The Twenty-Something Series: How to rent for the first time – in 13 steps

Renting for the first time is terrifying. If you're confused about where to start, check out this post, where I share a few tips on how I managed to find my dream flat.

I rented at uni. I rented an old Victorian townhouse-style building with seven other students, and we stayed there for two years. In first year, two of us went down to the student letting agencies, picked up brochures, and we booked a few viewings before picking a place. It was actually really stress-free, given that we were finding a house for eight people.

But finding a place for just me, for six months? Not so easy.

I felt like I was going in blind. My mum helped me out a lot with the whole thing, but I spent several evenings scrolling Pinterest for advice posts, although most weren’t applicable to the UK.

And yet - I found what I'd happily consider my dream flat.

Since this series is all about being a twenty-something, what better to talk about than how to rent for the first time?

1. Work out what kind of property you want to look for.

I’m moving a six-hour drive up north, so I knew I wanted two bedrooms: if my family or friends come to visit, they need somewhere to stay. I also knew I wanted somewhere furnished. My second placement, after six months in this new job I’m due to start, is abroad. Ideally, I didn’t want to have to buy a bunch of furniture and then pay to store it for three months before paying to ship it to wherever my third placement is. I knew I wanted a parking space that was off-road, too. (Gotta think about that car insurance cost.)

2. And work out what you don’t want. 

I didn’t mind so much if I ended up with a house or a flat, but I knew I didn’t really want a mid-terrace house where parking would be a bitch, a ground-floor flat, so that helped narrow my search.

3. Work out what you can afford.

Let’s say your salary works out, post-tax, about £1,500 per month. You don’t want to spend £1,000 of that on rent: you need to pay so many bills (including things like council tax, which I’ll talk about in another post soon), buy food, petrol… And you probably want to spend some of that on yourself. Spend some time working out exactly what you can afford. Get an idea of how much bills might cost you, include things like your Netflix subscription and phone bill, and estimate what kind of rent you can afford to pay.

4. Rightmove is a pretty good place to start.

Of course there’s nothing to stop you going to estate agencies and collecting brochures and browsing their websites, but Rightmove was actually really great, since it collects properties from a huge range of estate agencies. You can filter by location, property type, bedrooms, price, and things like parking space. I also really liked that you can login and like properties, so you can go back and view all the properties you’ve liked.

5. Look at the commuting distance and local amenities. 

Google Maps is great at allowing you to put in your directions between two locations and choosing what time, so I could see what my commute time would be for the kind of time I’d be leaving for work. I didn’t want to commute more than about twenty minutes – especially after my last job ended up with about an hour’s commute each way, which was pretty exhausting, actually – so that meant I narrowed the area I was looking at.

It’s also worth looking for supermarkets and shopping centres around the properties you’re looking at. Is there a corner shop two minutes’ walk down the road? A Tesco a ten-minute drive away? Or do you have to drive forty minutes out of your way to get to a Sainsbury’s Local just for bread and milk?

Oh, and take a look at the surrounding area for the property you’re looking at on Google Street View, just to get an idea.

6. Spreadsheets are your friend, even if they seem like a pain in the ass right now. 

Once you’ve exhausted your property search, go through all of the ones you like the look of and put them into a spreadsheet. I listed things like: the price, number of bedrooms, did it have parking, was it furnished, the commute time, and the estate agent – and, crucially, a link to the property on Rightmove. This made it easy to look at and think, ‘Okay, let’s filter and just look at furnished properties with parking. Which do I like best?’

I also colour-coded the properties and ranked them using my colour code. (Shut up, I’m not a loser, you are.)

7. Book your viewings. 

The spreadsheet I put together actually made it really easy to go through and decide which properties I wanted to book viewings for. For example, if three of my top ten properties were with the same agency, I tried to book all three of them one after the other. I also booked the one I liked most first, because, duh. It’s worth booking as many viewings as you can, in case you end up not liking properties or someone else takes them first. You can always cancel them!

Also, when you ring the estate agent, explain what you’re looking for and what your price range is: they might have a few other properties you missed online available that they think you’d like to see.

