Flat-searching in London and wondering what the heck these agents are talking about? Perhaps not if you’re a local, but for anyone moving to London from the U.S., Canada, or elsewhere internationally, it can be a completely different language. To reiterate our caution put forth in a previous blog post about flat searching in London, it’s no easy feat without a relocation specialist when the property market works differently here.
As much as the realtor (called a “lettings agent” or “negotiator” here) might not understand you when you reference your “condo” back home, you may not understand some of the terms that they put forth, such as a “mews” or that the “first floor” is actually what you know to be the second floor and not the ground level. Perhaps the first and most frequent source of confusion is the quotation of rent prices, whether online or verbally–these will be in terms of PER WEEK as opposed to per month, which can serve to tease your expectations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, as they say. So, to convert that per week figure to a monthly one that is more conducive to your budgeting, multiply it by 4.33 (which is the equivalent of multiplying it by the 52 weeks of the year and dividing by 12 months).
With that monthly figure in mind, add to that 6 times the weekly rent to capture the first month’s rent and 6-week deposit that you will have to pay up front to the agency representing the property. This does not yet include any additional administrative fees the agency may tack on (which London Relocation Ltd. will cover if you go through us so that it would be no extra cost to you). Of particular outrage especially during the summer months is when students are asked to fork over up to 6 months’ rent in advance unless they can provide a UK-based guarantor of the funds–and even then, there is no guarantee the landlord will accept them under that condition.
This is a case where the art of negotiation must come into play to find compromise with demanding landlords or risk losing the property. Also necessary to negotiate are aspects like furniture (what will be provided/replaced/put in storage by the landlord) and whether the rent price also includes utilities—and brace yourself, because whereas landlords in the States would not pass on their property taxes to their tenants, such is not the case here with the council tax. YOU, the tenant, bear the responsibility of paying that bill, not the owner of the property. That one stings expats every time when they’re not accustomed to that practice in their home country.
But getting back to negotiating items like furniture, you must be wary of your lettings agent—unless the landlord is there in person to vouch for it (which is rare), it is very common for the agent to make promises that the landlord can not or will not deliver. It is so cynical to say, but so many in the industry will say whatever they need to in order to make the commission. If they make a white lie that you discover will not be followed through on only after you’ve already signed the tenancy agreement and paid your upfront costs if not already moved in, no matter how much you kick and scream, that agent will have still made money off you, so why should they care? They’ll have already moved on to their next source of cash. Our advice if that happens? You probably won’t make much progress with the landlord if they didn’t agree to whatever the agent promised to begin with, so go straight to their supervisor and lodge a complaint. Don’t be shy about going over their heads—they need to learn some way.
While the lease itself will likely look standard to what you’ve seen at home (and they typically are), just be advised that there is no industry-wide standard, so the terms may vary agency to agency. As I also addressed in my previous post, “M.L.S. = M.I.A.,” you might want to include a break clause in your contract that will give you an optional out after a specified duration of time (typically 6 months), with no penalty. You may also want to read through the language thoroughly to make sure that it holds landlords accountable for respecting your tenant rights should any maintenance and repairs be required within the property. What is reasonable for you to expect with regard to their responsibilities should be clearly defined at the outset.
One aspect in working with lettings agents that can be tricky to gauge is their inevitable sense of urgency—especially if you’re relocating from another country, they know that you probably feel a sense of impulsiveness in just wanting to get your living situation sorted already, and they’ll prey on that for certain. That being said, however, their repetition of how the property will probably fly off the shelf by the next day if you don’t put forward an offer soon is not entirely unfounded. Property does move fast, and we have had clients who lose their top choices due to hesitance. If you are offering less than what the landlord is asking, not taking them up on a preliminary acceptance might indeed mean losing your flat the next day to a higher bidder. And in the summer, even if you’re willing to meet the price, an offer could have flown in just after you toured the flat and been accepted on the spot. This can be terribly nerve-racking and filled with much second-guessing when there is so much money on the line and it’s a decision that will impact your standard of living for the next year or so!
This is why London Relocation Ltd. prides itself on our selection of 18-25 properties that you will view in one day—the quantity ensures you are seeing the spectrum of what you could reasonably expect for your budget in a given locale, and the one-day timeframe ensures you can make the comparisons and conduct your process of elimination expediently to arrive at a decision that you’re comfortable with by the end of that same day. Don’t believe that that’s possible? Just ask our previous clients!