Find out how to choose a rental property, including what to look for during a viewing, and what questions to ask the letting agent:
Searching for a place to live can be an exhausting undertaking, but going into property viewings armed with the right questions is essential. You can’t always count on a letting agent to proactively offer all the information you need about your potential new home, so it’s important to have a bit of your own research under your belt. It’s also prudent to know about any warning signs to look out for, and what level of detail you should be able to expect in response to important questions, so you can make an informed decision.
Home viewing tips
At each rental property viewing, take your time to check the property to make sure there are no problems. If there are any issues with the following, either make it a condition of the contract that they are fixed, or seriously reconsider your desire to rent that property.
Check the exterior of the property
Are the gutters or any pipes leaking? Are the walls or window frames cracked? Is there a garden or outdoor area you'll need to maintain?
Check the fittings
Do the taps work, both for hot and cold water? Is the water pressure high enough? Do all the light switches work? Are there enough electric sockets?
Be wary of mould or pests
Are there any signs of pests, including mouse droppings, cracks or holes in the walls? When was the property last treated for pests? Are there signs of mould,particularly in damp areas such as the kitchen or bathroom? Letting agents should not be showing properties with damp or mould problems - and we know this happens more than it should.
Inspect the appliances
Confirm which white goods come with the property, including fridge, washing machine and dishwasher. But also make sure the appliances are clean and in good working order – and ask if the landlord will replace them if not.
Think about security
Do windows and doors open easily and close securely? Are there adequate locks on the doors? Do you have adequate escape routes in case of a fire?
Look for smoke alarms and CO2 detectors
Are smoke alarms fitted? And are they connected to the mains, or will you have to replace the batteries? If the property uses gas, is there a CO2 detector installed? All properties must have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties. Currently, regulation in England around CO alarms is vague and potentially confusing: CO alarms are only required in rooms with 'solid fuel appliances'(eg a coal fire or wood burning stove). But because carbon monoxide can also come from gas or oil devices - including boilers - this provision should be tightened to protect tenants. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a blanket rule to have them installed in all properties. We think this should apply to England as well.
Ask for certification
At the viewing, ask to view a copy of the property's certificates. These include the energy performance certificate (EPC) and gas and electrical safety certificates. If the letting agent doesn't have them to hand at the viewing, they should be able to follow up with an email providing them, and provide them before the tenancy starts. The better the rating the EPC gives the property, the lower your utility bills are likely to be. This could save you hundreds of pounds a year. See our guide to energy performance certificates for more information.
How is the rental property classified?
If you're moving into shared accommodation, check whether the property should have a ‘house in multiple occupation’ (HMO) licence from the local council. This usually applies to property that is three or more stories and occupied by five or more people who are not in the same family. If it is a licensed HMO, the property should have more safeguards for the tenants, such as fire doors.
Rental property checklist
Before your tenancy starts, make sure you have:
How to choose a letting agent
Currently, it’s much more common for renters to choose the property, not the letting agent. But when Which? went undercover to investigate letting agents (see Which? letting agents investigation), they found a huge variance in the quality of service they provide. Where possible, do your research on letting agents, and find a good one before searching for a property. A good letting agent will:
By contrast, there are some clear signs you should avoid an agent. Here are some key clues to properties that are not been rented properly: any with damp and mould, not having smoke alarms, coupled with not being able to see an EPC and/or tenancy agreement when requested and especially an agent that can’t answer basic questions on deposit protection.
Key questions to ask when viewing a rental property
It's important to know from the start how much it will cost you to live in the property, and what you can expect from the landlord/letting agent while you're living there. Here are some important questions to ask:
A new government bill to ban letting fees across England was introduced in May 2018, banning some fees and capping deposits. Double check with your letting agent that you won't be billed for any letting fees.