Apartments on Regent’s Canal near Kentish Town lock, London NW1. They sure don’t all look like this! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Finding the right London apartments can be a logistical pain in the arse, if you’ll pardon my language. Many North Americans moving to London are particularly thrown a curve ball when they arrive, as the UK property market operates so differently. I’ve spoken before plenty-o-times about how London relocation companies assist tremendously with searching for London apartments, particularly when it comes to compiling a large property portfolio to view in a short amount of time and negotiating the fine print of tenancy agreements. To follow, though, are a few quick-in-simple tips to understanding London apartments better as you first approach that process.
Let’s start with the major quantitative factor: rent. There’s typically a sense of sticker shock once expats realize the prices advertised for London apartments are not in monthly terms but weekly. To determine the actual monthly cost of rent, multiply the weekly price by 4.33 (which equates to the 52 weeks of the year divided by its 12 months).
If the product of that equation doesn’t have you falling to the floor just yet, proceed to factor in your initial deposit. Renting London apartments requires upfront payment on signing your lease agreement; it’s the only way to truly secure your flat, as a landlord’s verbal agreement isn’t worth the spit in your handshake (figuratively speaking, of course…spitting into palms isn’t one of the UK customs I’ll be addressing in this post :)). At any rate, the typical deposit on an apartment is six-weeks’ rent, payable in full on top of your first month’s rent. So, on lease signing you must pay:
Weekly rent price x (4.33 + 6)
Thus, assuming an average rent price of £450/week for a two-bedroom flat, for example:
£450 x 10.33 = £4,648.50 down payment
This doesn’t include any administrative fees the lettings agency might charge (which could be anywhere from one to a few hundred GBP, depending on the agency; there’s no real industry standard). By working with London Relocation agents, however, any such fees for renting London apartments are at no extra cost to you; LR’s got it covered!
When it comes to securing an apartment, then, bank transfer is the most efficient, preferred means of payment; credit cards are usually accepted, but a check from an international bank account could take a couple weeks to clear (by which time your flat could be snatched up by someone else if the landlord does back out on you, a practice called “gazumping”).
I mentioned earlier how relocation agencies help with gathering a larger number of apartments for you to view than you’d probably see on your own in the same amount of time. This is due to the fact that lettings agents don’t share a multiple listing database (a.k.a. MLS) that would otherwise enable them to show you any property available anywhere in the city—they’re restricted to their own private listings, which are further restricted to their local area. This requires individual flat-hunters to pinpoint a precise neighborhood first before then visiting any and all lettings agencies in that neighborhood to exhaust all its apartments that meet your criteria (e.g., budget, # bedrooms/bathrooms, etc.).
I can personally attest how frustrating it is to only get to see a couple apartments a day through a single lettings agent, leaving you to walk next door to the next guy and waste a lot of time in the process. If you have the time and energy to spare, though, have at it; ye be warned…
Finally, when it comes to your tenancy agreement, make sure you comb through the details to ensure your rights are protected. Other than administrative fees (again, which are waived through the London Relocation agency), you do not pay the lettings agency for your placement; the landlord does. Lettings agents therefore have more incentive to appease the landlords of apartments than you, so unless you have a London relocation agent on your side, you’ll have to exercise supreme savvy. Ensure any requests made of you are reasonable and that anything you request of the landlord—like furnishings, perhaps—are clearly spelled out to avoid he-said/she-said situations after the fact (this market can certainly become that petty).
Lease terms for apartments don’t vary dramatically from those in North America, but one notable difference is the break clause. Essentially, this clause is your “out” if you’re either not satisfied with your property or must move out for other reasons (e.g., visa expiration, money savings, desire to try something different, etc.). Break clauses forare often set at six months—that is, you’re entitled to break your lease after that period and be free of rent obligation beyond it—but you can negotiate this time frame with the landlord. It’s customary to provide two months’ notice of exercising the break clause; understandably, though, you might have to leave on last-minute notice due to factors outside your control. In that case, further negotiation with your landlord will be necessary, which could likely involve forgoing your initial deposit.
London apartments can be fickle mistresses indeed when they’re so elusive to find at a value and with guarantee, but there are some lovely spaces to be had to suit your needs, so just keep smiling and persevere!