The Twenty-Something Series: How to rent for the first time – in 13 steps

Renting for the first time is terrifying. If you're confused about where to start, check out this post, where I share a few tips on how I managed to find my dream flat.
I rented at uni. I rented an old Victorian
townhouse-style building with seven other students, and we stayed there for two
years. In first year, two of us went down to the student letting agencies,
picked up brochures, and we booked a few viewings before picking a place. It
was actually really stress-free, given that we were finding a house for eight
But finding a place for just me, for six
months? Not so easy.
I felt like I was going in blind. My mum
helped me out a lot with the whole
thing, but I spent several evenings scrolling Pinterest for advice posts,
although most weren’t applicable to the UK.
And yet – I found what I’d happily consider my dream flat.

Since this series is all about being a
twenty-something, what better to talk about than how to rent for the first

1. Work out what kind of property you want to
look for.

I’m moving a six-hour drive up north, so I
knew I wanted two bedrooms: if my family or friends come to visit, they need
somewhere to stay. I also knew I wanted somewhere furnished. My second
placement, after six months in this new job I’m due to start, is abroad.
Ideally, I didn’t want to have to buy a bunch of furniture and then pay to
store it for three months before paying to ship it to wherever my third
placement is. I knew I wanted a parking space that was off-road, too. (Gotta
think about that car insurance cost.)

2. And work out what you don’t want. 

I didn’t mind so much if I ended up with a
house or a flat, but I knew I didn’t really want a mid-terrace house where
parking would be a bitch, a ground-floor flat, so that helped narrow my search.

3. Work out what you can afford.

Let’s say your salary works out, post-tax,
about £1,500 per month. You don’t want to spend £1,000 of that on rent: you
need to pay so many bills (including things like council tax, which I’ll talk
about in another post soon), buy food, petrol… And you probably want to spend
some of that on yourself. Spend some time working out exactly what you can
afford. Get an idea of how much bills might cost you, include things like your
Netflix subscription and phone bill, and estimate what kind of rent you can
afford to pay.

4. Rightmove is a pretty good place to

Of course there’s nothing to stop you going
to estate agencies and collecting brochures and browsing their websites, but
Rightmove was actually really great, since it collects properties from a huge
range of estate agencies. You can filter by location, property type, bedrooms,
price, and things like parking space. I also really liked that you can login
and like properties, so you can go back and view all the properties you’ve

5. Look at the commuting distance and local

Google Maps is great at allowing you to put
in your directions between two locations and choosing what time, so I could see
what my commute time would be for the kind of time I’d be leaving for work. I
didn’t want to commute more than about twenty minutes – especially after my
last job ended up with about an hour’s commute each way, which was pretty
exhausting, actually – so that meant I narrowed the area I was looking at.
It’s also worth looking for supermarkets
and shopping centres around the properties you’re looking at. Is there a corner
shop two minutes’ walk down the road? A Tesco a ten-minute drive away? Or do
you have to drive forty minutes out of your way to get to a Sainsbury’s Local
just for bread and milk?
Oh, and take a look at the surrounding area
for the property you’re looking at on Google Street View, just to get an idea.

6. Spreadsheets are your friend, even if
they seem like a pain in the ass right now.

Once you’ve exhausted your property search,
go through all of the ones you like the look of and put them into a
spreadsheet. I listed things like: the price, number of bedrooms, did it have
parking, was it furnished, the commute time, and the estate agent – and,
crucially, a link to the property on Rightmove. This made it easy to look at
and think, ‘Okay, let’s filter and just look at furnished properties with
parking. Which do I like best?’
I also colour-coded the properties and
ranked them using my colour code. (Shut up, I’m not a loser, you are.)

7. Book your viewings. 

The spreadsheet I put together actually
made it really easy to go through and decide which properties I wanted to book
viewings for. For example, if three of my top ten properties were with the same
agency, I tried to book all three of them one after the other. I also booked
the one I liked most first, because, duh. It’s worth booking as many viewings
as you can, in case you end up not liking properties or someone else takes them
first. You can always cancel them!
Also, when you ring the estate agent,
explain what you’re looking for and what your price range is: they might have a
few other properties you missed online available that they think you’d like to

8. Visit the area (and no, I don’t mean

I was heading to Durham for an entire week
with my mum. We went up on the weekend and had a few days in a hotel in Durham
to view properties during the week, starting on the Monday morning. We spent
the weekend driving around the properties, doing the commute from each one,
taking a look at any nearby supermarkets.
Now this is something I probably wouldn’t
have thought to do, but my parents did immediately, and I’m glad they did. The
area is as important to the property as the interior is. I was put off a few
properties I’d liked the look of online after we drove to take a look at the
building and the estate it was on, and ended up cancelling the viewings as soon
as the agencies were open on Monday morning.

