The accidental landlord: Do your research and be ready to move fast

Victoria Whitlock offers advice to would-be tenants entering the tough rental market for the first time
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Like Dick Whittington, I moved to London expecting to find the streets paved with gold, but instead I found that they were crowded and dirty and there was nowhere decent to live. That was a long time ago, but it hasn’t got any easier to find somewhere to rent — if anything it has got harder, even without a cat.

The Association of Retail Letting Agents said this week that half its members have more tenants on their books than available properties and we haven’t even reached the busiest months of the year yet, which tend to be from May to September.

So here’s some advice for any tenants entering into the bunfight for the first time: avoid using letting agents that charge high tenancy fees.

It’s ridiculous to pay someone £100, £200 or more to find you a property which you could find for yourself. You will find lots of private lets on websites such as and, and all the major property websites allow you to refine your search by postcode, number of bedrooms and budget.

If you’re renting, it is best you strike up a relationship with your landlord from the outset, then you know what you’re in for. Some are very nice.

If you research the property before you visit, you will avoid wasting time viewing duds. Write a list of questions to ask the landlord — they won’t mind because they don’t want to waste time on useless viewings either. Is it above a shop, on a housing estate or a main road? Is there a Tube station or a bus stop nearby? Will it come fully furnished? Ask to see photos of the property and look on Google maps to view the area.

If there is more than one of you, then you must all go along and make your decision quickly. There’s no point in trying to view in dribs and drabs — no time for that.

If you like it, view it as soon as you can as good properties go fast. Don’t be persuaded to put down a deposit to secure a property you haven’t seen. If any landlord asks you to do that, they almost certainly haven’t got a property to let. Don’t be late, the tenant there first gets the first viewing.

Make sure you can raise the deposit, usually the equivalent of six weeks’ rent, and the first month’s rent. You’ll be asked for references and your employment details, so have these ready. If you can’t afford the deposit, you could offer to provide a guarantor, which is someone (usually a relative) who will agree to pay your rent if you default.

If you’ve got a good job and have some excellent references, and you make a good impression on the landlord, they will probably accept a slightly lower rent than the one advertised. I would happily drop my asking price by 10 per cent for the right tenant who appeared efficient, looked clean and was tidy and polite.

Most landlords and all letting agents run credit checks on prospective tenants, for which you might be charged a non-refundable fee. It costs from £15 to £40 so you shouldn’t be asked to pay any more, but some agents will charge you an administration fee on top.

Some agents will ask for a “holding deposit” before they put your offer to the landlord. If you’re asked for one, make sure it’s refundable if you don’t end up getting the property.

Finally, if the property is perfect, don’t dither — it won’t be on the market for long.

* Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

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