Searching for a property or room to rent can be one of the most stressful aspects of life in London. We don’t know anyone who hasn’t been through some sort of agony in the letting process at one point or another (or many times over!).
We’ve drawn up a list of questions that can help take a little bit of the pressure off. Sometimes in the heat of the moment you forget to ask the simplest of questions. Keep these essential thirteen in mind, and you’ll make life much easier for yourself, as well as the landlord or agent you’re dealing with.
1. This may seem obvious, but get clarity on the move-in date up front. Ask directly what the earliest move-in date is. If this date is either too early or too late for you, ask if there is any flexibility in the move-in date. This is an easy first conversation to have, and will help both you and your agent to decide if the property is suitable straight away.
2. It is important to ask if bills are included in the monthly rent, but we recommend a little more diligence in regard to bills.
Find out which bills are included, if any. It is rare that a TV license is included, for example, so this is something you may need to factor in.
Ask to see the EPC (Energy Performance Certificate). Once you know what the flat’s EPC rating is, you can do a little bit of research to find out if it is going to be worth it, or a financial drain every winter.
3. Is the boiler gas or electric? How old is it? Do you service the boiler regularly?
These are particularly important questions if you find that you as the tenant will be responsible for gas and/or electric bills.
Also note – If the boiler is gas, please make sure that the flat is supplied with a carbon monoxide detector.
4. Don’t be afraid to question the situation with the current/previous tenants. Asking why they are leaving will usually drum up a boring response about upgrading to a larger space, or something about commutes, but sometimes it surfaces information about landlord/tenant relationships, or difficulties with neighbours.
On that note, do ask about the neighbours. The estate agent may not know anything about the neighbours, but they should be willing to query the current tenants as to whether there are any issues with noise or rubbish.
5. Another question that may be a deal-breaker early on in the process is asking whether or not the property comes furnished. Most people have a strong preference one way or another, so don’t neglect this.
If it comes furnished and that is your preference, be sure to clarify which furnishings are supplied (sometimes that midcentury desk you fell in love with has been replaced on move-in, only to find that belonged to the previous tenant).
This situation can often be negotiated, so don’t be shy to try. Do this before signing though – if you forgot to request a bedside table and realise down the line that you’d like one, don’t expect the landlord to jump at the request. However, if you ask upfront, most of the time they’re happy to comply.
6. IF YOU ARE 3 OR MORE PEOPLE LOOKING TOGETHER – be sure to ask if the landlord has an HMO license. Find out legally how many people are allowed to inhabit the property. This issue can cause serious and sudden problems if the landlord is not properly licensed for the type of housing he’s letting you.
7. Who manages the property? There are typically three options here: landlord, agent, management firm.
If the landlord manages the property, find out if he is local – if he primarily lives in Malaga, you may be in for delays on any issues reported.
If it is managed by the agency or an outside firm, use common sense and judgment – do they seem professional? Organised? Easy to communicate with?
8. Ask if the landlord has any intention of selling any time soon!! We’ve heard too many horror stories from friends that finally find the right place, only to have potential buyers traipsing through a week later.
9. What is the length of the tenancy? Again, this may seem obvious, but some of us are looking for short term, others happy to sign on as long as possible – your agent or landlord will only know what you need if you tell them.
OK, if you’ve gotten the responses you liked on all of these questions, and you like the property itself, it’s time to move on to the next phase.
10. What is the offer process? Do you need to put down a holding deposit? How much is that, and what happens if something falls through? How long will my deposit be valid for?
Don’t hold back here – ask them to give you details on the whole process start to finish, so you know exactly what to expect, and are prepared to provide the necessary docs and details in order to move things along.
11. What kind of references are required? This is usually a combination of some or all of the following: credit check, employer reference, and previous landlord reference. Be prepared to provide these when requested. It is best to go into the process assuming you’ll need a the full gamut of references.
12. When it comes time to put down a deposit, be sure that you know how and where the deposit will be held. It is important in most instances that you have confirmation that your deposit is held in an approved government scheme – this protects yourselves, the landlords, and the agents, so there is no reason anyone shouldn’t comply with this.
13. Before you pay that deposit, make sure you understand the check-in and check-out process. How will the process be documented, will an inventory be taken, who is responsible for cleaning?
And be sure to take notes along the way. If you’re seeing a lot of properties committing the information to memory may be difficult, and going back to the agents with individual question after individual question is not the best use of time.
Never feel silly when asking questions about a flat or the process involved. It is important that you understand what you’re getting in to, and believe it or not, your estate agent is there to help, so use them!
Alex & Matteo