Housing in the UK
Everything You Need to Know about Finding a New Home
Accommodation in the UK can be expensive but there are usually plenty of options. While traditionally the UK is a country of homeowners, recently there has been a big growth in renting.
Rental costs are relatively high, and although the price of buying a house has come down since the Brexit vote, housing in the UK is still expensive. Whether you’re looking to rent or buy a house, you’re likely to find prices higher than where you’re moving from, especially if you’re moving to London.
One positive is it might be quicker and easier to find a home in the UK. There are lots of short-term rentals available and many houses and apartments for rent are furnished.
If you’ve just arrived in the UK or you’re moving soon, and you need somewhere to live that’s convenient, but you don’t plan to stay long-term, short-term rentals could be ideal.
A common theme in the English rental property market is that prices are higher the further south you go, although there are exceptions. Leeds, in the North of England, has seen a lot of growth in recent years, partly due to more jobs in the tech and legal industries, and it’s now one of the more expensive cities to rent in the UK. Residents pay 1,080 GBP per month on average in Leeds, according to research by SilverDoor Apartments.
If you are thinking of moving to Scotland, you might find cheaper temporary rentals. The average rent in Scotland is around 670 GBP (820 USD), however, average rent prices in the capital city Edinburgh are much higher than the Scotland average at around 1,100 GBP (1,340 USD), while in Scotland’s second city, Glasgow, the average rent is around 800 GBP (980 USD).
On the other hand, the UK’s minimum average house rent can be found in the North East of England, in cities like Newcastle and Sunderland.
See the table below for the average price of apartments for rent on short-term leases in different UK regions.
How Much is Rent in the UK?
|UK Region||Average Price (GBP) in July 2019||Average Price (USD) in July 2019|
|Yorkshire & Humberside||635||775|
What Documents Do I Need?
If you just need somewhere for a short time, you will likely only need a government ID and a recent photo to become a verified user.
Some of the best companies for a short-term stay include:
Things To Know
If you’re looking for a place to stay that feels a little more secure and reliable and may come with certain services and amenities, you might be interested in the following companies:
Then, there are more traditional property companies with short-term rentals available. Hamptons offers high-quality short-term lets, specializing in the London area, while Knight Frank offers a range of deals.
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Renting a House or Apartment
If you’re unfamiliar with how to rent a house or apartment in the UK, it may be a good idea to go through a real estate agent — just make sure that they are officially recognized.
There are two different types of tenancies in the UK: those with a defined end date, and those that you renew every month. You’ll also find furnished and unfurnished flats, houses, and other properties.
Just before you move in, make sure you make an inventory of everything in the house and the condition of the items — this keeps you covered when asking for your deposit back. Some letting agents will write up any inventory for you and the landlord.
Part of the reason for the strong rental market is that young professionals find it hard to save enough money for a mortgage. There’s also less job security than there used to be, and young adults face strict conditions for loans from banks. For expatriates keen on renting in the UK, this means more competition on the property market.
Council Housing: Are You High on the Priority List?
Local authorities across Britain provide public or social housing and advertise in council offices and on their website. While you can apply for council housing even if you don’t live in the area, waiting lists are often long. Preference is given to candidates in need, like low-income tenants, families living in cramped quarters, and the disabled.
Ask the Experts: Letting Agents
On the private market, landlords can advertise a property for renting in the UK directly, or they can employ a “letting agent”, i.e. a real estate agency. If you’re looking for property listed by letting agents, there are some things to consider.
Theoretically, everyone can call themselves a ‘letting agent’. Check if the agency belongs to a professional association, e.g. the National Association of Estate Agents or the Association of Residential Letting Agents.
A reputable agent won’t demand extortionate fees. You should expect to pay a commission, as well as additional fees for credit reference checks, for concluding the tenancy agreement, or a property inventory check. If they start charging fees left and right, this should be cause for concern.
Rental Process and Rules
Once you have found a home for renting in the UK, it’s time to sign the tenancy agreement. Study it carefully, even the small print. While agreements for renting in the UK can be made orally, get a written contract. Otherwise, disputes with your landlord might be impossible to settle.
When you want to sign a rental contract, the landlord might ask for the following, so it’s best to bear these requirements and documents in mind:
- Proof of ID
- Proof you can legally live in the UK, such as your UK visa
- Recent payslips or other proof of earnings
- A short letter from your employer confirming your employment
- A copy of your current employment contract
- References from previous landlords
A tenancy agreement should contain the following information:
- Names and contact details of all parties involved
- The address
- Rental fees
- How / when they should be paid
- When / how often the rent can be reviewed
- Security deposit (usually four weeks’ rent)
- Deposit protection scheme
- Conditions for getting the deposit back
- Start date and end date
- Break clause (if applicable)
- Extra fees (service charges, utility bills payment)
- Who is responsible for repairs
- If you are allowed to sub-let
The most common legal form for renting in the UK is the Assured Shorthold Tenancy(in England and Wales), the “Short Assured Tenancy” (in Scotland), or the “Protected Shorthold Tenancy” (in Northern Ireland). This definition mainly plays a role when it comes to evictions.
