There aren’t many things more stressful than moving. While a fresh flat is incredibly exciting, it comes with a ton of anxiety: What could go wrong?
Your new rental could bring with it a deadbeat landlord or party animal neighbours. The tenancy deposit might be over the legal limit. The flat could be hiding a whole plague of problems, from sneaky leaks to gross insect infestations. It might be perfect… except for the building manager, who insists on doing all electrical repairs despite knowing absolutely nothing about electricity.
The good news is that by asking the right questions before you sign that tenancy agreement, you’ll be able to avoid a nightmare. Here are some top tips to what you should keep in mind as you hunt for your dream flat.
1. What’s the building’s security like?
Find out if break-ins have been a problem, or if Amazon package thieves are regularly striking the foyer. Ask what security measures are in place, like cameras on the building exterior or in the front hallway.
Also, it’s worth checking if the flat has a carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm.
2. How about all the small details?
Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure to test out important facets of the rental property.
Run the taps in the bathroom and kitchen, turn the shower on to get an idea of the water pressure and if there’s hot water to begin with, see if all the stove burners ignite and if the radiators are in working order. Plug your cell phone into each outlet to make sure they’re working.
If anything seems amiss or broken, confirm that the landlord will address the issues ASAP—preferably before you move in—and make sure to get that commitment in writing.
3. Does the flat (or building) have a recent history of bed bugs?
Few things will ruin the hygge vibes of your new home like knowing that you share the space with bloodsucking parasites.
Bed bugs are the pits: tenacious and disgusting, plus time-consuming and expensive to properly exterminate. And BTW, contents insurance won’t cover the treatment costs…
Don’t just ask about your specific unit, either. One of the bed bug’s least charming qualities is its ability to travel vertically or horizontally within a building… so that nightmare on the 4th floor might be yours on the ground floor, if the right measures aren’t taken.
4. What are the neighbours like?
This one can get a little dicey. For instance, a prospective tenant can’t say to the landlord, “BTW, I hate kids—so noisy and distracting! Can you tell me if any young families live above me or in the building?”
But it should be reasonable to get a general impression of who your neighbours are, as well as an idea about how much turnover there is. If the landlord or building management company rep seems to have no idea who his tenants are—or you get the feeling that the place is a revolving door, with people moving in and out all of the time—that might be a red flag. Noisy neighbours may be the least of your worries.
5. Where are the nearest shops and amenities?
Find out what sort of basic services—convenience shops, chemists, hardware stores, a decent wholesale market where the fresh produce isn’t actually ‘vintage’ produce circa 2019, etc.—are available within a five minute hike from your front door.
6. What’s the (real) deal with pets?
A lot of real estate listings warn against pets of any type, but you might find that it’s a case-by-case basis. A landlord may accept a cat, while keeping a dachshund prone to loud barking might be forbidden.
If the rules are incredibly strict in this regard—and even if you don’t currently have a pet—ask yourself whether you plan to adopt a furry friend in the next three to five years… that way you won’t have to choose between animal companionship and eviction.
7. Do I need to have contents insurance?
There’s no law requiring you to have contents insurance in the UK.
But hey, we’re a bit biased, and we’d argue that contents insurance is a good idea no matter if it’s legally required or not. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s the best way to protect your stuff against theft, damage, and myriad disasters.
8. Who’s the building manager, and where do they live?
If the lock to your building suddenly stops working, or if a water pipe bursts, your building manager is generally the person you’ll need to sort things out. Before you sign your contract, make sure you know who they are.
Do they live in the building or, if not, nearby? Is there any time or day that they’re unavailable, for family or religious reasons? How can you contact them if your bathroom ceiling caves in at two o’clock in the morning?
It might also be a good idea to ask what happens if more major repairs are required—like anything related to plumbing, electrical work, or structural issues in the flat. For those delicate tasks, you’ll want a landlord who’s open to hiring specialists.
9. Does the flat have a history of leaks?
Water leaks are persistent—they’re the kind of thing that can get patched and “repaired,” only to return again and again. (That drip drip, drip drip might just drive you crazy.)
Properly addressing a leak can mean ripping out walls or ceilings, plus having to do the same in flats above or below yours. Ask the landlord if leaks have ever been an issue, and scope out the ceilings to see if you spot any discoloration or signs of water damage.
10. Is there any construction planned in the building, or nearby?
You know what’s not fun? Loving everything about your flat except for the fact that a property next door is being gut-renovated, for an entire year, necessitating a huge construction crew whose tools are all powered by a loud gas generator, the chaotic buzzing of which basically becomes the hellish soundtrack to your aggravating days, until—…Okay, yeah, some of us are maybe still bitter about this.
But seriously, construction noise is the worst, whether it comes from the flat above you or the building to your side. Ask your landlord if anything is planned for the near future, unless your idea of a great WFH set-up involves an air traffic controller’s headset.
11. How loud is it at night?
Maybe the street outside is sedate and quiet when you view your prospective flat on a Tuesday afternoon… and maybe on weekend evenings the curb outside becomes a parade of college kids and couples in the middle of drunken break-ups. Get an honest answer about what noise levels are like at their worst.
12. What about your kids’ safety?
If you have young children, you’ll want to ask the landlord if the flat has any issues with mould or lead paint (and if it has been tested for the presence of either). Whether you’re in the garden flat or on the 10th floor, also check if there are proper security gates or bars installed on the windows, to prevent tragic accidents.
A few last things to keep in mind before you sign that contract…
Yes, we know, you found your absolute dream flat and there are a dozen people lined up, cash in hand, to snag it. YOU DON’T HAVE ALL DAY TO MAKE UP YOUR MIND!
But before you take the leap, here are a few more points to consider if you really want to be exhaustive
- What are the average costs of utility bills and council tax and are they already (partially) included in your rent payment?
- What’s the flat’s energy performance certificate rating (EPC)? The minimum level required is E, ratings of G or F are unsatisfactory and will need to be improved by the landlord.
- How much natural light does the flat get? How is the flat oriented–will it be bright in the morning but overcast and gloomy in the afternoon?
- If the new rental home is furnished or partially furnished, which pieces will actually stay behind when you move in, including the fridge, washing machine and dishwasher.
- If you have a car, how easy is it to find a parking space within the radius of a couple of streets?
- Is there roof access, or access to any shared outdoor space?
- If there’s a lift, how reliable is it? (Regular malfunctions might lead to a great work-out for anyone living on the upper floors, but…)
- Are you allowed to paint and redecorate the flat?
And after you’ve gotten all that out of the way, there’s just one last question to ask…
How soon can I move in?