Renting for the first time? Here’s what you need to know

5 minutes

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Discover how to make your search for a home to rent successful, where you could find low rental prices and what you and your landlord will need to take care of once you’re installed.

  • The documents you’ll need for renting
  • What are your responsibilities, and what are the landlords?
  • How much should you expect to pay? 

There's lots to consider when you rent your first property.

Property writer Sarah Warwick talks to the experts about what newbie renters should consider before finding their first rental, from making sure you have all the right documents, to whether you should take out home insurance.

Get documents for renting ready

Plenty has changed for both renters and landlords this year. Policy changes, including those to stamp duty, have caused landlords to leave the market, reducing supply, while tenant demand has grown.  

So do your homework, and the groundwork, before finding a place to rent. First, get together your passport, driving licence, and proof that you’re in the UK legally, for example an immigration status document. 

‘References may well be required from work and you will need to provide proof of income.’ says Kate Faulkner, MD of the free education site  ‘Some landlords or their agents may request copies of latest bank statements to check you have the money.’

How to find a rental property

You should start your search around three to four months in advance – although university students usually begin a whole lot earlier.

‘The majority opt to secure the next year’s accommodation within the first term of the academic year, sometimes 10 months before move-in date,’ says Felix Henderson, CEO and co-founder of Student Bubble.

‘Students looking to rent large, multi-room properties, houses close to campus, or options at the budgetary extremes will often begin their search between November and Christmas, and we see a second peak from February as students finish their January exams and look to second year,’ says Felix. ‘The London market is slightly different, with students tending to secure properties in the last one to two months of the academic year.’

While studying at university, a student’s personal belongings may well be covered under their parent’s home insurance policy. If you’re not a student, it’s worth considering contents insurance while you’re renting. 

How much will you pay to rent?

The average monthly UK rent is £1,127, according to the July 2022 report from HomeLet rental index. In London, the average is £1,868 a month and, While the average cost for the rest of the UK is £948 a month. 

‘You will soon build up a picture of what properties are renting for, and which areas are the most popular,’ says Sam Mitchell, CEO, online estate agents 

Be aware that you can make an offer below the asking price on a rental property.

‘How bullish you can be depends on the strength of the local market and how willing you are to miss out on the property,’ says Sam. 

‘However, in strong rental markets where properties are snapped up, it’s likely that offers under asking price will be rejected out of hand. Saying that, you don’t get if you don’t ask. 

‘If you’ve decided you’d like to make an offer, and you know the property is attracting interest, ask yourself what will make your offer more attractive to the landlord. Are you a professional, do you have great references, are you prepared to offer a longer tenancy length to give the landlord more security?’

Be ready to pay a deposit

A deposit will be required, which is often the equivalent of four to six weeks of rent.

‘There are some new insurance schemes that require no deposit,’ says Kate.  Instead of paying for a deposit, which can cost a month’s rent or more, tenants will buy an insurance policy worth a week’s rent that provides the landlord with cover.

‘If offered one of these, check the cost of paying for the insurance versus the deposit, especially if you have to pay annually,’ Kate continues. ‘If the landlord/agent doesn’t tell you which scheme will protect your deposit, then don't hand over the money.

‘Never pay any money over until you have seen the property and verified that it’s owned or managed by the landlord.’

Don’t forget to take letting agent fees into account.

‘Check what fees the agent is charging tenants – this can vary locally, but by law they have to be upfront about these fees, for example on their website,’ says Kate. ‘The average is around £300 per tenant in London and £200 outside.’


New alternatives to the private rented sector

As well as private rented sector homes – property owned by a landlord and leased to a tenant – you could consider build to rent (BtR) properties, which are relatively new to the UK.

‘The majority of BtR developments can be found in London and Manchester, typically in areas with good transport links to the city centre,’ says Rajesh Shah, managing director, Tipi.

‘BtR properties typically include the service aspect of a concierge and on-site maintenance team, as well as on-site gyms, social spaces, attractive apartments and all utility bills and ultra-fast broadband included within rental payments,’ says Rajesh.

However, BtR properties are usually more expensive, so make sure you know of all the costs before renting.

Setting up utilities in a rented home

In the private rented sector, you’ll need to check with the landlord/rental agent to find out if gas, electricity and water bills are included in the rent, as they sometimes are.

Connecting utilities should be straightforward.

‘There is a very high chance that your property will already have services connected and, in that case, tenants simply need to change the name on the service to their own and take meter readings,’ says Mike Hookway, property management director at Portico.

You’ll also need to pay council tax – unless you’re a student. 

What are the landlord’s duties, and what are yours? 

The tenancy agreement should specify what the landlord is and isn’t responsible for, according to the government-approved Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). The landlord should service cookers and the boiler, and keep heating, drains and water facilities in working order. 
Tenants need to carry out minor maintenance and change lightbulbs as well as do any garden upkeep detailed in the agreement. Damage beyond general wear and tear will need to be paid for.
‘It’s down to you if the washing machine stops working after you put far too large a load inside, but if the machine suddenly stops working for no reason, the landlord should correct the issue,’ says Mike Hookway.
Be prepared for an urgent situation, such as a leak causing a flood. There may be an emergency phone number provided by the landlord, and if you were to contact someone else, you might have to settle the bill.
Landlords want reliable tenants who know what their responsibilities are, so checking into the detail of your tenancy agreement is a wise tactic to make renting as smooth as possible. Due diligence can also help get you the right place to live in the first place. Assembling your paperwork, researching the local market, and starting the search in good time can all help make a first rental a success. 

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