8. Visit the area (and no, I don’t mean sightseeing). 

I was heading to Durham for an entire week with my mum. We went up on the weekend and had a few days in a hotel in Durham to view properties during the week, starting on the Monday morning. We spent the weekend driving around the properties, doing the commute from each one, taking a look at any nearby supermarkets.

Now this is something I probably wouldn’t have thought to do, but my parents did immediately, and I’m glad they did. The area is as important to the property as the interior is. I was put off a few properties I’d liked the look of online after we drove to take a look at the building and the estate it was on, and ended up cancelling the viewings as soon as the agencies were open on Monday morning.

9. Don’t forget to consider the practical things. 

If you’re on a third-floor flat that needs to be furnished, is there a lift for you to bring up things like a bed or a sofa or a dining table? Is there a storage cupboard for a hoover and clothes airer? Is your designated parking spot near the door or ten minutes down the street? Do you have a burglar alarm, a smoke alarm, locks on the windows? Is there a washing machine, or at least plumbing for one? Is there mould anywhere? Central heating?

10. You’ll know.

The sensible thing to do would have been to see several properties before telling the agency I’d take one. But I knew. There was one flat I just loved the look of right from the start. It ticked all the boxes. It was five minutes away from a retail park, and maybe twenty minutes from work. It was the first property I’d booked to view.

We got through the door and I was like, ‘Mum, I want this place.’ And she knew too. It was perfect. We’d both fallen completely in love with the flat, which we told the guy showing us around. He let us know someone else was viewing it that afternoon, but I was already decided. We rang the agency as soon as we left to say we were coming to sort out taking it, and then on the way there I cancelled all my other viewings.

The other smart thing to do would’ve been to follow the advice I’d seen via Pinterest: check a plug socket, check the water pressure. But our shower at home is shite, so the water pressure can’t possibly be worse. And the fridge was running, so the electricity must’ve worked. So, ya know. I think I was so enamoured by it that I totally forgot to do those things. 

11. Picked a place? Get back to the estate agent. 

I rang the agency first to let them know I loved the property and wanted to take it, and they asked when I’d be able to come in to sort out the paperwork and so on. I was able to go straight in to see them and it was incredibly straightforward.

Go prepared, with your passport, a recent bank statement showing your address, and proof of earnings. I took a copy of my contract for the job I’m due to start as well as a copy of some royalties, since right now I’m just a self-employed author and not on a salary until the job starts in September. When you book your viewings, check what the agent would want you to bring if you do decide to take a property with them.

Also go prepared with enough funds for the admin fees. My agency wanted it as a cash payment, which meant a quick dash to the nearest ATM.

After the initial paperwork was sorted, a third-party company got in touch to sort out my referencing. I filled out a big form online with my information, including my job and my salary and so on, and then got in touch with anyone I’d used as a reference to let them know this company would probably be getting in touch. It was sorted out within three days, which was shockingly quick.

12. Next step: start researching. 

Oh, yeah. It’s not over yet.

You’ll need a TV license, contents insurance. You’ll need to change your address on your driving license. You’ll want internet. Start looking at providers. Actually, Money Supermarket is a great place to start – it’ll even recommend you which comparison sites to start with, depending on whether you’re a ‘young professional’ or whatever.

My next post in this series is going to be all about unexpected costs like I’ve just mentioned, so keep an eye out for that!

13. Think about moving out. 

I’m living at home, so once I’d secured a property to rent I started going through all of my drawers and clothes to bin and donate things I didn’t want or need anymore. My mum and I looked through the Next summer sale for bedding. I started picking up things like a frying pan that was on sale, or fridge magnets. If you’re going to need to buy furniture, get yourself a Pinterest board for Ikea, Argos, and all the rest, even if you’re not actually buying anything for a couple of weeks yet. You’ll want to save money where you can.

If there’s anything you can box up, buy, or move into the property before you actually move out of wherever you are now, might as well make a head start!

But there you have it: Thirteen steps to renting your first property. 

It’s terrifying and exciting and totally freaking weird, but you’ll get there. Ask your parents or friends who’ve already gone through it for advice, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of estate agents either.

Do you have any major tips on how to rent a property for the first time? Share in the comments!

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