9. Don’t forget to consider the practical

If you’re on a third-floor flat that needs
to be furnished, is there a lift for you to bring up things like a bed or a
sofa or a dining table? Is there a storage cupboard for a hoover and clothes
airer? Is your designated parking spot near the door or ten minutes down the
street? Do you have a burglar alarm, a smoke alarm, locks on the windows? Is
there a washing machine, or at least plumbing for one? Is there mould anywhere?
Central heating?

10. You’ll know.

The sensible thing to do would have been to
see several properties before telling the agency I’d take one. But I knew.
There was one flat I just loved the look of right from the start. It ticked all
the boxes. It was five minutes away from a retail park, and maybe twenty
minutes from work. It was the first property I’d booked to view.
We got through the door and I was like,
‘Mum, I want this place.’ And she knew too. It was perfect. We’d both fallen
completely in love with the flat, which we told the guy showing us around. He
let us know someone else was viewing it that afternoon, but I was already
decided. We rang the agency as soon as we left to say we were coming to sort
out taking it, and then on the way there I cancelled all my other viewings.
The other smart thing to do would’ve been
to follow the advice I’d seen via Pinterest: check a plug socket, check the
water pressure. But our shower at home is shite, so the water pressure can’t
possibly be worse. And the fridge was running, so the electricity must’ve worked.
So, ya know. I think I was so enamoured by it that I totally forgot to do those

11. Picked a place? Get back to the estate

I rang the agency first to let them know I
loved the property and wanted to take it, and they asked when I’d be able to
come in to sort out the paperwork and so on. I was able to go straight in to
see them and it was incredibly straightforward.
Go prepared, with your passport, a recent
bank statement showing your address, and proof of earnings. I took a copy of my
contract for the job I’m due to start as well as a copy of some royalties,
since right now I’m just a self-employed author and not on a salary until the
job starts in September. When you book your viewings, check what the agent
would want you to bring if you do decide to take a property with them.
Also go prepared with enough funds for the
admin fees. My agency wanted it as a cash payment, which meant a quick dash to
the nearest ATM.
After the initial paperwork was sorted, a
third-party company got in touch to sort out my referencing. I filled out a big
form online with my information, including my job and my salary and so on, and
then got in touch with anyone I’d used as a reference to let them know this
company would probably be getting in touch. It was sorted out within three
days, which was shockingly quick.

12. Next step: start researching. 

Oh, yeah. It’s not over yet.
You’ll need a TV license, contents
insurance. You’ll need to change your address on your driving license. You’ll
want internet. Start looking at providers. Actually, Money Supermarket is a
great place to start – it’ll even recommend you which comparison sites to start
with, depending on whether you’re a ‘young professional’ or whatever.
My next post in this series is going to be
all about unexpected costs like I’ve just mentioned, so keep an eye out for

13. Think about moving out. 

I’m living at home, so once I’d secured a
property to rent I started going through all of my drawers and clothes to bin
and donate things I didn’t want or need anymore. My mum and I looked through
the Next summer sale for bedding. I started picking up things like a frying pan
that was on sale, or fridge magnets. If you’re going to need to buy furniture,
get yourself a Pinterest board for Ikea, Argos, and all the rest, even if
you’re not actually buying anything for a couple of weeks yet. You’ll want to
save money where you can.
If there’s anything you can box up, buy, or
move into the property before you actually move out of wherever you are now,
might as well make a head start!

But there you have it: Thirteen steps to
renting your first property. 

It’s terrifying and exciting and totally freaking
weird, but you’ll get there. Ask your parents or friends who’ve already gone
through it for advice, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of estate agents





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Do you have any major tips on how to rent a
property for the first time? Share in the comments!

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