Your rental accommodation is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) if:
- It’s a private property
- It’s your main accommodation
- It’s not for business purposes
- The landlord doesn’t live there
- The rent is more than 250 GBP and less than 100,000 GBP per year
In addition to its legal status, an agreement can be periodic (you pay the rent weekly or monthly, without a pre-defined end date) or fixed-term. A fixed-term agreement covers a limited period for renting in the UK, e.g. two years. Afterward, the agreement can be extended, renewed, or transformed into a periodic contract.
If you enter into a joint tenancy for renting in the UK, you should know your flatmates well. A joint tenancy agreement is one where you all sign the same contract for the landlord. Then you can be held liable if the others don’t pay their share. You might be forced to pay the entire amount and get the money back from them, or the landlord can have you evicted for arrears.
Responsibilities and Repairs: Make a List
Your main responsibility is to pay the rent on time, as well as all charges mentioned in the contract. You must repair any damage you cause and take good care of the property.
However, there are some aspects to clarify before signing the agreement.
- Make a detailed inventory of the property you are planning on renting in the UK. List all fixtures, fittings and furniture, and the state that rooms and contents are in.
Know which repairs and safety checks your landlord is responsible for. They have to maintain the building’s structure, exterior, and common areas. Moreover, they look after sanitary installations, pipes and drains, heating, and hot water, electrical wiring, and gas. They must provide the latest Gas Safety check when you move in. The landlord should also ensure their property complies with fire safety regulations.
- If you want to try your hand at DIY, check if it’s allowed in the agreement. Otherwise, you may be responsible for causing additional damage. Also, make sure to notify the landlord whenever anything needs repairing
Even if the tenancy agreement doesn’t forbid keeping pets, always ask the landlord first — preferably in writing. In this case, your pet cannot become a reason for eviction.
Ending the Rental Agreement
Damage and neglect, as well as rent arrears, are common causes for eviction. Anti-social behavior among people renting in the UK, or noise nuisance, is another. However, even if you’re a model tenant, your landlord may end the agreement.
In a fixed-term agreement, the landlord must give two weeks’ to two months’ written notice. If it’s an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, the notice period is always two months. This also applies in the opposite case: if you want to move out yourself.
Follow the appropriate procedure for giving notice. If you have a fixed-term contract for renting in the UK, make sure it has a break clause, or you could be forced to pay rent for the entire term.
For further information on renting in the UK, contact a letting agent, a lawyer, or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Buying Property as a Foreigner
Unless you’re buying a property as an investment, weigh up the advantages and costs of owning a property, and how to buy a property as a non-resident, versus the length of time you’ll be living in the UK. Is it worth it?
After a rocky few years and plummeting prices, UK house prices are once again on the rise but keep an eye on it — you don’t want to lose money on your property.
The UK House Price Index reports that the average house price in the UK is 230,630 GBP and prices rose 2.8% from the previous year.
Requirements to Buy a Property
You don’t need proof of residence in the UK to buy a property there, however, you will need one of the following original documents to prove your identity, as part of efforts to prevent money laundering:
- Current signed passport
- EEA photo-card driving license
- Freedom Pass (travel scheme for Greater London residents who are disabled and 60 years old or over)
- Police or government department ID card
- Residency permit or Home Office alien registration card
In addition, you will need one of the following to prove your address:
- EEA member state identity card
- Recent utility bill
- Mortgage statement
- If your solicitor has known you for more than two years, and signs to confirm your address, this is also accepted
- Solicitor’s letter confirming the purchase of your home
- Land Registry confirmation of address
- Electoral register
- Credit card statement
- Telephone bill dated within the last six months
If you don’t have access to any of these, please discuss alternatives with your solicitor. And note that buying a property in the UK with cash could be much more straightforward than getting a mortgage.
Things to Know about Buying a House in the UK
Budget: When you’re budgeting for your new home, make sure to take all of the extra costs into account.
Survey: While you should have a thorough look around a property to ensure that there’s no obvious damage, it is also advised to have it surveyed by a professional.
Brexit: The UK Government may increase taxes on property purchases for non-residents after the UK leaves the EU.
Visa: You can’t buy a house in the UK and get a visa. It’s not that simple. You have to live in the UK for five years and then you can apply for permanent residence for a small fee.
