As a result of COVID-19, there has been a mass exodus of Londoners feeling to live in the countryside or by the seaside in a bid to be surrounded by more greenery and open space. A benefit of this is that it has reduced the competition when looking for flats, and even lowered the prices. A great opportunity for us students!
Having to navigate this market as someone who’s only used to bills-included student accommodations can be difficult! What questions should you ask during viewings? Can certain landlords be trusted? What should rent cost? And what about electricity and gas bills? I have found it is hard to find a general rule of thumb when it comes to negotiating prices. While London is an expensive city to live in, I also know people who have negotiated down their rent by up to £500!
So, where to start?
The first thing you would have to do is think about where you would like to live, which zones and neighbourhoods. Researching the area thoroughly will do you good in the long run, and visiting the places is 100 times better than going off reviews and pictures online (especially when coming from abroad). Look at the location in relation to the commute as well, and while transportation is great in London – it adds up and can get expensive. I would recommend checking out TFL’s page to get an idea of what the commuting costs would be for each zone and area.
If you are an international student moving from abroad, I strongly recommend never signing a flat without having had a viewing! When you first arrive in the UK, stay at a hostel or Airbnb and take some time to look around. You want to make sure you’re 100% certain and comfortable with the location and the property itself.
A few top tips when viewing a property are to test and check the following:
- Does the hot water work? Run the taps and make sure
- Check the windows, are they double-glazed? Is air coming in? This is important to consider in the cold winter months as poor insulation will result in you paying extra for heating.
- Check for damp and mould. Look in the showers, sinks and windows where moisture and condensation might get caught!
- Ask about the building’s history, has there been a history of mould, leaks or even bedbugs - you never know what might pop up in the future.
If you intend on staying in the UK after graduation then it is also worth considering how much you may earn after you graduate and adjust your flat search accordingly. The government suggests that you should pay 35% of your income (after tax) for rent. Realistically, this is not the case for most people in London, some people pay up to 50% to rent. But I would advise you to never go beyond that budget.
Can you haggle?
Landlords are business savvy and usually, the asking price is higher than what they are willing to settle for. You can negotiate on the price. Always offer less than you would expect to pay and have an amount in mind that works for you. The opportunity cost of accepting the price head-on when you could have gotten it for 10% cheaper will definitely hurt you don’t try to negotiate and think of the savings in the long run!
What about bills?
Something that you definitely should consider once you have graduated is the council tax. It varies greatly depending on which area and zone you live in, and it can get quite expensive. The same goes for electricity and gas, your energy efficiency rating varies per flat, and because of that, the prices vary a lot! Never blindly accept the supplier given at the start of your tenancy, research which provider is the best for you. USwitch is a great website for this!
Personally, I was able to save £70/year by switching provider, and while that is not much, it is still something. It is also great to have a provider with efficient communication, and no exit fees. TV License is also something you have to be careful about if you consider getting a TV or use BBC on demand, as you may be liable for fines if you don’t pay it.
All in all, the housing situation in London is not as scary as it seems. Give it time, do some proper research and don’t accept contracts blindly! Think carefully about your own situation, and what kind of budget is suitable for your needs and future. Not everybody’s situation is the same, but I hope that these few tips might help prospective students coming to London for the first time!