Welcome to our final installment of our interview with Colleen Wagner from London Relocation in preparation for our move overseas next February. Hopefully, these Q&A sessions have given you a clear idea of what the process is in setting up shop overseas. Missed the first two interviews? You can find them here and here.
R: When applying for a flat what does the management company or owner look for? Do we need to see our Visa, employment records, submit a credit check or show proof of savings?
C: Letters of reference from one’s employer and previous landlord, passport (well, hopefully you’d have this with you!), and bank account details (including a statement showing you’re good for the funds) is necessary.
Once your offer has been accepted and the lease signed by both you and the landlord, you will be expected to pay your deposit and first month’s rent upfront. The deposit is equal to 6 weeks’ rent, so—barring students—the typical upfront amount totals 2.5 months’ rent, plus any added admin fees the agency may charge (again, London Relocation clients do not pay these fees). We have a blog post offering guidance on facilitating international bank transfers along with some pros and cons of different payment methods.
R: When should an Expat make initial contact with a relocation agent?
C: It can never be too early, really, for getting initial questions sorted out as you try to brainstorm the above key housing questions. It is often easiest to schedule the appointment, though, within a couple months of the actual viewing date when chances are better that your arrival dates are confirmed and you know there will be no hang-ups with the visa. While we can accommodate last-minute enquiries if we have availability, it’s best that we have at least a week’s advance notice to go over the terms of service with you and start researching.
Property searches themselves can be scheduled for as early as 6-weeks prior to the desired move-in date, as by this time existing tenants should have given notice as to whether they’re staying or leaving a flat; thus, we have a clearer idea of what properties will be available. If you can look in advance like this, that’s always great as it helps you beat the competition; however, many of our clients view properties within the same week as moving in—some have moved in as soon as the next day.
R: If someone decided to take up the home search alone what should they look out for? Are their common scams or hidden fees that catch people by surprise?
C: I briefly mentioned earlier the infamous Craigslist scams. These may occur on other classifieds sites as well and basically entail a “landlord” or “agency/property manager” offering a flat for an unrealistically low price (don’t count on finding much for under 200 GBP per week) and then asking you to transfer funds for the deposit/rent without having even seen the place in person. NEVER DO THIS! Always, always view the property in person or at least have someone you trust do so if you can’t be there—money should never exchange hands otherwise. I also mentioned before the absolute sketchiness of a situation where you’re required to pay upfront in cash. No legitimate agency/landlord would ask this.
It is typical for lettings agencies to charge an administration fee for handling the paperwork, and they may charge another fee for performing the reference check. The amount of these fees are not regulated within the industry, so there is no rhyme or reason as to what an individual agency might charge—it could be one to a few hundred pounds in all.
Another aspect of doing it on your own (which I did, oblivious to the relocation agent option…and it took me 2 weeks to see 23 properties) is that it takes a lot of legwork to many different agencies to see an exhaustive representation of what’s out there in your budget and desired area. Any one agency will have a few to show you any given day. They do not use MLS (multiple listing systems), however, so the particular office that you step into only has listings in that immediate area. So you will want to educate yourself on the different neighborhoods and narrow down your preferences straightaway.
R: How does one go about figuring out their monthly rent due to the fact that everything is quoted pw?
C: As a bit of trivia, London rent prices are quoted on a weekly basis because residents used to also be paid weekly; thus, the outflow was scheduled to coincide with the inflow. Why they continue quoting it that way now? No idea ☺ People are paid monthly, and you’ll pay your rent monthly as well (the monthly amount will be specified on your lease).
In any case, to achieve a monthly rent figure, multiply the weekly figure by 4.33.
Why not just by 4? Because not every month is exactly 4 weeks long. So, multiplying a weekly figure by the 52 weeks of the year and dividing by the 12 months is the equivalent of just multiplying by 4.33 (i.e., 52 divided by 12).
R: Are there pet friendly buildings and owners out there? This is very important element to us and one of the reasons we plan to work with a relocation agent.
C: Finding a building that allows pets is indeed an obstacle to flat-finding. If the building doesn’t allow them, it doesn’t matter if the individual flat’s landlord doesn’t mind them. If the building says no, it’s a no. If the building says yes, but the landlord says no, that might rest at a no as well.
However, while many landlords may not be keen on having a dog or cat in their owned property, they may be willing to negotiate. Ways to sweeten the pot for them when negotiating your lease is meeting the asking price rather than trying to haggle it down, if not offering more than the asking price (indeed, some landlords may require an additional fee). In addition, they may be inclined to allow it if you are able to offer them additional months’ rent in advance as a way of bypassing additional costs.
Though having a pet versus not is more of a property-finding challenge, it IS possible, and employing the services of a relocation agent will give you extra backing thanks to their contacts. Beyond flats, London is a very pet-friendly city!
R: What does council tax get you and how much can you expect to pay?
C: Council tax pays for city services like waste disposal, maintenance of sidewalks and streets, social services, etc. It can be paid annually or on a monthly basis and is a cost that the landlord always passes on to their dear tenants to deal with.
How much it costs will vary property-to-property. Each residence falls within a “band,” which is based on the property’s appraised value and in which borough it’s located. In the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for example, annual council tax ranges from several hundred to a couple thousand pounds depending on what band the flat falls into.