Flat Hunting From Another Country
{Part 3}

 And, we're back!
If you're just stumbling on this post, find the first two parts below:

So we've listed what we are looking for in and around our future home,
made a search for the places that will offer us what we want,
and narrowed it down to a few certain areas in London that are top living preferences.

With all this done, you can get into the 'hunting' part of this flat-hunting process.
Of course, there is a process to this, but I'll make it easy for you.

In order to get your flat, you need to find it.  There are tons of websites that give cheap accommodation - StudentAccomodation, Gumtree, Craigslist, etc.
I find these a bit sketchy, especially as an international, and I'm not trying to be taken advantage of in any way.
I prefer to go directly through agencies.
There are hundreds and hundreds of agencies around London, so I've found a few ways to navigate through them.

- Simple Google searches can help you find the most popular ones
'London estate agents' is an easy search and will bring up plenty of results
then it's up to you to research and find which ones offer the properties you like most.

- Rightmove and Zoopla are two online real estate portals that list the majority of properties that are for rent in London.  I was a little cautious to use this at first, because I wanted to go to an agent myself, but these websites direct you straight to the websites and negotiators to discuss property details.
Normally I do a search with my preferences, and with the properties I am interested in, I will either find the agency that is letting, and go straight to their site to contact them, or request details through the portals, and your request form will be sent to the agents who will get back to you.

It seems that this would be pretty straight-forward,
estimate monthly bills, see rent price, and add together.
In London, this is wrong. And I've recently found out that this is VERY wrong.

- Agencies have administration fees, VAT fees, additional charges, etc.
These are extra fees on top of the rent that you will pay when you secure the property.
Administration/VAT charges are (one-time) payments that go straight to the agency if you choose one of their properties to lease.
This can be anywhere from from £150 - £300.

- The actual price of the flat, may not be what is advertised.
I know - as if anything could be more frustrating.
The way that London normally advertises their properties are X-amount per week, rather than per month.
Because some months have more days than other months, and letting agencies will take cheaper weekly prices to catch your eye on their property.

I've just recently learned the way to calculate the actual price of a flat.
For example:
Say a flat is £300 pw
300(rent) x 52(weeks in a year) = £15,600 (yearly rent)
15,00(yearly rent) / 12 (months in a year) = £1,300 (monthly rent)
1,300 (monthly rent) / 4 (weeks in a month) = £325 (weekly rent)

So really, the property you are looking at is £325 per week, rather than the £300 that was advertised.

I know. Your head probably wants to explode right now.
I don't understand why this is necessary either.

Knowing all of this though, you will have a much better estimate of how much you'll be spending.
It's annoying, but better to do the work than be screwed by not knowing all the details.

This is the tough part as an international.
But even so, do not sign a flat unless it's been viewed by you or someone you trust.
London is a huge city, full of people to scam - don't be one of them.
DO NOT pay any amount of money before the property has been seen, and if someone writes to you asking that you do transfer money, forget that property and that person.

There are really only four options in viewing flats when you are searching from the other side of the world:

1 - If you have friends in the area, let them view on your behalf.
Heather and I are very lucky to have two friends who have been through the rental process, and have more experience than us in this.  They currently live in London and because we 100% trust them and their judgment, they are walking through a few properties for us.
We discussed everything we were looking for in a property with them, sent them our requests, and notified the agents of who will be viewing for us.
This is the easiest and most convenient way to find a property.

2 - Not everyone has people in a place that they are moving to.  While unfortunate, there are still ways to figure things out.  If Heather and I didn't have friends in the area, we would have booked our flights a week earlier, stay in a hostel, and set up our viewings within that week. It would be a quick and stressful process, but much better than blindly going into anything.

3 - If you are able to pull it, make a visit a month or so before you officially arrive.  This gives you the leisure to view properties and not feel like you are rushed in needing to find a place to live.  

4 - I don't have the experience in doing this, but I do know a few people who have done flat shares. They have spoke with (through video chat) tenants of a property who are looking for roommates, and if they feel comfortable, have secured their accommodation.  It's basically like going through a random roommate assignment like you did in college, so while you can't always be absolutely sure someone is the best option, follow your gut feeling.
Spare Room is the most heard about website I've seen for this option.

This is it, and what I am most looking forward to.
Once you've found the place you're set on, all that is left is making it officially yours.
London is a hub of diversity, so most agencies have dealt with international rentals before, but it's always good to make sure that they are able to do an online leasing process
This is so that you can get all the details together and officiated through an online process so that the flat will be there for you to move straight into when you arrive.  
This process will involve signing some papers, paying the deposit and whatever rent is required.
Because you are not a UK resident, you have the option of paying the rent in 6-month chunks, one at the beginning of the rent, and one in the middle (assuming you are signing for a years lease).
The other option is to sign a UK guarantor, which is a UK resident who co-signs on your lease agreement - basically stating if you cannot for any reason pay the monthly rent, then the bill falls on them.
We don't have anyone to sign this for us, so we will be choosing the 6-month payments, which actually makes things a little easier for us when we arrive, not having to worry about meeting rent each month.

Once this goes through - you have officially signed, sealed, and secured your home!
Is it exciting? I wouldn't know yet. I'm still in part three.

Right now, Heather and I are right in the mix of viewings, and I'm hoping that within the next few weeks, I'll have really EXCITED AND SCREAMING POST about how we've finally found our home.

Happy flat hunting!


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