London: renting a flat on a budget #2

During my early days as a student, I rented a room in a house with a live-in landlord.

A landlord who rents “rooms”, in his own house, is by far the cheapest option, though not exactly ideal, in terms of privacy.  The ’landlord’, was not an unpleasant man by any means, and the house was structurally sound. He was however a chain smoker with  six cats. As many of you know, I simply adore cats, but sharing  with  6 cats, is not something I’d recommend. The house would get smelly and constantly dirty – several of the cats insisted in using the living room, occupying the single comfortable armchair. Those were very opinionated cats with powerful claws, and I usually lost the battle of occupying the ‘good’ armchair, in the smoke filled living room.

 I never quite recovered from the chain smoking experience and vouched never to share a flat with smokers, not even those innocently described as ‘occasional’ smoker.  In fact, I used to get really bad flu and winter coughs, which have somehow only subsided years after I moved into, my very own, perfectly  clean and well ventilated flat.

It was my Long Suffering Mother, (LSM) who first alerted me to this . During one of the worst of my flu attacks, she came to visit, just to check if I were alive. My poor mum, had a look around in complete horror. Careful to touch the place as little as humanely possible, she quickly bundled me into a taxi and whisked me away.

My rent allowance miraculously increased after that, and one of my fathers friends was recruited to help. He had an empty bachelor flat, which was offered to me as a rental. The decoration was hideous, but the place was pristine and ridiculously comfortable. It even had a bar in the living room. I think bachelor London flats always come with well stocked, bars.

If you are looking to rent in London, is always worth asking around first. Ask everyone you know, friends, enemies and long lost relations. The best flats are owned by small private landlords, with only one or two properties to let. Make yourself an attractive proposition by providing excellent references and even show pictures of your previously beautifully kept, rented flat. Good landlords hate tenants who trash their property, bad ones don’t care either way.

Only use an agent as a last resort. Managing and letting agents are not regulated in this country. No doubt there are some good ones, but in general, the property business attracts some scum oùt for a quick buck.

The best way to check an agent out, is to do a search in companies house website  . Check out the directors and people with ‘significant control’. Its not fool proof, but it gives you an idea who you are dealing with. At the very least you will know if the company actually exists and is financially stable.

Often the agent  will try to pressurise you into paying a holding deposit straight away or you loose the flat. It is true that you may loose the flat, but think carefully before you part with large amounts of cash. Research first. Check the landlord out or the property owner, if you can. Landlords who live abroad and cannot be traced should be avoided. 

Managing agents make a lot of promises, which are unlikely to materialise, after you’ve paid a deposit and moved in. Assume that what you see, is what you get.

Six weeks deposit and a month in advance are standard terms. In the name of god, never, ever agree to pay cash for anything. (What is this? Money laundering ‘r’ us ?) Direct debit and money transfer are safer and again ensure your deposit is held in a registered protection scheme, rather than in your landlords personal piggy bank.

As a very general guideline, opt to go with one of the older, more established agents, (like Winkworth ) rather than with the new kid on the block, who drives a flashy car and may be gone by tomorrow, with your cash in his pocket. Like I said, check them out at companies house. If you are renting directly from the landlord,  find out what he does for a living and if in doubt check the land registry for ownership – better be safe than sorry.

The best location is not always the most expensive. Take into account where you work or where your classes are and factor in traveling costs, as well as traveling time.

While writing this post, costs for renting a basic, (but well located,) one-bedroom flat, in London within zone 1/2 start at around £1600 per month, plus agency fees. On top of that there are utility bills, council tax and of course one has to eat. Most people have to opt for a ‘shared’ flat, which can be fun or it can be hell on Earth. (check previous post here)

The truth is, the number of  people competing for a good flat, is far greater than the number of good, central London flats, so compromises have to be made.

Next post: essentials for the low budget London flat


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