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How to move to London and find somewhere to rent

20 May 2015 Amy McKechnie Read time: 6 min
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Amy McKechnie

"I want to move to London!" you cry. Well, you're not alone. Hundreds of people from all corners of the world make the move here every week.

I did it, my friends did it, my colleagues did it, and we're having the time of our lives. Don't get me wrong, moving to London isn't always easy... but with a little bit of shared know how and experience, that large leap of faith you're taking will become a little bit smaller.

So you know what to expect, we've come up with some tips from the personal experiences of the Movebubble team who've moved here from South Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Australia and even the USA.

Before you make the move

Firstly, there's something you need to know - the London rental market moves fast, really fast! Most people move within 2-3 weeks of starting their property search! Finding somewhere to live can be a stressful process if you don't prepare.

Make sure you read 20 things you need to know before moving to London to help you get started.

Come to London a few weeks before you're due to start your job (if you already have one sorted) to give yourself time to find a place to rent.

Use a moving checklist to make sure you don't miss any important steps along the way.

Get your references ready

Once you've found somewhere and had an offer accepted everything else will happen fast, so you need to be prepared. The first thing you're agent will need to do is a reference check. To complete this, you should prepare:

  • a financial or employment reference to confirm your salary,
  • a previous landlord or letting agent to confirm that you've been a good tenant and paid your rent on time & kept the property in good condition,
  • in some instances, you may need to prove that you have legal rights to live in the UK.

Much like applying for a job, you need to build a case for why the landlord should want you as a tenant.

Choose 2 potential areas


London café Photo credit: Lars Plougmann


Tip #1: Get to know London before you commit to an area. It can work out cheaper to use sites like Airbnb, or to stay with a friend whilst you're figuring it out.

London is a big place. Make things easier for yourself by looking for somewhere to rent in only one or two areas. This will make searching for & viewing properties easier.

Not every area is the same. Choose the areas you think will be good for you based on price, transport links, the local vibe and where your friends are (check out our popular the best places to live in London guide for more help). There's loads of information about London areas freely available, but it's always best to visit them yourself if you can.

Consider transport costs


Belsize park tube station Photo credit: Nikolai Kelvin


Tip #2: Can't decide if you should get a travelcard or use pay-as-you-go? Pay with your contactless bank card and you'll never pay more than a daily or weekly travelcard fare!

Depending on where you live in London (Zones 1, 2, 3 or 4), the cost of public transport can eat into your budget each month.

You should get an Oyster card if you're planning on taking public transport - this is loadable & reusable card that gives you cheaper fares for travel in London. You can't use cash to pay for your bus so you ned to have either an Oyster card or a contactless payment card to ride the bus.

You can either travel pay-as-you-go, or get a travelcard. Both are cheaper than paying with cash, but travelcards work out even cheaper over time if you plan on using public transport more regularly. If you are just sticking within Central London, pick up a Zone 1 & 2 pass. The more zones and days you choose, the more you pay. A 7 day Travelcard will cost you £32.10* for zones 1-2.

Work out how much you'll be spending on commuting when choosing your area.

(* prices correct at time of publish, Aug 2015).

Start your search

Tip #3: Be realistic. Decide what you really need from your home before you start looking. 

There are a few ways you can do this, but we're biased, and think the easiest and fastest way to do this is to get the Movebubble app.

Most properties will come onto the market around 1 month before they're available. If you don't need to move for another 6 months, you should wait a few months to start your search.

You'll need to be realistic. Unfortunately, London rentals are expensive and the market moves fast. There's an average of 7 renters chasing each available property, and places stay on the market for a few weeks at most. It's not uncommon for places to be snapped up within 24 hours of coming to market!

Be prepared to make a decision quickly. Make sure you know the things you are & aren't willing to compromise on before you start your search.

Viewing properties


Check the water pressure Photo credit: Geoffrey Fairchild


Tip #4: Book for properties that are near each other to cut down the travel time between viewings. This means you can view more places in a day.

Now is your chance to ask the right questions! Here's a few to get you started....

