Recently, a house-hunting acquaintance asked for some advice. I did my best, but afterwards found myself thinking that flat-hunting should be simple and mundane, like popping out for a pint of milk and a paper. Instead, it’s a daunting task, one requiring tireless bravery, ingenuity and dogged persistence.
When preparing for such an expedition, I’d recommend the following equipment: dry rations, water, satnav, mace-spray (or as we call it here, Lynx for Men) bullet-proof vests, rounders bats (for rounders, and/or clubbing assailants) night-vision goggles and flares (emergency beacons, not trousers.)
Then you’ll need a mule-train to carry lawyers, guarantors, referees, previous landlords, counsellors, UN negotiators, body-guards, and an accredited local guide/fixer.
Apart from that, here are some tips.
1 Avoid letting agents. Seriously, as far as possible, stay away. They charge random and bizarre fees. My favourite is a Finance Fee – basically, a fee to collect and charge fees. Brilliant! These financial machinations are so complex that even famous professors of quantum physics weep for their own stupidity (convincing evidence suggests that certain particles appear randomly from nowhere; how is that also true of agency fees?)
2 Try post-offices, local papers and supermarket notice-boards, friends, and workplace intranet message boards, or online (NB see previous post.) Anything but letting-agents!
3 Landlords ask much of tenants in terms of information. Don’t be afraid to ask back. You need to know whether they have a commercial, buy-to-let mortgage, because so-called ‘forced’ landlords are by nature temporary, intending to sell up the moment they perceive the teensiest green shoots in the property market. Where mortgage are personal, and should the property be repossessed, the first you’ll know is when the bailiffs come hammering. Having tenants under a personal mortgage can invalidate landlord’s insurance. So, ask away. Then, if they ask for two years worth of bank statements (the latest wheeze) casually, request a blood sample ‘…for your private collection.’ That’ll freak them out.
4 Landlords are obliged to possess various documents - HMO licences, and energy efficiency certificates being the most prominent. Cynics insist these papers are worthless, but compliance indicates a landlord who is mindful of regulations and doing things properly. Maybe.
5 Don’t sign the S.21 Notice. Don’t do it. Don’t! Agents (if you are found in their dreadful embrace) and landlords will try and convince you that it’s nothing - just a silly piece of paper, which doesn’t allow them to evict tenants on a whim. If it’s unimportant, why are they so keen for you to sign?
6 Ensure deposits are immediately registered with the Deposit Protection Scheme. Carefully point out that if they don’t, courts can oblige owners to cough up three times the deposit. Tell them this.
7 Give the place a forensic once over. Take photos, and send a ‘snag’ list, documenting any problems, marks and flaws. Don’t wait a few weeks, as they’ll argue that previous damage is your fault.
8 In apartment blocks, check flats aren’t listed on Apartment Hotel websites, avoiding regular disruptive stag-parties (in short read up on Dovecot Towers.)
9 Get everything in writing, always, no matter how decent landlords seem.
I hope this is helpful. Now, go get ‘em.