More people than ever are renting.
In fact, it’s estimated that tenants will outnumber homeowners in the UK by 2039.
But despite the rise and rise of renting, moving out and taking on a tenancy agreement for the first time can be a daunting prospect.
There’s a lot to consider and be aware of, too, but this guide is here to help and will take you through everything you need to know before renting for the first time…
What do I need to know before renting?
There’s a lot to think about when moving out to rent your own property, so here are our top-10 tips for first-time home renters…
1. Look at your finances
The first thing to establish before renting a property is that you can afford to do it.
As well as your deposit and monthly rent, you’ll need to consider other potential ongoing costs, including:
- Utility bills, like gas, electric and water
- Council tax
- Other bills like broadband and TV subscription services
When you apply to rent a property, your landlord or letting agent will perform checks, usually through an external referencing service, to assess your suitability as a tenant.
These checks will include a financial assessment and you’ll need to provide:
- Proof of identity (driving licence or passport)
- Proof of current address (valid utility bill)
- Proof of income (payslips and bank statements, or accounts if self-employed)
- An employer’s reference
- The referencing company will also carry out a credit check to assess your history of paying your bills.
It’s always best to take a detailed look at your finances before trying to rent a property.
- Look at your salary and regular outgoings. Is what remains enough to pay rent and cover your additional bills from renting?
- Look at your credit score online through a company like Experian. If your score is low, there may be steps you can take to improve it before you rent a property
If you think your credit and financial history may produce some red flags, you may be able to use a guarantor to support your application.
A guarantor is someone, usually a parent, who agrees to cover your rent should you be unable to pay it during your tenancy.
If your letting agent or landlord is concerned about your ability to afford the rent, they may request you have a guarantor, so think about who may be willing to support your application before you actually apply for a tenancy.
2. Research locations and properties
Once you’ve been through your finances and you’re set on taking on your first rental property, it’s time to start looking at locations and properties.
The location you choose can have a huge bearing on the amount of rent you’ll pay.
Indeed, there may be a huge difference in rent between two similar properties in different postcodes.
- What you can comfortably afford to pay in monthly rent
- The size of property you need
- The ideal area you want to live in
You should also consider how important it is for you to live close to family and friends, or transport links for work.
Do you want to be in the middle of a big town or city, or do you seek peace and quiet?
Once you’ve established these ideals, you may have to compromise on property size or style, or your ideal area to find a rental home you can afford.
Look online for properties that fit your budget and needs and make a list of the ones you like.
Rightmove and Zoopla are great places to start.
3. Compare monthly rents
Compare the monthly rents for properties you like and look at how those properties compare against each other.
- Where are they located and what amenities / transport links are they close to?
- How does the size of each property compare and how does this relate to the monthly rent?
- How does the condition of each property compare?
- How does the monthly rent of properties you like compare with those you don’t?
4. Furnished or unfurnished?
Deciding whether to rent a furnished or unfurnished property is another big decision when taking on your first tenancy.
When renting for the first time, you may not have furniture of your own, so renting a furnished property can be a great way to avoid the extra expense of buying items.
However, you may wish to start buying your own things and doing so can be a good investment.
Having your own items can also make a rental property feel more homely.
5. Speak to your local letting agent
Once you’ve found properties that you like, contact the local letting agent on the listing.
A good letting agent will make the process of renting for the first time easy and stress-free.
Here’s what you should look for from a letting agent:
- Membership of a property redress scheme – either the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme
- Membership of an approved trade body like ARLA, RICS or the NAEA
- Good online reviews and a professional online presence
- Good communication and transparency with costs
6. Be aware of property scams
If the property you’re looking to rent has been listed by a local letting agent, you can be pretty certain it’s legitimate.
However, there are a number of potential property scams you should be aware of.
- Fake property listings – tenants register their interest in a listing for a property that doesn’t exist, before paying a holding deposit to secure the property before a viewing
- Fake letting agents and landlords – scammers sometimes pretend to be an agent or landlord, even showing potential tenants around spoof properties. They then request a deposit in cash and disappear
To avoid potential rental property scams:
- Only registered agents can list properties for rent on the major online portals, so stick to these when searching
- Never pay any money up front before you’ve seen a property and established that the landlord or agent listing it is legitimate
For more guidance on avoiding property scams, take a look at this guide.
7. Be focused during viewings
Viewing properties is one of the most exciting aspects of renting for the first time.
After all, one of the properties you look at could become your first independent home.
However, it’s important to not get too caught up in the emotions that come with viewings.
Stay focused on your needs and be thorough when looking around.
Be sure to:
- Look at the property’s exterior – this will give you an idea of how well it’s been maintained. Keep an eye out for damaged brickwork, cracked render or poorly maintained windows
- Measure all rooms in the property – make sure the size of the property you’re viewing meets your needs
- Test fixtures and fittings – don’t be afraid to switch on lights, turn on taps and open cupboards and doors to make sure everything works as it should
- Look at security – how good are locks on windows and doors and does the property have an alarm?
- Check the mobile phone signal – look at your phone’s reception in each room of the house
- Think about noise – assess noise levels from traffic or other properties inside and outside of the property you’re viewing
- Check for storage – does the property have enough storage for your needs?
- View again – if you’re keen on the property you’re looking at, make sure you view it for the second time before committing. Viewing at a different time of day can be helpful when assessing noise levels, too
Finally, make sure you ask your letting agent or landlord plenty of questions about the property and the tenancy.
8. Understand the tenancy agreement and your obligations
Your tenancy agreement is the contract both you and your landlord will sign at the start of your tenancy.
Tenancy agreements can be tricky to understand, but it’s important you know exactly what you’re signing up for.
Your agreement is likely to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) and should list:
- The start and end date of the fixed term of your tenancy
- Details of any break clause
- The amount of monthly rent
- The date the rent must be paid
- The address of the rental property
- The name and address of the landlord and letting agent, as well as you
- The deposit amount and the scheme that it’s protected in
- Bills you’re responsible for as the tenant
- Whether or not pets or smoking are allowed
- Garden maintenance requirements for tenant / landlord
- Your landlord / agent’s responsibilities for maintenance and property inspections
9. Find out about deposits
Under the Tenant Fees Act, your landlord is only permitted to request a tenancy deposit of five weeks’ rent (if the annual rent is less than £50,000).
If your landlord requests a holding deposit to secure the property while referencing is completed, this must be no more than one week’s rent.
Your deposit must also be protected in one of three government-approved schemes within 30 days of your tenancy starting:
- The Deposit Protection Service
- Tenancy Deposit Scheme
10. Know who to contact
Communication between landlord and tenant is key to any successful and happy tenancy.
Your tenancy agreement should outline who you need to contact in the event of an emergency.
Sometimes, serious maintenance issues do occur during tenancies and knowing who to contact is key to getting things fixed as quickly as possible.
Your first-time home renter checklist
- Get your finances in order
- Do your research on properties and locations
- Make sure you have saved your deposit
- Be focused on viewings
- Understand your tenancy agreement, fixed term, and notice periods
- Take care of your rental property and stick to the terms of your agreement
- Report maintenance issues quickly and to the correct person