  • Why did the last tenant move out?
  • What are the neighbours like?
  • What kind of heating is installed?
  • What fixtures/furniture are included?
  • What council tax band is the property in?
  • How much should you expect the monthly bills to be?
  • Can I bring my cats?
  • Am I allowed to redecorate?
  • Who else has keys to the property?

There are a few things worth checking in the property too;

  • check the water pressure in the shower,
  • make sure the bath and shower are fully sealed around the edge,
  • make sure the toilet flushes and there are no cracks in the pan or cistern,
  • check for any signs of damp on the walls,
  • check the oven works (and is clean),
  • check all the kitchen cupboards & sink are in full working order with no damage,
  • look to see if the floors have dipped or moving boards,
  • check to see if all the electrical switched work,
  • do all windows and doors open & close properly?
  • Is there a Sky dish?
  • Do all the electrical switches work?
  • What internet cables are there (if any)?

Make an offer


Stand out from the crowd Photo credit: Craig Sunter


Tip #5: Consider negotiating on things other than the price to make your offer stand out from others.

As soon as you find the place you love, it's time to take action! Wait around too long, and someone might beat you to it. It's not uncommon for people to make an offer whilst at the viewing.

Now's your chance to negotiate.

  • It's not all about the money: Consider negotiating other terms of the contract such as a 6 month break-clause, rolling notice period, redecoration or new furniture instead of offering below the asking price.
  • Furnished or unfurnished: Some landlords might be open to renting the property unfurnished at a reduced monthly price. Check with the agent before making this offer to see if it's an option.
  • Be the best (or at least be perceived to be): Make the landlord perceive you as the best choice for a tenant by sharing information that will help to show yourself in a good light. Remember, landlords are looking for tenants who can pay the rent on time and look after the property.
  • Pay in advance: If you don't have the best rental history or are missing some of the references required, an option might be to pay more rent in advance. If you can afford to pay 3, 6 or even 12 months rent in advance, the landlord might be more open to considering your offer.

One important question to ask yourself is, "Can I afford to miss out?". When negotiating the offer it's important to consider your position. If you need to move within a week, you might want to re-think if that new oven is really worth missing out on the property...?

Fee of Intent

Congratulations! Your offer has been accepted by the landlord, now it's time to make sure your new home comes off the market (and away from the competition!).

Most agencies will require you to pay a non-refundable 'holding deposit'. The value varies from agency to agency but you can expect to pay  around £500, which will be taken off your total deposit amount.

In addition to the deposit, you may be required to sign a 'Fee of Intent' form, or similar. This should clearly outline the terms of the accepted offer, the estimated costs involved in the let, and details of any standard charges. There should be opportunity to include any special requests you require prior to move in (e.g. that new cooker that was included in the accepted offer letter).

Once you have paid the holding fee, you should insist that the advertising agent removes the property from anywhere that is being advertised.

Tenancy checks


Tenant Inspection Photo credit: Pascal


Tip # 6: It can take a long time to get in touch with old landlords. Be prepared early on so you don't hold up progress at this stage.

The next step if for the agent to perform a tenancy check. This is usually at cost to the tenant, and should be outlined in the fee of intent form. These are usually completed by an independent third party.

Sign the contract

Once you've passed the checks, it's time to sign on the dotted line. Make sure you read the contract in detail before you sign! Seek legal advise if you are unsure of any sections.

Pay the deposit & first month's rent

This is normally around 6 weeks rent, and the holding fee will be deducted from the total amount. It's also common to be asked to pay the first 6 weeks rent upfront.

Once the balance has been cleared but the agent, you can arrange the moving day and key collection.

Move day


Front doors Photo credit: Esteban Chiner


Arrange a time to collect the keys and ask when the inventory will be completed. This might be at the same time  you're given the keys. You might want to think about hiring a van to help move your possessions. And you're in! Now it's time to sit back, relax, and maybe even order a take away to celebrate.

Remember - Don't panic!

You'll have moment's when you wonder if you've made the right decision but remember, the first part of moving to London is the hardest! Once you're settled in your new home you'll have plenty of time to explore London and all the amazing things the city has to offer.

If you want any more help moving to London then contact us at hello@movebubble.com and we'll be happy to try and help!

For a quick snapshot, you can also read 20 things to know before moving to London.


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