We know what it's like, once you've spotted your ideal flat or house you love and can afford, it's easy to get carried away in excitement whilst viewing it.
The market moves fast, and you want to be sure you secure it. But wait just a moment; it's only after you've moved in that you may realise things aren't quite what they seem and start to wish you'd asked more questions. We're here to help you get the questions you need, so you can then focus on securing that pad!
Start by making a list of features which you'd consider as 'must haves', these are going to be the absolute essentials that you can't live without, for example, the location, commutes to work or schools, number of rooms, access to public transport, a secure garden, a dog-friendly landlord.
Then think about the 'would likes', these are the things you'd prefer but you would compromise on if you had to. Such as parking, yes, you'd ideally like a drive or garage, but if the property was perfect in all other aspects, would you consider parking on the road, or would you prefer to compromise on the kitchen or garden?
Once you've put your lists together, it's time to consider the questions you may forget to ask. Here goes;
Who is responsible for what?
If you're in a flat, there could be common areas, such as kitchens, gardens, courtyards or hallways. If you're in a shared house, this is even more important. We've all heard those stories of housemates who make Monica from Friends look like a slob, cleaning everything that doesn't move, or hoovering until 3 a.m. or perhaps the opposite; housemates who simply have no interest in hygiene. Understanding who is responsible for what and when is key to handling any future conversations with your housemates. It's also important to protect your possessions.
If you're in a house or a ground floor flat, you might also have a garden to enjoy. However, it's worth asking whose responsibility these areas are to maintain and whether the upkeep will cost you any extra money. Does your tenancy agreement commit you to maintain the garden by cutting the grass and the plants and how frequently (or perhaps your landlord simply asks you to allow a gardener to attend), either way, you need to know what's what.
2. Who lives next door?
Although your landlord or letting agent might not know, it's still a good idea to ask if they have any idea of who the neighbours are – are they noisy, quiet, a family, young or elderly? Do they have pets? Have past tenants had any run-ins with them? Do you feel they'll be compatible with your lifestyle?
Particularly if the property you're preparing to rent is a flat or attached to the neighbouring property, say a terraced or semi-detached, it's key to understand how your neighbours' lifestyle habits could impact you. For example, do they work unsociable hours?
3. What's it like at night?
Find out if the area is well lit at night and whether you'd feel safe walking around alone. Are there any popular bars, pubs or clubs nearby, and can you hear the resulting noise from the property?
It's great for safety if the area is well lit, but it can be a nightmare if your blinds aren't good quality. There's nothing like a brightly lit bedroom to ruin a night's sleep – ask whether you'll receive black-out blinds or, if not, whether you can put some up yourself.
What's public transport like at night? What time does it stop, for example? You may have a car, but on those occasions when you don't – it's being repaired, or you've fancied popping out for a drink or two, it's good to know whether you'll be able to get home or not have to face a £50 taxi ride. (If it's particularly rural, you may even struggle to get taxis – it's always best to check).
4. What's included?
Whether your potential new place is furnished or unfurnished, what you see on a viewing may not be what you get. Furniture may belong to the previous tenant who is in the process of moving out, for example. Make sure you ask what's included to know what you'll need to bring with you.
This doesn't just include furniture; make sure to ask about washing machines, fridges, curtains, light fittings, shower curtains and blinds. If you already own something included with the property, ask if you can replace theirs with your own. Most landlords won't have a problem with you using your own stuff, but they will have a problem if you throw out anything that belongs to them, so it's always best to check.
If you're using the landlord's furniture and fittings, it can be useful to have tenants liability insurance in place. Liability insurance protects you against any accidental damage you cause to the landlord's property, helping to preserve your deposit.
5. Can I decorate?
Many tenancy agreements state that you can't paint the walls, erect shelves, put up pictures or change any decor. If this bothers you, it's always worth asking to remove this clause from your contract.
If the landlord doesn't agree to you decorating, ask them if they can put some picture hooks up for you or check out our blog post to get some ideas about what you can do to make it feel more like home. For example, many great solutions allow you to hang pictures without damaging the wall. It's worth investigating your local DIY store to find out what's available. Another great idea if your landlord isn't into the idea of you redecorating is 'wallpaper pictures'. Simply create large 'canvases' with your favourite wallpaper to stamp your personality into your surroundings without saying goodbye to part of your deposit.
