Flat hunting tips: How to save money

By Natasha Culzac
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Researching a new home and want to identify how you can cut costs? Look no further and read our guide.

It’s time-consuming, all-encompassing and a drain on your bank balance, yet the opportunities it presents can be so diverse it’s pretty much impossible not to get excited. Oh yes, it’s looking for a new place to live.

Whether you’re hunting for a new flat to buy, or a rental house to share, there a number of things you can do to try and save you some money both in the short and long term.

Commuting

When it comes to finding a new home, the new cost and time it takes to get to work has gotta be right there up in the list of “things I need to worry about”.

Young professionals, particularly in cities, are constantly having to search for affordable accommodation that’s close enough to town so that you won’t become devastatingly miserable spending five hours stuck in traffic a day.

If you can hack it, this website will explain in bold, ugly truths just how bad your commute is: http://infographics.fordmedia.eu/commuting2016. It’s a calculator made by Ford, and states that the average commuting time in the EU is 37.5 minutes. So if yours is more than that, feel free to be aggrieved. But needs must and the best thing you can do to try and counteract this, while also trying to save money, is to consider these points:

 

Go green and save: Live fairly central but start riding a bike to work. Have a look at the cycle routes that go from your employment and work outwards from there. This website has a map of UK-wide cycle routes, or in London check out the Cycle Superhighways. You can work out exactly how much money you’d save cycling to work, by using this calculator.

Slightly less green: Can’t be arsed with getting hot n’ sweaty? Buy yourself a second-hand scooter and motor to work every day. They don’t use much petrol and parking is a hell of a lot easier than with a car. Use this website for more details on bike parking restrictions across the country.

Carpool without the karaoke: Across the UK, thousands of people are sharing the car journey from their hometown to work. Not only does this cut cost and help the environment if it reduces the numbers of cars on the road, but it also alleviates boredom, says Louise Stephen, a commuter who now shares her hour-long journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh with a total stranger after finding the buddy on Liftshare. This isn’t also only aimed at drivers, but those who take the train, too. Louise told the Guardian that she’s saves £2,500 a year by carpooling compared to taking the train, which is expensive and busy. Other similar carpooling websites include Faxi and BlaBLaCar.

Bus-ta groove: Let’s face it, the train is ridiculously expensive for some reason. Could it be possible for you to live one or two bus journeys’ away from work? This is probably most effective in London, due to the soaring cost of a travelcard, which makes London the most expensive city in the world to travel around. Again, perhaps work backwards looking at the bus routes from your workplace (presuming you want to continue to work there for the foreseeable future), and check out the towns at nearing the end of the route. Thanks to the Hopper Fare in London, you can even get two journeys for the price of one, so long as you get the second bus within an hour of getting the first. This means that you could, technically, spend just £3 per day on return travel to work - bargain! But sadly this won’t account for any weekend or ad hoc trips you want to make for culture days or nights out etc.

The small print

For buyers: So you’re looking to buy a flat on leasehold and you’re taking into consideration the high monthly service charges. Did you know that you don’t actually have to use the managing agent you’ve been lumbered with? You can actually manage the property yourself by setting up what’s called a "Right to Manage" (RTM) company. You can save thousands of pounds by researching and paying the building insurance and all other maintenance yourself. It can be a bit of a slog but if you’re looking at staying put for a number of years, it’s worth looking into. This flat owner in Cardiff reduced his service charge from £115 to £28 per month by taking over the managing of the building along with the other homeowners in his block of flats. For more information on Right to Manage, read this factsheet.

 

For renters: Some estate agents can be crafty buggers and despite constant protestations from politicians and the press, they continue to shaft renters with exorbitant agency fees. These can be for things like an administration fee, reference fee, tenancy agreement fee and check-in fee, but can crop up every year when the tenancy needs to be renewed or resigned. It’s not unusual for charges to be above £400 - in Bristol, people have been taking to the streets to complain. Make sure that you’re aware of the fees that an estate agent charges before you get too excited about a property. Instead, can you obtain a rental property from a private landlord? Classified websites such as Gumtree will let you filter agencies out in the search for properties, only providing you with the ads posted by private landlords.

Housemates

As they say, the more the merrier! For both buyers and renters, have a good long think about how many people can, or should, live in the property to make it truly affordable.

For buyers: Could you get a flat with one more bedroom than you’d planned and fill it with a lodger to help cover the cost of the mortgage?

For renters: If you can stomach it, consider turning the living room into another bedroom. Two-bedroom properties are notoriously pricey to rent, but if you can get three of you together with one of you living in the sitting room, splitting the cost between three suddenly makes that centrally-located flat slightly more affordable. In this case, try and find a place with a large kitchen that can double up as a communal area.  

Sharing the space with as many as you can psychologically take, will mean that It’s not only the rent or mortgage that will be split, but the utility bills, too. And both renters and buyers can take advantage of the Rent a Room Scheme, where you don’t pay any tax whatsoever on the first £7,500 you take in rent from a lodger over the year! You can’t offset the costs of wear and tear, though, so if you have high expenses you may need to work out whether the scheme is right for you.

Food shopping

Try to get as close to a large supermarket as you can. Shopping at smaller, high street branches of the big chains will end up costing you more. For example, Sainsbury’s states on its websites that yes, items in smaller stores may well be more expensive. This is because their operational costs for that particular store, such as rents, might be a lot higher and they need to account for that.

Longer term

For renters: If you never deviate from paying your rent on time, every time, then you can earn valuable points on your credit score by taking part in the CreditLadder scheme. It’s basically a super easy, low effort way to boost your credit score by doing what you already do every month. You’ll have to get permission from your landlord or estate agent, but essentially you just pay CreditLadder your rent, who then passes the payment onto your landlord and registers that you paid it on time.

This information is then fed to credit reference agency Experian and is added to your credit report. Over the course of a year or two this data will help you look more attractive to lenders and could help to give you low APRs when applying for credit. It’s particularly handy for young people and students who perhaps have never had credit before and want to find a way to build their score.

Top Takeaway

Identify what your priorities are when it comes to moving home. Do you want to live closer to town/work? Or would you prefer someplace bigger further out? And then find a way to make that as affordable as possible. Also double-check the fees and charges to see if you can either find alternatives or at least be in a position to negotiate them.

Author bio: Thanks to a journalistic career history and a childhood at Sylvia Young Theatre School, Natasha has her fingers in a few professional pies, doing her best impression of a model and actor as well as personal finance writer. Outside of work she compulsively watches BBC period dramas and constantly lies to herself that this year will be the year she learns French, once and for all.

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