Accommodation in London
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The bustling metropolis of London is simply huge, and boasts a massive range of accommodation to suit almost any expat’s budget, lifestyle and background. There are areas and suburbs of London that are perfect for young professionals, expat families, foreign students and high-flying business executives, respectively.
London is a great cosmopolitan city and expats will have the opportunity to mix with people from all over the globe. Thanks to the city's excellent public transport, getting around won’t be too much of a problem, although some areas are better serviced than others. Many expats will find that their employer will assist them in finding a suitable rental property and navigating all the associated red tape, often through a local relocation company.
Types of accommodation in London
People moving to London will find a variety of different property types available to them. The type of home expats choose will depend on the location they want to live in, their family's requirements and, of course, their budget. Generally, the further one lives from the city centre, the more choice one will have in terms of price range, and the larger the properties will be.
Property in London can broadly be divided into three types:
• Flats (apartments) – either part of a large development or a conversion, which is typically an old house that has been separated into flats.
• Terraced houses – most London suburbs have a large number of streets with rows of terraced Victorian houses.
• Detached houses – these can be old or new but are usually located outside of central London. They typically offer bigger spaces, more bedrooms and a garden.
Renting accommodation in London
Finding suitable accommodation in London should be a straightforward process, but the rental market is competitive and fast-moving and expats should do some research before leaving their home country. In particular, it’s important to shortlist suitable areas and suburbs in London that suit one's needs and budget.
Most property searches begin on one of the online property portals such as Rightmove or Zoopla, but once this initial research is done new arrivals will find it helpful to contact a local real-estate agent who is familiar with the particular area or suburb of London that they want to live in. Agents often have access to properties that are yet to make it onto public listings.
Furnished or unfurnished
Most rental properties in London are unfurnished, but even unfurnished properties are likely to have carpets, curtains and fully fitted kitchens, along with an oven, fridge, dishwasher and washing machine. Furnished flats and houses include everything from the beds to the cutlery and crockery in the kitchen. Due to the sometimes short-term nature of expat assignments, many expats opt to live in fully furnished accommodation.
A short let is a good option for those who may only be in London for a few weeks or months, as an alternative to staying in a hotel or serviced apartment. They also allow new arrivals to get to know an area, before committing to a long term lease. A short let usually offers some flexibility in rental duration and the property is usually furnished to a high standard. Rental prices are higher for short lets, but all bills are included in the rent.
The rental process
After deciding on the most suitable part of London to live in, and the type of property they want to rent, most expats will research properties online and contact some local estate agents who will set up some viewings. Once a suitable property has been found, and an agreement has been made with the landlord, the estate agent will draw up the contract. Before the contract can be signed, the estate agent will need to check references and do some background checks. The deposit and the first month’s rent will be taken before the start of the tenancy.
References and background checks
The landlord or estate agent will need to see some paperwork before a lease is signed. This may include collecting references from your employer or a previous landlord, and seeing a proof of ID (usually a passport). Those coming from abroad will need to produce a copy of their UK visa and documents allowing you to stay in the UK. Tenants may also be asked for proof of salary or proof of funds, which may include payslips, a contract of employment and recent bank statements. To avoid any delays, it’s important to check what documents will be needed in advance, and to make copies of these documents.
Once a suitable property has been found, the tenant will be expected to sign an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. This agreement gives a tenant the legal right to live in a property for a set period of time, with an option to extend. The initial term is typically one year, although a six-month tenant-only break clause can often be negotiated. This allows the tenant to terminate the contract at any time after the first six months by giving the landlord either one or two months’ notice. All reputable estate agents will use a standard contract that gives protection to both the landlord and tenant, but all the same it’s important to read the agreement carefully and raise any queries with the estate agent before signing it.
Expats should be prepared to put down a deposit equal to six weeks' rent. A landlord or letting agent should put your deposit in a tenancy deposit scheme (TDP) rather than paying it into their own bank account. The landlord must return your deposit within 10 days of you both agreeing how much you'll get back. If you're in a dispute with your landlord, then your deposit will be protected in the TDP scheme until the issue is sorted out. The landlord may deduct expenses from the deposit to cover the cost of repairing any damage to the property, paying for a professional clean, removing anything left behind by the tenant, or replacing lost keys, etc.
Expats should note that utilities such as electricity, gas and water, along with council tax, are usually not included in the quoted rental price and will be an extra expense. Before moving in, confirm with the real estate agent or landlord that all utilities are set up, switched on and ready to be used come move-in day. The previous tenant or owner should have given the final meter readings to the utility companies, however, it is still important to take the gas and electricity readings when you move in to ensure you are not charged for power used by the previous occupants. The different utility companies often have a variety of rates and tariffs. It’s very easy to change suppliers in the UK, and it’s usually possible to save money by shopping around, and switching tariffs or suppliers. There are a number of price comparison websites that make is easy to compare suppliers.
Bins and recycling
Typically, bins are collected every week, and there are separate containers for cardboard, glass and plastic. Each London borough has a different system for rubbish collection and recycling and their websites will give details on which days bins are collected and what each bin is used for.
London is an expensive city, so many new arrivals decide to live in a shared house or flat to cut down on their expenses. Sharing with strangers may be a daunting prospect, but it can be a good way of meeting new people. It's worth checking out a few properties and meeting fellow tenants to make sure you'll be living with like-minded people. Properties are usually furnished and have shared kitchen and living areas. There are thousands of property listings on websites like Gumtree and SpareRoom.
Buying property in London
Property in London is among the most expensive in the world, even after the recent dip in prices. The London housing market seems to exist within its own bubble due to a supply shortage and continually increasing demand, and some long-term expats with the means therefore sometimes decide to buy property rather than rent.
Foreigners are permitted to buy property in the UK and most nationalities are eligible for loans, although requirements vary depending on the bank. Expats will need to show proof of income and may be asked to pay up a hefty deposit on a property. Expats may find that it is often easier to take the currency risk and secure a home loan in their country of origin rather than in the UK, especially if they have assets and existing relationships with banks back home. However, it’s advisable that the tax implications of such a loan are investigated thoroughly.