The perfect way to enjoy London for some serious sales bargain hunting is to find yourself a lovely flat to rent short term, and settle in to being a Londoner for a few days of freedom at a great price.
Renting is so much cheaper than staying in hotels in central London and allows you to be your own person - cook and entertain friends at half the price of having to feed them in hotel restaurants.
Renters have never had so much choice. Thousands of flats are available through specialist property companies offering flexible flats with all the benefits of being in a hotel - with a well informed, uniformed concierge ready to take your bags or hail you a cab without the high cost.
The supply of properties is being boosted by cash strapped private landlords, who are moving out and renting their homes to generate income.
"At this time of year there is always demand from overseas visitors but another group of people who want homes are those who have sold their houses and need to rent while they look for another one" says Lucy Morton of estate agent WA Ellis.
‘It is now possible to move in for a night, a week or a month’
Traditionally a typical short term let was for three months but it is now possible to move in for a night, a week or a month. "The downside of short term lets is the shorter the tenancy, the more expensive it will be, and they might have to accept the fact that the landlord will want to show potential new clients around the property."
Residential Land has a portfolio of 1,500 furnished apartments in new-build developments and mansion blocks across 25 central London postcodes. The company manages the buildings itself, meaning tenants do not have to deal with estate agents. Rents start at £250 a week.
At Grand Plaza, a scheme of 205 apartments in Bayswater, studios cost from £99 per night, much cheaper than an equivalent standard hotel room. Apartments have open-plan kitchens, television, telephone and broadband plus cleaning and laundry services. Visit www.residentialland.com.
Frasers offers fully-serviced apartments at seven prestige "residences" in Kensington and Chelsea, most with no "minimum-stay" restrictions. The company’s motto is "creature comforts and a budget-friendly price tag". It also provides a full hospitality service - in-room dining, theatre tickets, restaurant reservations and so on. Family apartments are available, and some residences have a gym, swimming pool and children’s play area.
If you fancy popping to Paris on the Eurostar for a short shopping trip, Frasers has impressive accommodation at Le Claridge, on the Champs Elysees. Apartments cost from 214 euros per night. Visit www.frasershospitality.com.
Unite, which has made its name building student accommodation, has launched a mid-market rental service called Livocity. The first development of 62 studio apartments has opened in Marylebone and coming soon are schemes in Fulham, Highgate and Camden. Visit www.livocity.co.uk.
The Marylebone scheme is a handsome period building, formerly a young women’s hostel, at 2 Devonshire Street. Studios are bijou but adequate - up to 300 sq ft. A porter is on call to handle day-to-day matters and arrange pay-as-you-go services such as dry cleaning.
Furnished studios cost £300 per week - or £150 per person for a couple sharing - including utility bills, council tax, free broadband, digital television channels and telephone line rental. Moreover, there is no deposit to pay - normally in the private-rented sector tenants have to stump up the equivalent of six weeks’ rent.
Rooms for rent on refurbished houseboats are offered by Nice Group, another fast-growing landlord. The company has plans for a fleet of vessels moored on the Thames between Barking and Battersea. It already has a portfolio of 250 houses where rooms are rented to young professionals. Rents start at £575 a month. Visit www.niceroom.co.uk.
British Land has created 23 apartments as part of its York House mixed-use development at Great Cumberland Place, just behind Marble Arch. Rents start at £695 per week for a two-bedroom unit. Contact Kay & Co on 020 7636 2000.
More owners of second homes are opting for short lets as a way of beating the recession, according to website holidaylettings.co.uk. "In most cases, owners can earn more from a week’s rental income than their monthly mortgage repayment will cost them."
* Estate agent Hamptons International is offering tenants a 50 per cent discount on their first month’s rent if they sign up for a property before the end of December. Homes available range from city apartments and mews houses to country cottages and mansions. Visit www.hamptons.co.uk.