As I mention in the Banking section, it will be loads easier to get a bank account if you have a lease with a known estate agent or management company and not with a private landlord, even if that landlord has many, many properties. I’m a very do-it-yourself kind of person, so I jumped onto sites like Zoopla and Open Rent and we ended up with a private landlord. We like our flat, but I wish we’d at least known the drawbacks of this arrangement.
In addition to researching online independently, Google “Letting Agents [city name / neighborhood name]” to find ones that are in the neighborhood you want to live in. Book an appointment with them to show you flats, and be prepared to share what you’re looking for. Those Zoopla and Open Rent searches can come in handy here; the estate agent might have a connection to properties that interest you but even if not, the listings will help show them what you’re looking for.
Other things to keep in mind as you look for a flat:
- What will your commute look like? Are you near multiple tube / rail / bus options?
- Is the address on the tenancy agreement (what we call a lease in the US) the same as what shows up in the Royal Mail postcode finder? It needs to match perfectly, so get that sorted out right away.
- Are the utilities already set up and can they be put in your name immediately to help with proof of address?
- Is there a phone line so you can have internet installed?
- What internet companies will service your address?
- How far is the nearest large grocery store? How about the nearest local / express store?
The person doing the letting may ask for a letter from your new boss confirming you work there and what your income is. If you are not the one working, it can be helpful to have a reference from your previous boss. If you rented instead of owned your previous residence, see if you can get a general “this is a great tenant” letter from them as well.
Because you don’t have a credit history in the UK, some places might be more receptive if you are able and willing to provide more upfront than just the deposit and first month’s rent. We provided a six-week deposit and three months rent. I realize not everyone can do that, but we think it helped us considerably.
However, even if you have the money available, you’ll still need to be able to transfer it to a landlord or estate agent. We had to make three transfers: one for the application (which was applied to our deposit), one for the balance of the deposit, and one for the three months of rent. Rental rules have changed a bit since we arrived – landlords can only take three weeks for the deposit and cannot assess any application fees, so keep an eye on that.
If possible, at least for this first bit, I recommend opening a Monese account (you have to download the app; they don’t have a web presence). It’s based in the EU and you can even get an ATM/debit card. It’s what my husband and I are using for our personal accounts. We tried to transfer money to it before we moved (you can open the account while still in the US), but there was a mix-up with our credit union. If it had worked out, what we would have done is move as much money as possible to the Monese account (basically the amount we’d be willing to pay for a deposit and first one, two, or three months rent) so that we could much more easily move money over when we found out place.
In the end, we used Western Union for the application fee, TransferWise for the deposit, and a direct transfer from our credit union for the rent. Not great, and it probably ended up costing us so much more than if we could have done one giant transfer to Monese and then used that to transfer directly to the landlord.