Choosing the right place to live can affect almost every aspect of your life. As an Australian renting an apartment in London, there are a few major differences involved in the process that you should be aware of. Whilst London (and the UK in general) have fairly standardised lease practices, it’s worth taking the time to do a little fact-checking before you make the big move.
London is a major international hub for expats and actually has the second highest foreign born population of any city in the world (36% as of 2011, and rising quickly). It has an incredibly diverse range of people living and working together, and they all have one thing in common: They want to live in the best possible place for their circumstances. The rental (and buying) market is very competitive, choices have to be made quickly, so make sure you know all you need to before you start looking.
Renting a House Versus Renting an Apartment in London
Depending on your requirements, you may want to consider the differences between getting a house, or opting for an apartment. In the same area or district, the price will clearly be a major factor; you can expect to pay upwards of 30% extra for the same size property if it is a house. Houses do come with the advantage of being self contained (and may have driveways, on-road parking or gardens), but it is harder to find one the closer you get to the city centre.
In terms of running costs, you may find that heating bills will be slightly more in a house because it won’t be warmed by surrounding apartments, but council tax and other costs are pretty much the same in both.
Furnishing arrangements with the Landlord or letting agent will be on a case by case basis. If you specifically search for a fully-furnished property, then that’s what they’ll show you.
Finding the Right Place
If you’ve visited London before you make the big move, you might have an idea of the areas you want to live in, if not, it’s important not to get yourself tied down in an area you don’t like. Although traveling around London is surprisingly easy, making sure you have a home where you and your family feel safe and comfortable is bound to be one of your top priorities.
You can use the internet to find areas that will be suitable for your lifestyle. Do you want to be near work? Are nightclubs important? What about schools? Are you a keen restaurant goer? Do some web searching to find local services and amenities that suit your needs; from there you can start narrowing down your search with local estate agents (or even rental databases).
If you are still not sure of the area you want, or you want to get some firsthand experience of the likely places, you could always choose a short-term lease in a furnished complex. This will give you the freedom to check out the city and see where you want to stay, while still giving you the stability of a permanent home.
If you’re single and looking to start your London life with ready-made friends (or even if you’re the advance party before bringing your family over), then shared accommodation is very easy to find. It can be a lot cheaper than renting an apartment in London, very engaging, and useful for hitting the ground running and of course, knowing people always makes life easier.
House or flat shares usually come in two formats.
- The first is just renting a bedroom that has access to a shared kitchen and bathroom. This is more for those that are just looking for a place to sleep and make their morning coffee.
- The second type is more about communal living. You’ll have a shared living room and a ready-made set of friends to help you get settled. This can be a very rewarding experience, but also has some obvious pitfalls in terms of new territory, new rules and new people.
Popular Spots for Australians
With the thousands of Aussies moving to London every year (some on work travel visas, others on sponsored visas), you’ll be hard pushed to find somewhere that doesn’t have an Australian contingent. There are also a fair few “Aussie Bars” around which have good food and plenty of sports from back home.
Getting Kitted Out
Unlike most of Australia, furnished or part-furnished apartments are the norm in the UK. Unless you’re on a short-term lease (one to six months), you’ll usually be given a choice of whether you want to keep the furniture in or not. In many ways, it is often easier to do your initial search based on a “furnished/unfurnished” filter.
If you’ve just landed, odds are you’ll need basic furnishings to get by with. Furnished apartments will usually come with beds, TV, sofas and a full range of white goods (refrigerator, cooker, washing machine, microwave etc…), and in some cases even basic cups, plates and pots. Many expats moving to London start with furnished and gradually replace bit by bit (IKEA is hugely popular with both locals and expats).
If you’re renting a newly built apartment in a complex, it will probably come part-furnished. This means a built in cooker, bed and sofa, but not much else. Many Australians will hit up the local expat network to pick up bargains from people heading home or upgrading. Keep an eye on the message boards.
Bills and Other Charges When renting an Apartment in London
If you’ve opted for shared accommodation, then this will likely include all bills and fees in your rent, but if not, here’s what you’ll typically have to fork out for:
• Compound fees (if you live in a gated community)
• Council tax: This is a tax that covers houses and apartments for services delivered such as refuse collection, maintenance etc…For example, somewhere around Kingston will cost about £1682.58 for 2016 and 2017.
Some letting agents have fees while others don’t. If you rent directly through a website such as Rightmove or Zoopla they will let you know which fees apply (if any).
Typical Lease Agreements
A standard lease in London will be one of two types:
- Fixed-term (running for a set period of time)
- Periodic (running on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis)
Both require security deposits and a certain amount payable upfront. For fixed term the outlay is usually between two week and a month for rent and four weeks for deposit. For periodic, it will vary greatly.
There are a lot of legal protections in place to protect you as long as you go through an agent or private owner that provides a “tenancy agreement”. If you have this, your rights are secured, if not, you’re pretty much on your own, so do it properly. Advice on your rental rights can be found on the government website.
Your best resource will always be other people. Join some expat forums and find out firsthand other Australian people’s experiences in London. They are likely to have the same priorities in terms of housing needs and will be able to let you know which areas have the best environment. Another advantage is that Aussies abroad tend to be quite social, it’s great to have some ready made friends when you land.
This article was written by Mark Angelides. Mark has lived in seven major cities throughout the UK over a period of twenty years. He has lived for six years in China in a variety of cities (both big and small). He has also spent several years in both Germany and the Czech Republic.
Tell us about your experiences renting an apartment in London! What was good? What was bad? What would you recommend to other expats?