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How To Rent a House by Ivor Moved
Renting a Home
Member Name: spacelamb
Renting a Home
Date: 25/07/01, updated on 26/07/01 (2118 review reads)
Advantages: like with someone else's kid, you can "give it back"
Disadvantages: careful who you move in with!
Renting is a mammoth task. Try to start a conversation on the topic with anyone who has a mortgage – I dare you – and you’re likely to get comments along the lines of “Pah! Renting schmenting!” and they’re right that it can be a total pain in the posterior. There are numerous advantages though, the most prominent in my mind being that you’re not tying yourself down for a long period of time. The way I see it is, I’m only 22 and I don’t know what I’ll be doing in a few years’ time – I may be earning twice as much (or twice as little, perish the thought); I may not be with my partner any more; I may have changed careers; I may decide that I don’t want to live in London any more (unlikely, but never say never). When you’re renting a place you can effectively up and leave. Hurrah.
I have tried to write this op from the point of view of One Who Knows (I’m getting to be quite an experienced renter these days) and hopefully it will help you avoid some of the traps I fell into.
WHERE TO LOOK
You basically have two choices – through an estate agent or an independent landlord.
* ESTATE AGENTS
Personally I would go for an agent every time. When you register with an estate agent they will take down the details of the kind of property you are looking for (price, number of bedrooms, area and so on) and then call you when they have something that meets your needs. It is in their interest to do this as they make money from every flat or house they let – so basically you are passing an arduous task over to someone else. Any property you see will have been looked over before you view it, so it’s not going to be completely uninhabitable; your contract will be a standard legal document so there’s much less chance of being screwed around; throughout your tenancy they are your point of contact so if anything goes wrong with the property it i
s their indisputable responsibility to fix it. It’s normally best to ring or go into the office itself to see what’s available – estate agents’ websites are notoriously ill-maintained (they can be useful however to get a general idea of their price range).
* PRIVATE LANDLORDS
The only advantage I can see to renting through an independent landlord is that you save on estate agents fees. Agencies charge you a one-off admin fee to reserve your chosen pad, liaise with the owner and obtain bank/employer references, but this amount is rarely over £50 per tenant which is frankly a small price to pay for peace of mind. A landlord can advertise any crummy old cupboard they like – and they do. (My worst experience was a looking at a ‘spacious studio’ in Wandsworth two years ago, which was indeed roomy but located in a building that looked like the Haunted House at Alton Towers, was literally falling apart and had one window not much bigger than a gentleman’s handkerchief. Needless to say I fled). Take extra care when being shown a place by some random person too - it's best to go in twos, as wussy as that sounds. Also a private landlord can draw up his own contract and you have far less legal protection if your cooker spontaneously combusts etc. (I’m not saying all landlords are bastards, I just haven’t met a nice one yet!) Local papers are without a doubt the best place to find this sort of accommodation, also in ‘Loot’ which is published on a daily basis. The only problem with this is that all the best places go really early – often before midday – on the day of publication.
CRACKING THE CODE
After you’ve spent a couple of weeks searching for a place, you start to recognise certain recurring phrases. Estate agents have a language all to themselves, constructed mostly from abbreviations and lies (well, versions of the truth). Most of the acronyms explain th
emselves (GCH = gas central heating, for example), but some of their other expressions really need to be translated. For example: an estate agent is reluctant to call a place ‘small’, even if it is, because all but the most eccentric of people want a reasonably sized house. So if they go so far as to actually call it ‘small’ it is likely be *really* tiny – they’re preparing you for the worst, you see. ‘Spacious’ or ‘large’ normally mean average size – the only word you can count on is ‘huge’, which is used sparingly and is normally the truth. Be wary too of ‘good transport links’ – any place with genuinely good transport links will say something specific like ‘5 mins walk to tube’. This statement is not always a lie, but often means there is a railway station in the same county, or that there is a bus service every hour from your road to the wool shop.
SHARING AND MONEY
If there is one thing to test a friendship it is moving in together. I have recounted a couple of horror stories below, but basically if you’re in the least bit unsure, don’t do it. Arguments start over little things – someone has left some dirty plates in the sink or whatever – and escalate out of control at hyperspeed because their bad habits are thrust in your face 24-7.
* THE MYSTERY TELEPHONE CALLS
When I first moved to London I shared with an acquaintance rather than a friend, for the sake of convenience. He is now neither of these things. I learnt to accept his disgusting personal habits, but he would often bring people back to our flat in the middle of the night, drunk and raucous. Once he and another guy came home at 4am on a Tuesday night, barged straight into my room (where I was asleep, obviously) and demanded cigarettes. When I told them where to go, they shouted abuse at me. I know they were drunk, and that this has more to do wi
th your choice of friends than renting – but if you’ve signed a joint tenancy there’s not much you can do to stop your flatmate behaving like a moron. The final straw (I moved out a month later) was when we received a whopping great phone bill – about £300 for the quarter. I was certain that I hadn’t made more than about £30 worth of calls, but he insisted he hadn’t either and that we ought to split the bill fifty-fifty. He told me he had contacted BT and they had refused him an itemised bill because there were too many calls to list. This smelt of fish to me, so I rang them myself and they said yes of course they’d send me an itemised bill. It transpired that he had been running his mobile through our land line and calling 0891 numbers at stupid o’clock, each call costing several pounds. I’m not quite sure what the moral of this story is – be careful who you share your personal space and financial responsibilities with I guess.
* THE MISSING MILLIONS (WELL ALMOST)
At the moment I live with two mates. The first is an absolute treasure who is tidy, reliable, respectful, solvent and a barrel of laughs. The second is a riot to have around, but he’s appalling with money. I am currently trying to move out of my current house and get a place with my bit of trouser, who has just moved to London. About a month ago we found a lovely little flat, but when I rang my present landlord to give him my month’s notice he wasn’t having any of it. He said we owed £1,500 in arrears, and although I had never paid my rent more than an hour late we had signed a joint contract, thus making me liable for *any* non-payment of rent. I confronted flatmate no 2 who admitted he had not paid his rent for the last few months, and I have now had to put my own move on hold until he has come up with the money. This story has a very definite moral, which is ask for your contract to be drawn up three (or however
many) ways, so you are only accountable for your own portion of the rent. Not every landlord is willing to do this but ask, ask, ask. And again, make sure you trust the people you’re moving in with!
While we’re on the subject of money, one thing I didn’t mention before (and another benefit of using an estate agent) is the Ombudsman Scheme. This has been around for donkeys’ years but only recently become so widely available. When you rent a property you have to pay a deposit – usually equivalent to 4 or 6 weeks’ rent – which you get back when you leave, as long as you leave the property in good condition (‘normal wear and tear’ is allowed, lilac cows painted on the living room carpet are not, that sort of thing). There can often be some discrepancy over whether a fault in the house is ‘reasonable wear and tear’ or abuse/neglect. This is where the Ombudsman Scheme comes in (I really love that word). When you move in, an inventory is drawn up by the estate agent (if you rent privately, undertake this task yourself) stating the contents and condition of the house. When you leave, an ‘independent adjudicator’ (in our case Natwest Bank) will come in and assess the property against the inventory, so neither you nor the estate agent can be diddled out of any money. It is usual by the way to lose about a fifth of your deposit – a popular counter-measure to this is withholding the final month’s rent, but this can easily backfire. It’s your call.
SOME USEFUL WEBSITES
I think I have waffled quite long enough, although I’m sure I’ve missed something vital out – do let me know if I have! Happy house hunting :)
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