UK Letting Agents: Advice for Expats

Moving to the UK as a working expat comes with its fair share of challenges, one of them being securing suitable housing. When navigating UK rental markets, many expats will have to engage with a letting agent. This comprehensive guide will explain how to deal with letting agents while addressing tenant requirements like credit checks and tenant profiles.

What are Letting Agents?

Letting agents are intermediaries between landlords and potential tenants. They are hired by landlords to manage properties, handle tenant issues, and oversee anything related to property letting. Their role covers advertising properties, arranging viewings, conducting reference and credit checks, preparing tenancy agreements, and managing the property on behalf of the landlord.

It is worth noting that not all landlords employ the services of a letting agent. You will normally find property ads from these landlords in local newspapers and on sites such as OpenRent, Upad and SpareRoom. Our advice is to tread cautiously here. Although there is a small number of questionable letting agents, as in any industry, UK lettings legislation is extremely complex, and many landlords do not fully understand it.

Advantages of Engaging with a Letting Agent

The level of service and support varies by agent, but in general, they simplify the entire rental process for tenants. Below are some potential benefits and advantages for tenants using a letting agent rather than going directly to the landlord.

Note that letting agents aren’t allowed to charge tenants fees (unless the tenancy is not an Assured Shorthold Tenancy), so fees charged by letting agents are paid by the landlord.

  • Expertise and Experience: Letting agents are experts in property rentals with experience dealing with landlords, property management, and tenant needs. They can help guide tenants through the process and serve as an intermediary between tenant and landlord.
  • More Property Options: Letting agents typically have access to a larger number of rental properties and landlord listings. This provides a greater variety of properties for tenants to select from.
  • Verification and Vetting: Letting agents usually verify landlord details and vet the property before listing. This provides tenants with assurance upfront.
  • Reduced Scams: Using an established letting agent reduces the likelihood of scams, as opposed to answering landlord ads online, which are more risky.

Understanding the UK Rental Market

If you’re an expat moving to the UK, getting familiar with the rental market is essential.

Here are some points to consider:

Understanding Tenancy Durations

Tenancies in the UK typically last between six months and a year or more. Standard leases, also known as assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs), usually start with a fixed term of 6 months to a year. After this initial period, your lease might roll into a periodic tenancy, which normally runs from month to month or week to week.

Weekly Rent vs. Monthly Rent

The method for quoting rent prices depends heavily on the location. It’s quite common in high-rent, high-demand locations like London for rent to be quoted on a weekly basis. Why? It makes the cost appear lower. But be aware that rent is usually paid on a monthly basis.

To convert weekly rent to monthly rent, you can’t simply multiply by 4, as this would only give you a 4-week total and months are typically longer than 4 weeks.

  • The correct formula is (Weekly Rent x 52) ÷ 12
  • E.g. The weekly rent is £1,250
  • The monthly rent is (1,250 × 52) ÷ 12 = £5,416.67

This calculation will give you the accurate amount you should expect to pay each month.

Research Prior to Engaging with Letting Agents

Before you start working with letting agents, make sure to conduct thorough, independent research. This will help not only in understanding how the market operates but also in defining your own needs and budget.

Look into rental prices in different areas, understand the costs associated with renting such as security deposit (usually up to 5 weeks’ rent), and get an idea of how long properties stay on the market.

Also, familiarise yourself with the different residential areas and understand which ones are more likely to meet your individual requirements in terms of proximity to work, schools, local amenities, and social scene.

Finding a Trustworthy Letting Agent

Begin by searching reputable sources like Rightmove or Zoopla. Ensure the letting agent belongs to a professional body like the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) or the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA). This guarantees adherence to a professional code of practice and offers enhanced protection for you as a tenant.

Viewing Properties

When viewing properties with a letting agent, it’s important to be prepared and ask relevant questions to ensure that the property meets your needs. Here are some tips and considerations for viewing properties with a letting agent:

  • Coordinate and Be Prepared: Coordinate with your letting agent to arrange property viewings. Be prepared by ensuring that everyone involved in the decision-making process can attend the viewings.
  • Ask Relevant Questions: During the property visits, ask questions about important aspects such as heating, ventilation, noise levels, expected repairs, bill payments, and utility fees. This will help you gather all the necessary information to make an informed decision.
  • Take Notes and Photos: It’s useful to take photos of the properties you are viewing to remember which ones you liked. Additionally, note down the answers to your questions and any other notes that may be useful later on.
  • Safety and Security: If possible, avoid viewing properties alone. Take someone with you or attend the viewing with the letting agent for an additional pair of eyes and for safety reasons.
  • Be Thorough and Act Quickly: Pay attention to the finer details of the property and act quickly if you find a property that meets your requirements, as the rental market can be fast-paced and competitive.

