Deciding on whether you like a property enough to live in for nearly a year – or longer – is not simple. It is not a choice to be taken lightly.
When to view
It is best to look at a property more than once – and to visit the area at different times of day. A flat that looks great at night may look dirty and stained during the daytime. A house that is quiet at midday can become the centre of a very noisy late night economy. You might find that during the evening your apparently exclusive locality is at the heart of a red light district.
Who to view with
Even if you are going to rent on your own, take a friend along. Get a second opinion. It is also better to have a friend with you for security, especially for women. And two people are less likely to be intimidated into agreeing something they are not really happy with. Remember, too, if you're sharing you'll need agreement on what and where so try and get everyone involved to come along.
Make a list of questions in advance, giving yourself more time to think. Take a notebook and pen to list the answers. Or print off our Viewing Checklist. If you don't understand the answers, ask the question again – if the landlord or agent isn't giving you clear information, it is their responsibility to say it again clearly. Take some photos with your mobile or camera to help you think things over after you have left.
Take your time
You are going to be spending a large chunk of your life in the next few months in this home, if you take it. You will also spend a lot of money on it. Give yourself the time you need to take a decision and don't be rushed by the landlord or agent into giving a hasty answer. There may be a very good reason why they don't want you to take a long look, or to peek carefully into all parts of the home.
Ask yourselves lots of questions. Do the rooms smell? Can you hear the neighbours arguing? Does it look as if the roof leaks? Do the doors shut and lock properly? Can you park your car? Can you bring your bike in? Can you get TV reception? Are there enough phone sockets? The more questions you ask, and can answer to your satisfaction, the more likely you are to be happy in this property.
Here are some key things to consider – not all of which are obvious.
Top 10 tips for viewing property
1. Heating: How is the flat or house heated? Is it efficient? Do all the radiators work? Is it double glazed? How well insulated is the property? How much does it cost to heat the house? Can the landlord show you sample bills?
2. Damp: Damp homes are a pain – literally. They can make you ill. Look out for loose wallpaper, flaky paint, a musty smell and damp patches on walls. If there are signs of damp, forget about it.
3. Security: Student flats and houses are often targeted by thieves. You may think you are poor, but burglars have their eyes on your computer, mobiles, bikes and even old banger cars. Imagine you lock yourself out for the night – could you get back in? If yes, try looking at another property. Check for locks on windows as well as doors. Is there outside lighting?
4. Furniture: Make sure you know whether the home is being let furnished, unfurnished or part furnished. Just because it is furnished when you go to see it doesn't mean it will be furnished when you move in – or with the same furniture.
If the home is furnished it must include table and chairs in the kitchen/living room, sofa and/or armchairs in the living room, a bed, wardrobe or cupboards, heater, curtains, floor coverings, cooker, fridge, kitchen utensils and crockery.
Are the mattresses fit to sleep on? Does the carpet smell of sick? Do the fridge and the TV work? Could you bear to sit on the sofa and the chairs? If the landlord promises to replace items, try to get them to do it before you move in.
5. Phone lines: Is there a phone line? Is it broadband? If there isn't a line, are you happy to use only your mobile? Can you survive without a broadband connection?
6. Fire: Does the property have smoke alarms and are they in working order? What about fire-fighting equipment and escape routes? They're not always mandatory but they do suggest a conscientious landlord.
7. Wiring: Take a close look at the sockets and wiring. Do they look worn, frayed or old? Are there enough sockets; and do all of the lights work?
8. Gas: Landlords must carry out annual gas safety inspections using an engineer on the Gas Safe Register, and provide tenants with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate. Gas Safe Register replaced CORGI gas registration on 1 April 2009.
9. Plumbing: Check the taps are all working, and that the shower and toilets work. Are there leaks, cracks, broken seals, mildew?
10. Storage: Is there enough cupboard and shelf space to store all of your stuff?
For further information see the moving checklist.
Negotiating on rent
If you like the place and think you want to take it, keep in mind that you can negotiate on rent.
Exactly what constitutes a 'fair' or 'market' rent is partially resolved by the negotiation between tenant and landlord. It is also a question of whether other people want to rent the same property and what rent they may be willing to pay.
In a market with an oversupply of property there is generally a stronger chance of negotiating down the rental of a property. But landlords letting in places in where demand exceeds supply will be much less like to do a deal.
It is also reasonable to ask for improvements to the property. If the front door lock seems to be weak, ask for an additional or replacement lock to be fitted. If the windows are not safely secured, ask for them to be made secure. A house to be shared by six people will need more than one sofa – you can request another one. In current market conditions, it is likely that reasonable requests will be successful.
But you should probably ensure that any improvements are carried out before you sign the contract or move in. Once you have moved in it is more difficult to persuade a landlord to carry out promises that were made before – especially if these did not form part of the contract.
Some information contained herein may have changed since it was first published. PrimeLocation strongly advises you to seek current legal and/or financial advise from a qualified professional.