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The quality and affordability of housing in the United Kingdom varies widely. While expats may struggle to find spacious, high-quality accommodation that doesn't break the bank in notoriously expensive London, there are many areas of the UK where it's much easier to find appropriate housing at a decent price.
Types of accommodation in the United Kingdom
Accommodation in the UK is generally in the form of houses – whether freestanding or as rowhouses – and apartments (known as flats). All these types of housing are widespread throughout the UK, with flats dominating in the more urban areas.
House-sharing (renting an individual room in a larger house shared by others) is another popular option among single expats in the United Kingdom – and is an avenue usually pursued out of financial necessity. Still, for young expats this can be a great way to meet new people.
Finding accommodation in the United Kingdom
Finding a place to rent in the UK is a straightforward process, but it can be made more difficult by the speed at which the market moves. Expats should be prepared to move quickly when they see a place they like, as the competition for good-value rentals can be cut-throat.
As far as finding a place to rent goes, expats have a number of options. Local newspapers and magazines carry private listings and tenants will be able to call the owner or landlord directly to arrange a viewing, while websites and internet property portals also regularly publish rental adverts – these are especially good for house-sharing options (use 'room to rent' as a search term). And, of course, real-estate agents are a dependable source of information and help when it comes to looking for a place to rent, but they charge for their services.
Renting accommodation in the UK
Most expats in the UK opt to rent rather than buy property. This is partly due to the temporary nature of expat assignments and also due to the high cost of housing, especially in the capital. The process of renting property is generally the same throughout the UK, although finding property in larger, more populous cities is often much harder.
Finding rental accommodation in the United Kingdom
Finding a property to rent in the UK isn’t too difficult, especially for those who are flexible in terms of the exact area they want to live in. Online property portals are a great starting point as they allow expats to do research on the cost and availability of properties in various areas, even before they arrive in the UK.
The easiest option when it comes to finding property in the UK is enlisting the services of an estate agent. Estate agents have an intimate knowledge of the property market in a given city or region and can advise new arrivals on neighbourhoods that are most suitable for them.
Signing a lease
Once expats have found a suitable property they will have to sign the lease in order to secure it. Lease agreements in the UK are generally signed for six months or a year, with the option to extend. Usually, with one-year leases, a six-month break clause can be negotiated. This allows the tenant to terminate the contract any time after the first six months by giving the landlord either one or two months’ notice.
If this negotiable clause is included, expats should note that it also allows landlords to terminate the lease early without needing to give a reason. Considering that rental prices continually fluctuate in the UK, unscrupulous landlords may decide to end a lease in order to find a new tenant who is willing to pay more rent.
Most landlords in the UK will expect tenants to provide a security deposit which amounts to at least one month’s rent. In some cases, references and letters from an employer or payslips will be required to secure a property.
When expats sign a rental contract, they should make sure they're clear on what additional costs they're liable for. These costs will typically consist of council tax, gas, electricity, water and internet. As these expenses have the potential to significantly increase accommodation costs, they need to be taken into account when budgeting.
Buying property in the UK
Foreigners interested in buying property in the UK will need to engage the services of a reliable estate agent, who can help them find a suitable property. Once the buyer finds a property, the agent can also help with conveyancing (although some buyers hire a property lawyer to handle this).
Mortgages can be sought through any bank or building society, provided that expats are able to supply appropriate documentation such as evidence of earnings and reference letters.
►Learn more about the various Areas and Suburbs in London
"Rentals in England typically fall into a few categories: there are private rentals run by landlords, rentals run by agencies and house shares. You’ll likely live in a house share when you first arrive unless you know people or have a good job lined up. House shares can either be run by agencies, where the existing tenants have no control over who else shares with them, or they can be run privately and the tenants choose their fellow housemates. I’ve heard great stories and I’ve also heard horror stories; it just depends on the house share. Private and agency rentals can be a mixed bag as well." Read more about Canadian expat Allison's experiences in the UK.
Are you an expat living in The United Kingdom?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The United Kingdom. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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