6. Where can I put my stuff?
Think realistically about how much you own and look carefully at the storage solutions in the property. If there isn't enough, ask whether more can be provided or whether you can put up shelves or rails.
If you're bringing your own storage, i.e. drawers or free-standing wardrobes, check they'll fit where you're planning to put them and don't forget access routes such as doors, stairs or even from outside. Are external (and internal) doors wide enough to fit through your lovely four-seater sofa? Can you get your wardrobe up the winding staircase? Once you have all your possessions in your new home, you can protect them from theft, fire and flood with tenants content insurance.
Now you're prepared with all the information; it's time to go forth and find your new rental place!
7. How strong is the internet connection?
Possibly one of the most important considerations in the current age.
Will you be streaming lots of TV, online gaming, or working from home? If so, you must ensure that the internet speeds are strong enough to handle it.
Find out what suppliers are available and the top speeds available at the property.
Not forgetting the equipment you intend to use. Yes, you may just plan to watch your weekly TV solely on your laptop, but realistically, you'll need to know whether or not your landlord provides a TV. If unfurnished, it's unlikely, but even if you're renting furnished, your landlord may not consider a TV part of something they should provide.
Another consideration is how you receive the signal. Again, you may be planning on entirely using internet TV services, but if you're partial to a bit of terrestrial or satellite-based services once in a while, you'll need to know the status of your aerial/satellite dish too.
For example, a new landlord may not allow you to put up a Sky dish, Virgin Media cables may not be in place, or you may have to change the phone line if you want to sign up to BT (which the landlord may not be too happy about unless you ask first). All things to check before you sign.
8. How's the heating & water?
Check what kind of boiler there is and ask if you can check whether hot water comes out of the taps and the radiators work. If it's a combi boiler – great, you'll have hot water literally 'on tap', but if it fails for any reason, you'll have no hot water. Is there a backup, for example, an immersion heater? Don't discount a property if the boiler isn't a combi – a standard boiler will be just fine for most people, provided you've set it up to heat your water daily. If there isn't adequate heating, it's also a good idea to ask if any space heaters are provided (but be aware these can cost more in electricity).
Does your landlord have a service agreement in place for your boiler / other services? What happens if it breaks? How quickly can you expect it to be sorted? Ask if there's a 24-hour phone number you'll be able to call in an emergency. Hopefully, you'll not need to use it, but if a pipe bursts in the middle of the night, it's nice to know it'll be sorted out as soon as possible.
Look for double-glazing to keep the place much warmer than older single-glazed windows. Check for any draughty areas, from doors and windows; these will increase your heating bills.
Finally, check the water pressure in the shower – you'll be glad you did. There's nothing worse than finding out afterwards that the water flow in your shower can't even rinse the shampoo from your hair. Is the shower thermostatic? (which means it will balance out the temperature, so you don't scald/freeze yourself if someone turns on a tap elsewhere) It's good to know if you need to make sure someone doesn't turn on other appliances during your shower or not.
9. How much is it going to cost?
You'll probably already know what the rent will cost (and if not, why not), but there could be other fees too. You'll need to know how much the deposit is, how much rent is needed upfront and what bills are included with the rent. You'll then be able to decide how much you can afford and whether the property is worth the cost. Don't forget to check out Council Tax bands and energy ratings too! A property rated A or B could make you considerable savings throughout the year over one rated D or E.
10. What happens in an emergency?
Who can you call? If your main contact is through a letting agent, what support can they offer you out of hours in case a pipe bursts, you (hopefully not) have a break-in or something else immediate and critical happens?
11. What are my transport options?
If you drive, make sure to ask about parking. You may be given an allocated space or need to get a permit from the council, which could cost you more money.
If more than one of you are moving in, ask how many parking spaces you'll get – you don't want to be fighting over one area. Are there any conditions with the parking, is it allocated or shared? Is there a driveway, is it shared, and so on?
If you don't drive, enquire about local public transport. How far away is it? Is it regular? The novelty of walking four miles to work will soon wear off, and you'll wish you'd asked before moving in.
12. Can you fix this?
Make sure you look carefully for any damage or broken items and raise them before you commit to moving. Your landlord will likely be willing to fix them before you move in, and it'll save you any hassle later on if the problems escalate.
If they can't or won't fix it before you move, take a picture of the damage on moving day and ensure it's logged in your inventory.