Tenant Checks and Requirements

Once you decide on a property, the letting agent will request the following:

  • Credit check: To assess your financial stability and if you can afford the rent. If you’ve recently arrived in the UK, you may lack a credit history. In this case, the letting agent might ask for additional documentation, like bank statements, or request a guarantor who’s a UK resident.
  • Reference checks: Contact details of your current or previous landlord(s) and your employer’s reference are needed to verify your employment status and income. Prepare these beforehand to expedite the process.
  • Right to Rent check: Verification of your legal right to live and work in the UK. You’ll need to provide documents such as your passport, visa, or your share code from the government website.
  • Tenant profile: While not always compulsory, some letting agents may request a tenant profile highlighting your personal and financial background, employment history, and the reason for renting. In essence, the profile presents you as a desirable tenant.

Making an Offer

Submit any offers through the letting agent. Negotiation may be possible, depending on market conditions at the time.

Clearly state the conditions of your offer, as this will ensure everything is clear and provide you with something to refer to throughout the process.

Include the following items:

  • Property address
  • Rent amount offered
  • Start date
  • Length of tenancy
  • Break clause (A provision in the tenancy agreement that allows for the early termination of the agreement before the specified end date.)
  • Option to renew (A provision in the tenancy agreement that gives the tenant the right to extend the lease for an additional term after the initial tenancy term has expired.)
  • Tenant name(s)
  • Occupier name(s)
  • Pets
  • Special conditions (Usually included in a separate section at the end of the tenancy agreement and encompassing anything agreed between the tenant and the landlord that is not in the main body of the contract, e.g. redecoration, landord to provide white goods, etc.)

Keep in mind that a holding deposit is typically required upon acceptance of your offer in order to withdraw the property from the market and halt viewings by other prospective tenants. The holding deposit is usually deducted from the security deposit that you will need to pay.

Tenancy Agreement

When entering into a rental agreement, it’s important for tenants to carefully review the document known as the tenancy agreement. This is a legally binding contract that outlines the terms and conditions of your stay in a rented property.

The UK property legislation is extensive, complex, and ever-changing. Shelter’s guidance sections provide a thorough reference to what to look for in your rental agreement. If in doubt, take legal advice or contact a specialist relocation agent like Klippa.

Moving In

When moving into your rental property, having a property inventory check with your letting agent is important. An inventory is a detailed report on the rental property and its contents, created at the beginning of the tenancy and used to record the condition of the property. Having a comprehensive inventory can help you get your full deposit back, as it provides clear evidence of the property’s condition at the beginning of the tenancy.

Here are the key points to consider:

Understanding the Inventory

An inventory should have an overview of the whole property and a list of its contents, including details about their condition, such as the walls, ceiling, floor, paintwork, carpets, furniture, and appliances.

It’s advisable to attend the initial inventory check if possible and carefully review the report during your first few days in the property.

Tenant’s Responsibilities

As a tenant, you have a key role to play in the inventory process. It’s important to thoroughly examine every aspect of the property and, if possible, take clear and date-stamped photos for your own reference.

You can change the inventory to record anything that’s wrong and you should only sign and date the inventory when you’re happy it’s accurate.

Professional Inventory

While it’s not a legal requirement for an inventory to take place, it’s beneficial for tenants to ensure a professional inventory is conducted. If the landlord or letting agent does not provide an inventory, tenants can consider commissioning their own report to ensure a fair and accurate assessment.

Final Thoughts

Though daunting initially, engaging a letting agent as a newly arrived working expat becomes manageable with a thorough understanding of your rights and obligations. Stay proactive, ask questions, and maintain open lines of communication in order to make the most of your new home in the UK.

Speak to one of our experts or send a message today and find out how we can add value to your relocation programme.

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