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We all have to live somewhere! And for most of us, renting is the only viable option when you take into consideration wages, costs of home ownership, and astronomical living costs.

I lived and rented in London for years, arguably one of the most expensive cities in Europe, if not the world, to live in. I spent my time pinging around a few different places trying to settle on the best combination of ‘homeiness’, space, location, and (of course), affordability. And these are a few of the questions I learned to ask myself before settling on a new place.

1. Can I really afford this place?

Seems a tad obvious I grant you, but it’s always something that’s actually worth asking yourself. It’s so easy to get swept up in the parquet flooring, or the roof top terrace, and reason yourself out of a few more hundred pounds a month to justify living somewhere so lovely. That’s why you should always leave, get some space, redo the ‘income maths’, and ask to see the place again if you really can’t get it out of your head.

There is always pressure in big cities that apartments will be rented before you even have time to draw breath, but try not to let this rattle you. If a lovely apartment does go from under you then don’t worry, in a city of 10 million people there will always be another one just around the corner.

2. What are travel cost implications from this location?

One of the best places I lived was way out in zone 5. It’s still a part of London, but for my friends North of the river in zones 2 or 3 I might as well have been dead. What I loved about this place (besides the lovely people) was the fact that I could walk to work.

Sure, getting into the centre was slightly more pricey, but by walking to work and back I saved hundreds of pounds on travel every month, and that more than mitigated the slightly more pricey ride into the city 1 or 2 times a weeks.

Plus, because it was out in zone 5 the rent was a little cheaper than those in 2 or 3, so as far as I was concerned it was a win-win.


3. Is this place value for money?

In a city with millions of people you will always find your share of scam artists or thieving landlords. If the room looks like it started life as a cupboard or an un-insulated basement, then it probably did. Take your time and don’t let yourself feel pressured. Look at the décor of the place; see if it is a ‘loved home’. Look at the sealing on the windows, and check for signs of damp on the walls. Always ask for an energy efficiency certificate and never be afraid to ask questions.

The worst thing is signing on the dotted line for an expensive room or apartment only to find that you have agreed to pay completely over the odds for a mouldy shoebox.

4. Will I be able to make savings whilst living here?

Strangely, this is a question that not everyone seems to ask themselves. I appreciate that rent is high, and wages are set for the worst real wage growth of all advanced economies this year, so I’m not saying you should put pressure on yourself to be banking half your income. What I am recommending though, is renting a place that allows you build even just a small savings cushion that can act as a buffer in an emergency if anything were to happen.

Even just using the Oval Money app and sweeping a few pounds into your digital savings wallet every week, could build up a small amount of savings that would allow you some breathing room if you needed it.

Ideally you should have 6 months of income saved – but I’ll be honest, this has never been something I’ve been able to achieve! Just ask yourself this question before you choose to take any rental property because spending all your money on rent doesn’t afford you any protection or options in the long term.

5. Is this long term?

Speaking of long term, before you move in anywhere ask yourself this question. There’re a number of reasons for doing this.

Firstly, moving house is expensive. You need to box up and move your things, as well as provide a deposit and the first month’s rent up front. You also need to restock cupboards with essential food items, and all these things add up. Therefore it’s worth asking yourself if this will be a long term stay or if you get a vibe form the place or the people that makes you think you’ll be on the road again in 6 months looking for somewhere new.

Secondly, it’s worth asking yourself this to clarify in your mind what your long-term goal is. If you’re happy renting, and you don’t see another viable option for yourself for the next 4 or 5 years at least, then by asking this question you’ve made it clear in your mind. However, if you are playing with the idea of saving for a mortgage and buying a place of your own, then your priorities may suddenly be different. You may be willing to forgo a more glamorous, expensive, place closer to the city, in order to stay somewhere a little cheaper and be able to put aside money each month for your own place.

Renting can be a total minefield, but if you have a set of expectations that you want from your home and are clear in your mind about the answers to these questions then it can be a lot easier to find a home.

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