
When you’re looking for a place to live you will have a list of deal breakers and a list of must haves for you to want to move into that property. The list shouldn’t be extensive otherwise you’ll never find a place to live but a handful of things will help you assess the properties out there.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Commute time
- Furnished/ Unfurnished
- Proximity to tube/train station, bus and shops
- Number of bedrooms, size i.e. do you need double rooms
- Number of bathrooms
- Garden/outdoor space
- Kitchen amenities/space
Research London Neighbourhoods
With so many choices in London it can be hard to narrow the search to which neighbourhoods suit you. Luckily there are some tools out there to help you refine your search.
Sparerooms has a “where to live wizard” which is a good starting point to get a rough idea of the potential areas. The downside is its based-on room prices and not the rental prices of a flat.
GoodMigrations is another website that helps identify neighbourhoods. Select the filters that suit you best and it will automatically start pulling up neighbourhoods. When you click on the area it will give you a breakdown of average rent price for the area, what’s around the area, safety, transport and walkability.
Determining the safety of the area can change depending on the person and your comfort levels so it’s good to have some statistics as well. The police publish a crime map and under the find your neighbourhood tab you can enter your postcode or the accommodation you are planning to stay at and see all reported crime in the immediate area.
Citymapper is a great app for getting a sense of the commute you will have to work and is loved by Londoners. The app will provide you in real time the fastest route to work. Just make sure you set the departure time to your commuting hour.
Using street view is a good way to get a picture of the area before you. Just click and drag the street you want to view, get a picture of what the area looks like, parks nearby, roads, parking, condition of the building and much more.
London Expat Neighbourhoods
London is a city filled with expats and there are some areas that we are just famous for building our roots in. For example, Aussie and Kiwis tend to live in West and South West London like Hammersmith, Shepherd’s Bush, Fulham, Putney, Southfields, Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Clapham. Even I have spent some time living in Clapham and it was hard not to pass a fellow antipodean.
The antipodeans have slowly spread their wings to North and East to be in the hip and trendy areas. Shoreditch, Hackney, Dalston, Angel, Islington and Old Street.
Kensington, Notting Hill and Islington are meant to be where the American expats live.
Finding your expat neighbourhood in London can make you feel settled in like having familiar people, supermarkets catering to your nationality and making friends. Although I always this it’s always good to spread your wings out a little.
Use Websites and Apps for Finding Flats in London
Using the estate agents in the neighbourhood you’ve narrowed will provide you with more options and contact when new properties come to the market. Some of the common ones are Hamptons International, Foxtons, Knight Frank and Savills.
Other websites to use are:
- PrimeLocation – Another website like Zoopla and Rightmove. They will list properties advertised by Estate Agents.
- Movebubble – With Movebubble you can create a profile with your budget, timeline and preferred neighbourhoods. When a property comes to market with your preference it will notify you making it a little easier than constantly checking.
- OpenRent – is where private landlords list their rental properties. The properties will be managed directly by the landlord and not via an agency. The stock is not as abundant on OpenRent so you might not find the property you are looking for.
- Nestoria – is a small version of Rightmove or Zoopla.
- Find Properly – the website will allow you to add the places you visit each week such as your office, university, favourite club and help calculate the best area you should look for properties in. Additionally, you can add things on must have a list like crime, green space or tube zone.
- Lets with Pets – if you have pets this is a fantastic starting point as all listing will consider pets.
I tend to avoid websites like Gumtree when searching for a flat as there are lots of scammers and less genuine listings.
Now that you’ve spotted some flats that you wish to view, and you’re all pumped for the viewing, you should have some questions on your list for the viewings. With the list of must have this should be your starting point at the viewing to make sure it ticks all the boxes you were looking for. There are some additional questions and checks I’d recommend adding to the list when going on views.
How much is the rent and what is included? This would have been included in the advert but it’s always wise to reconfirm with the agent.
How much of a deposit is required? What are the conditions for the landlord deducting money from the deposit? As per things to know as a renter there is a cap being placed on deposits so you shouldn’t be requested more than 5 weeks rent. Also if you wish to do the Zero Deposit Guarantee then ask the agent if they are offering this service.
What are the estimated running costs of the property? Helps to get a sense of how much you will be paying in bills (unless the contract is bills included).
What type of boiler is there? In the UK there are generally two types of boilers;
- Combi boiler is instant hot water.
- Standard boiler will heat up water on a daily basis (as long as you have the right settings).
Is it managed by the landlord or by the agent? Landlords can do find a tenant only or managed by the agent so this will give you an idea of who you will be speaking to when issues occur.
Who is responsible for what? Depending on the type of flat there could be common areas, such as kitchens, gardens, courtyards or hallways to upkeep so its good to know what you will be responsible for.
Are repairs required? This will help form a part of your offer if there are issues you can state I would like x fixed before moving in.
What’s the water pressure like? This was a massive issue in some of my flats but this was mainly the shower didn’t have enough pressure to shower in.
Do kitchen appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers work? As most rentals come with white goods you should check that these are in working order and if any issues add this to the repairs.
Can I decorate? Before making somewhere feel like home check what you’re allowed to do to the flat.
Put in an Offer
Now that you’ve found a place you just have to put in an offer and get the contracts sorted!
When you put in an offer then you need to put any terms you want them to meet, for example,
- Adding furniture (beds, wardrobes etc)
- the amount you wish to pay
- break clause that you wish to have, for example, 6 months
- the length of the contract
- the date you want to move in
The landlord will either accept or reject the offer which you can decide the next way forward from there.
Signing the contract
At the point of signing the contact make sure you check the following as a minimum:
- the date
- the terms you agreed
- break clause
- length of the contract
- where your deposit is being held
The landlord or agent should provide an inventory (or check-in report) which you agree before you move in. Make sure you agree with any amendments and as an extra safeguard, make sure that you take photos. If there is ever a dispute about the deposit at the end of tenancy this will make it easier. Once you are happy to sign it and keep a copy from your records.
Last thing you want to be doing is paying for the previous tenants’ bills so check the meter readings before you move in.
It’s in your rights to know the name and address of your landlord and agent including phone numbers. These to be used in the case of an emergency.
How to Deal with Issues If They Occur
Sometimes things don’t go well and if you are unable to resolve the issues with the agent or landlord then there are services to help support you. Here is a list of companies you can contact if issues do occur:
- Citizens Advice – provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. They will be able to help you understand your contract, issues with break clauses, condition of the property and much more.
- Shelter – housing and homelessness charity who offer advice and support.
- Crisis – advice and support for people who are homeless or facing homelessness.
- Your Local Housing Authority – to make a complaint about your landlord or agent, or about the condition of your property.
- Money Advice Service – free and impartial money advice.
- The Law Society – to find a lawyer.
- Gas Safe Register – for help and advice on gas safety issues.
- Electrical Safety First – for help and advice on electrical safety issues.
- Marks Out Of Tenancy – information for current and prospective tenants.
Let me know in the comments how your flat hunting is going and if you have any additional tips!