Types of House in the UK
The main types of house in the UK are:
- Detached – a standalone house, which isn’t physicality connected to a separate house
- Semi-detached – a house connected to one other house
- Terraced – a house with a house on each side
- End terrace – the house at the end of a row of terraced houses
- Cottage – traditionally a one-and-a-half story building with a living space on the ground floor and one or more bedrooms under the roof
- Bungalow – a one-story home ideal for those with mobility issues
- Flats – a self-contained part of a larger building, e.g. a maisonette
Do You Have the Time to Buy a House in the UK?
If you’re in the UK for a short time, it’s probably not worth the hassle. The process of buying a house in the UK usually takes at least three months, from viewing property ads, to a survey of the property, and sealing the deal. So you would spend the first couple of months buying a house in the UK, and the last few months trying to sell it!
Property as an Investment: Ask the Experts
But what if you’d like to purchase a home and then keep it as an investment later on?
After a rocky few years where the housing market is concerned, prices rose 8.4% between 2015 and 2016. Since then, the average price of a house has increased from 216,750 GBP to 226,906 GBP.
If you’re considering buying a house, you should talk to an expert to help you decide on a good deal. Moreover, if you’re planning on selling your property after leaving the UK, keep a close eye on market trends to avoid losing money.
If you’re planning to let your property, be aware that rental yields in the UK are among the lowest in Europe (an estimated 4.2% of the property’s worth). However, property investments in the UK depend a lot on the market in different regions or individual cities.
The Most Expensive Region to Live in the UK
In the south-east of England, real estate prices are higher than anywhere else in the UK, with the average price being 322,096 GBP.
The Thames Valley and the scenic Cotswolds are infamous for their property prices, especially for refurbished cottages and picturesque holiday homes. Even the rural quiet of East Anglia is marked by rising costs. But it’s the Greater London area that constitutes a real estate world of its own – especially Central London.
The Costly Capital: Real Estate in London
The general cost of living in the UK capital is high. In fact, house prices reached a record high in 2017 and are 50% higher than before the financial crisis. The average price of a home in London is 468,544 GBP, more than twice the national equivalent.
Prime real estate areas of London include Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Mayfair, or Westminster. Still, foreign ownership is quite high in these boroughs. Top-tier executives, overseas diplomats, or international businesspeople working in the city might be able to afford a luxurious London townhouse for a million pounds – or far more, in some cases.
Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, water supply in England and Wales has been put in the control of private utility companies, and you’ll need to pay for it, normally on a quarterly basis. Before you choose your gas, electricity, or water provider, make sure to shop around.
If there are any gas appliances in your new home, make sure they have all recently been checked by a registered Gas Safe engineer.
Back to Basics: Water Supply Companies
The most basic of all UK utilities is water, including sanitation and sewerage. In the UK, drinking water, as well as waste water disposal, is provided by a variety of regional companies.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the privatization of the UK utilities market has not affected the water supplier market. If you live in either of these countries, the tap water will be supplied by the responsible government agency or government-owned company, Scottish Water or Northern Ireland Water Limited.
How Safe Is the Tap Water?
In 2017, English water companies did 3,479,642 tests and only 1,174 failed to meet one or more of the standards set out by the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water or exceeded a screening value. In other words, it’s almost always safe to drink tap water in the UK.
Selected Water Companies in England and Wales
- Thames Water (Greater London and the Thames Valley)
- United Utilities (North West England)
- Severn Trent Water (Midlands)
- Yorkshire Water (Yorkshire)
- DCWW (Wales)
Get Connected with a Water Provider
To register with a water company, just follow these steps:
- Make sure your area is covered by the company you’d like to use. This is as easy as doing a postcode check on the company’s website
- Find out if the company turns off the water when the property is vacant. Most suppliers don’t do that, but you want to avoid any unpleasant surprises on moving day
- Sign up online or call the company helpline to guide you through the registration process. Usually, you need to provide your new address, your contact details, the date when you want to move in, and a meter reading of the new property
- If you’re moving into a rental property, ask your landlord for the meter reading or for access to do a quick check yourself
- Sometimes, if it is still an unmetered property, the supply company will use the opportunity of a change in tenancy to install a water meter
Required Documents and Information
To sign up to a certain utility supplier, you’ll need to give them your name, phone number, email address, the address of your new home, birthday, and moving in date. You may also need your National Insurance number or tax ID so the company can perform a credit check.
Time to Talk Bills
Costs for UK utilities, like water, are traditionally based on a fixed fee. With some companies, you can pay just what you expect to use initially. Moreover, you should give your supplier meter readings at least once every three months so you and your supplier have a good idea of how much you’re using and you’ll avoid any surprisingly large bills.
Unless the rental agreement states otherwise, you’re responsible for paying the water bill. The average household pays between 300 GBP and 450 GBP in annual water and sewerage bills.
If you move into a serviced apartment, all costs for UK utilities are included in the price. However, for expats on a budget, it is important to be careful. If you rent a room as a lodger in a shared apartment, you might want to have a quick look at all utility bills to see if your landlord is charging you the correct amount.
