Leicester, UK

How to Rent Your First Home: Top Tips for Wannabe Tenants*

Renting a flat for the first time can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. It's a struggle I know all too well. Recently, I've been back on the rental market again as I received news that I'll be moving to a completely new country next year! In February 2020, I'll be abandoning my studio flat in Leicester in favour of the pretty Irish city of Cork, where I'll be working on a short-term placement at an art gallery. I couldn't be more excited about the move but BOY was finding suitable accommodation anxiety-inducing. To try and take the stress out of the process for my lovely readers, I've penned this post to give you my top tips for finding the perfect rental. Here's everything you need to know before you pick up the keys!

rent home students first time tips advice tenant

Know what you want, what you really really want

"If you wanna be my house, you gotta get with my criteria!" Ok, I don't think the Spice Girls will be changing their lyrics anytime soon, but the point that I'm trying to make remains true - the best place to start when thinking about renting is to establish what your requirements are. You may have a vague picture of your perfect property in your head but putting it down on paper can really help to focus your mind on your needs vs. your wants.

Have a think about what's most important to you: A great location which minimises your commute? Or having an en-suite bathroom? Is a top-floor flat a non-negotiable? Or would you compromise on that for a private parking space? Knowing exactly what you want makes your search much easier and more productive.

Making an informed decision about the area that you want to move to is also crucial. This was tricky for me when planning my move to Cork as I wasn't able to visit the city before I needed to sign on the dotted line for a rental. Happily, loads of online resources now exist that can help you to understand the local area better. CIA's local property stats tool is brilliant for this, allowing you to see within seconds the crime rate in your area of interest, as well as average house prices. It's a must for all would-be renters!

Find yourself a guarantor ASAP

If you're a student, young person, or a first time renter, chances are that you'll require a guarantor for your rental property. But what is a guarantor and why do you need one? Housing charity Shelter provide a handy definition:
"A guarantor provides a promise to pay the rent and possibly to fulfil the tenant's other obligations under the tenancy, if the tenant fails to do so. It is an agreement between the guarantor and the landlord, regulated by the general principles of contract law. The express terms of the guarantee agreement are binding on the guarantor, so it is crucial to read and understand it before signing."     Source: Shelter Legal
Usually a guarantor will be a parent or close family member, so it's a good idea to approach someone suitable to chat to them about being your guarantor as soon as you start looking at potential rentals. But if you don't have anyone that you can turn to for this, there is help out there. Some universities or colleges operate a rent guarantor scheme, or you may be able to persuade your landlord to waive the need for a guarantor by offering them a larger deposit or 6 months’ rent in advance. 

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renting help advice checklist first time tenant home

Money money money

ABBA got it right, it must be funny in a rich man's world. But for those of us on a budget, it is recommended that you should spend no more than 35% of your take-home pay on rent to ensure that your home is affordable. However, this is a ball park figure and obviously depends on what your other outgoings are. Don't over-commit yourself, especially if you're a first time renter as there can often be additional costs associated with renting that you don't initially envisage. Useful questions to ask yourself when putting together your budget include:

1) What utilities will you be expected to pay? 

Online services such as home bills health check can instantly estimate your utility costs based on a postcode and a few simple details about the place you're hoping to rent. 

2) How much will you need to set aside for TV and WiFi?

Remember that once you start renting, you'll have to shell out for your own WiFi and a TV license too. Don't forget to factor in the cost of these services and ensure that your price estimate will meet your needs. If you require a super fast internet connection, the price is likely to go up accordingly. Make sure you consider any set-up fees that might be imposed by your internet provider as well!

3) Does your property come with any perks? 

For example, my current flat in Leicester comes with a free gym membership, cutting down on what could otherwise be a big cost. While perks aren't everything, knowing if you get any extras such as this along with your rental can help you to make an informed decision about the right property for you.

Know what's expected of you and of your landlord

I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone the basics of what you'll need to do as a tenant: pay your rent and bills on time, take care of the property, report any maintenance issues, and be nice to your neighbours. But are you aware of all of the obligations that your landlord has towards you? If not, wise up fast! Your landlord must provide you with a gas safety certificate, official deposit paperwork within 30 days, and an Energy Performance Certificate, which is important as it will impact upon your energy bills. If you're unsure of any aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship, read the government's guide to renting. This is a super helpful (not to mention official) source of information, written in an accessible way.

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Make checks before you move in

Landlords also have an obligation to keep their properties safe, healthy, and hazard free. A basic list of safety checks to ask the landlord or the property manager are as follows. Don't be afraid to be insistent when making these enquiries - you have a right to know that the property you're about to move into is habitable!

- Is there a working smoke alarm on each floor?
- Is a carbon monoxide alarm fitted (if required)?
- Have you seen a gas safety certificate?
- Where can the gas or water supply be switched off in an emergency?
- Have you seen an Energy Performance Certificate?
- Does the water and heating system work?
- When are refuse and recycling collected?
- Are all electrical installations and equipment safe and in good working order?

Watch out for Scams

What can and can't you be charged for when setting up your rental? If you don't have a great deal of experience, it can be hard to know if you're being swindled. However, you should be aware that from 1st June 2019, certain fees became prohibited by law. The government’s guidance on the Tenant Fees Act can be found online, so make sure you double check any fees that you're asked to pay. Another thing to watch out for is your refundable tenancy deposit. Legally, you cannot be asked to pay more than 5 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is less than £50,000. Should you be asked to pay one, a refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) is capped at no more than 1 week’s rent. 

What do you wish you'd known before renting a house for the first time? Please share your tips and advice in the comments below!

*This post was written as part of a paid partnership with CIA Landlords.

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