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Renting is tougher than ever right now, so how do you play the market and snare your dream flat? Read on

Although they only have about 20 houses to offer at one time, this month, Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward estate agent in Earlsfield signed 140 tenant applications in a week. They hadn’t devised some half-price rental offer, this is just how it is when you’re looking for somewhere to live in London.

Thanks to increased demand and housing shortages, the market is so dire, homehunters often have to settle for less than second best, at the drop of a hat. To make matters worse, autumn is the letting industry’s busiest time of year – meaning agents are even more unlikely to return your calls as they have so many people on their waiting lists, ready to make a snap decision.

“I spend more time choosing a pair of shoes than these people are expected to spend finding a property,” says Caroline Basma, manager of the Wandsworth branch of KFH.

When you’re hunting for a new pad, the most important thing is to be quick, because properties will go on the market and be let within a day. And there are other ways to make yourself stand out to agents and landlords so you’re top of the pile.

Their voicemails and inboxes are always full, so make sure you build a relationship with them, so they remember you enough to give you first dibs on properties.

Basma says: “If you are the person that phones the agent and has a rapport with them, they’ll think ‘aww, they were really sweet, they’d be really good tenants, I’ll call them’. Just be really memorable.”

On the subject of how often to call the agent, Basma says don’t bombard them – phone no more than every two days. However, meeting agents and landlords in person always works best.

Miles Shipside, commercial director at Rightmove.co.uk, suggests showing prospective landlords photos of places you’ve previously rented to prove that you’re a tidy tenant.

And Basma has even had people inviting the landlord to visit their current flat or house. It’s all about thinking outside the box and doing whatever you can.

Offering rent up front is an option – it’s been known for tenants to pay for six months in advance to secure the property and also get a discount. Shipside says it’s also worth speaking to agents to see whether their clients want a long or short-term let as that can be a big swinging factor. Be prepared to be flexible if it’s a place you really want.

But if you’re fresh here from overseas, without a job, UK reference or UK guarantor, things can get more tricky. Basma advises people in that position to consider renting from a private landlord.

“Agents are getting stricter and stricter in their referencing criteria,” she says. “With the recession and people losing their jobs, it’s easy for the landlord to turn round and blame the agent for poor qualification.”

If your references are thin on the ground, it’s worth meeting your prospective landlord to persuade them you would be a great tenant. Giving them your references and saying you’ve got qualifications and have been employed by a good company back home works.

Things do often come down to money, but Shipside says landlords still want to make sure they’ll have a good tenant. And when you do find the flat you want, you need to have your deposit and references all in order, so you can be ready to snare it straight away.

And if all else fails, try some good old-fashioned bribery. When asked if lavishing agents with gifts, cake and chocolates would work, Basma laughs and says: “Yeah, probably!”

Useful tips for when you move in

Yes, it’s boring but it has to be done. Here’s the grown-up stuff...


Protect your deposit
Legally, all deposits have to be protected by the Deposit Protection Sevice (depositprotection.com) to make sure tenants get their money back when they leave. Get proof your landlord has done this.

Check the property is safe
Make sure you see a copy of the landlord’s Gas Safety Certificate – they have to show you by law.

Fill out an inventory
It’s dull, but totally worth having a full inventory. If you don’t, you’re wide open to having cash taken from your deposit. If you don’t have one, the Imfuna Let Lite app, £0.99 for iPhone (itunes.apple.com) lets you create your own with photos.

Useful websites

For scoping out your agent
naea.co.uk
arla.co.uk
nalscheme.co.uk

To see london rents mapped out
london.gov.uk/rents

For if you’ve just got here
moove2london.co.uk

To get hunting
rightmove.co.uk
findaproperty.com

And now for the paperwork
tenantdocs.co.uk

Any problems?
citizensadvice.org.uk


Words: Clare Vooght


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