But if you are the main tenant in a flatshare and your roomies are your lodgers, you are responsible for all utility costs.
Gas and Electricity in the UK
Most energy in the UK is produced from fossil fuels at nuclear power plants. As the British coal mining industry has been in sharp decline since the 1980s, natural gas is now the most important energy source.
However, due to attempts to reduce carbon emissions and increase safety standards for nuclear reactors, power plants in the UK might soon be closed. This situation has given rise to a discussion about a potential “energy gap” where demand could soon exceed supply.
Time to Go Green?
Firstly, the privatization of the energy market has caused more energy suppliers and tariffs to emerge. Electricity and gas prices are under constant supervision from Ofgem, the Government Office of Gas & Electricity Markets.
Ofgem tries to keep the market competitive, so that energy remains affordable for all consumers. When it comes to individual utility bills, you might save a good deal of money by studying your energy plans carefully.
Secondly, “green energy” is becoming more popular in the UK. At the moment, around 25% of the UK’s energy supply comes from renewable sources, like hydroelectricity and wind farms. Scotland is one of the leading EU regions as far as the development of green energy is concerned. Wind power and maritime energy (such as tidal energy production) are of particular importance in Scotland.
Shop Around, Save Money
If you’re more interested in the state of your purse than in the state of the environment, you have an even wider range of energy providers to choose from — from long-standing companies like British Gas to new-fangled energy tariffs provided by big supermarkets. Comparison websites, like uSwitch, come in really handy here.
These sites help you compare prices on gas and electricity tariffs, based on your estimated energy consumption. You can compare either dual fuel prices (for gas and electricity combined) or just single sources.
How to Get Gas and Electricity in Your New Home
When you move into new accommodation, find out which company provided the previous occupants with gas and/or electricity. Usually, the landlord or building management should be able to tell you. They should also know if the energy supply has been disconnected in an unused property.
If you need to reconnect electrical power or turn the gas back on, contact the energy company directly. In case you want to switch to a new supplier, you need to get in touch with both providers and let them know when you are moving in.
Both usually ask you for a final reading of the gas/electricity meter on the day when they complete the transfer to the new supplier. This can take between three and five weeks.
If the energy is still on, you just have to read the meter before you call the power company. Keep a copy of that reading, just in case.
Stay Safe and Know Your Rights
Last but not least, there are a few things you need to know about gas and electricity in the UK. Your landlord or the letting agent cannot prevent you from switching energy providers. You may have to announce your intent in writing, but you can’t be forced to stay with a specific company.
If you have got any gas appliances in your new home, make sure that they were recently checked by an officially registered Gas Safe engineer. The landlord or the building manager should provide you with a safety record from the current or previous year.
If you’d like to bring any electrical equipment from home, remember that the UK might have different voltage, as well as other standards for wall sockets and plugs. The main voltage in the UK is 230 V (50Hz), ranging from about 215–250 V. You either need to bring appliances with a type G plug or buy adaptors.
Getting Rid of Waste
Unlike water and energy, waste disposal is still firmly in government hands. Your local council organizes waste disposal, trash collection, and recycling. You should check their website for details on these topics:
- When the trash will be collected and where you have to put the bins
- If they dispose of large items as well
- If there’s a recycling scheme in your community and which kind of waste goes into which bin (e.g. paper, glass, compost)
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Internet and Phones
If you already have a mobile phone, getting a new SIM card is probably the easiest way to get a UK phone number. You can visit any of the reputable mobile phone stores on your local high street to collect one, and there you’ll be able to choose whether you want a pay as you go or contract service.
Pay-as-you-go allows you to top up your phone’s credit when you need to, so you could save money, while a contract usually offers you a certain number of call minutes, texts, and internet data. Most mobile phone contracts in the UK last at least 18 months and, as a general rule, the longer the contract, the less you pay per month. The other option is buying a new phone, which of course will be more expensive, but it might be simpler.
High-speed internet is widely available in the UK, however, only some areas are serviced by fiber broadband. Ofcom says superfast broadband is available to 95% of the UK. Cable broadband is also available, but it’s less common than fiber. You can check what broadband is available and where with the uSwitch broadband checker.
Many communications companies, such as EE and Virgin, offer combined internet and cell phone packages. Virgin Media offers an ‘Ultrafast Fibre Broadband and Phone’ package, while EE gives you a 5GB data boost to your EE mobile if you sign up to their broadband package as well.
If you want to watch TV from your home country while living in the UK, you can do so via satellite. Satellite installation companies in the UK can help you get up and running with channels from virtually every European country. Moreover, Sky TV offers a wide range of US TV shows, news, and sport. And you can also get your US TV fix on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Also, Sky, TalkTalk TV, and Virgin Media TV offer various Indian and Asian TV.
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a comprehensive range of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!