Most of Britain has access to optic fibre broadband. You might need a visit from an engineer to have it set up (if you rent or have a leasehold property you will need to ask the landlord or freeholder).
There are two types of fibre broadband: Superfast (download speeds up to 30Mbps) or Ultrafast (over 300Mbps). Standard broadband gives only about 10Mbps.
Be aware that the fibre broadband usually only goes to a local connection box. The wire from the box to the property will probably be copper. If you live far from the connection box, this may make your broadband slow.
The main government website gives information about schools close to your postcode. It also lets you compare their results (though it does not have many details about private schools).
Be aware that you usually cannot apply for a state school until you are living nearby. In some places it can be difficult to find a space for your child in the local state school. It might also be very difficult to find space in a local private schools if they are very popular.
London is made up of many small villages that have grown together. This gives each area a different character.
Some areas have no Underground station (like East Dulwich). Other places have an Underground station, but the trains can be so crowded in the rush hour that it’s very difficult to use them (like Clapham). The quality of the schools can also vary.
The richest areas are Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea, South Kensington, Notting Hill and St John’s Wood.
The most popular family areas are Islington, Maida Vale, Clapham and Richmond. For interesting markets and a more multi-cultural feel, try areas like Camden, Shoreditch, Brixton and Stoke Newington.
For a short overview of the most popular areas, old villages and the postcode areas, see the London Town website.
Many people who work in London live outside the circular M25 motorway, especially if they have a family. Property is usually cheaper and there are many towns with good schools. It can be easier to make friends, but there are not so many things to do or see.
Some people drive into London, but the traffic is usually very bad.
Most people use public transport. These include national trains, the Underground, the Overground train and buses.
Although the trains are expensive, this kind of travel can still be cheaper overall (especially if you want a large house). Be aware that some train lines are very crowded.
The areas north and east of London are usually cheaper than those south or west.
There are several websites with lists of property rentals. Try to sign up with as many local letting agents as you can because many properties are never shown on websites. This is because the best are often let without needing to be advertised.
Estate agents pay to be on property rental websites. This means different websites might show different properties.
Many websites also give details of current rental value. This value is often unreliable. Britain’s homes are so diverse, it is difficult to compare properties – even ones that look similar on the outside.
It is possible to rent a room in a shared house. The rules for house shares are complex, but if 5 or more strangers live together it is called an HMO (house of multiple occupancy).
HMO houses must be registered with the local council to make sure they meet safety standards.
There are also minimum room sizes. A bedroom for one adult must be at least 6.51 m². A bedroom must be at least 10.22 m² for two people. Unfortunately, some landlords do not follow these rules. Contact the local council to check its HMO Register before you view properties.
For a two-bedroom flat in 2018/2019, the average monthly rental payment in London was £1,700 for a private rental. This hides a wide variation. Rents in Mayfair average over £5,000 a month. The cheapest areas (including Rainham, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead) average just over £1,000.
Outside London, the average in England was just over £660.
All these prices are just a guide and will change depending on the area.
The easiest way to get an idea of property prices is websites like rightmove.co.uk or zoopla.co.uk. Only use them as a guide – even on one street, the homes can vary a lot, so it is very difficult for a computer program to make estimates. Speak to an estate agent to get more detailed information.
Be aware that rents in London are very high and you might get a better deal by finding a property outside London and taking a train into the city.
Usually, you need to pay a deposit and a month’s rent at the start. The deposit can’t be more than 5 weeks’ rent, and you should get it back at the end of the tenancy if you have not damaged the property or left it dirty.
You will need to give information about your immigration status, work history, bank accounts and savings accounts.
You will also need to give references of previous landlords or other people who can give information about your character. If you find your property through a letting agent (property agent), they will contact these people as part of their checks.
It is illegal to discriminate against you because of your disability, gender, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.
For more advice, go to website of the housing charity Shelter. It has information about renting.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring they do not rent to illegal immigrants. Landlords and letting agents will do a check of your immigration status and anyone over 18 who will be living with you (your ‘right to rent’). To do this, they will need to see documents proving that you are allowed to live in the UK. There are many ways to prove this – common documents that you might need are:
biometric residence permit
letter from an employer
letter from a university
Landlords will make a second check later on to make sure you are still allowed to stay in the UK. They must try to evict you if you are no longer allowed to live in the UK.
For advice, go to the website of the housing charity Shelter. It has information about immigration checks on its website.
An assured shorthold tenancy agreement is a long name for the most common type of contract between you (the tenant) and a landlord. Most are for 6 months or 1 year, but they can be any length.
An assured shorthold tenancy means you agree to rent the property for the full length of the contract, but it also means you can’t be asked to leave until the contract expires (unless there is a legal reason, for example if you don’t pay the rent).
If you might want to end your contract early, ask for a ‘break clause’.
Even if you don’t have a written tenancy agreement, there are certain things that must be done:
Keep all the main facilities working (for example water, electricity, gas, toilets, heating and hot water)
Let you live peacefully and not disturb you without good reason
Treat the property carefully and respectfully
Allow repairs to be done when needed
Pay the rent on time
For more information about private renting, go to the website of housing charity Shelter.
No, you can continue to live at the property if you want to. You don’t even have to sign another shorthold tenancy agreement. If you do nothing and your landlord agrees, you will have a ‘rolling’ contract that does not have an end date. This is called a ‘periodic tenancy’.
A rolling contract can make it easier to leave when you want to because you will usually only have to give 1 month’s notice. However, it also makes it easier for the landlord to suddenly increase the rent or ask you to leave without a reason.
If the landlord does want you to leave, you must be given a document called a Section 21 Notice and must also be given at least 2 months to find another property. You must have been renting the property for at least 4 months before you are given notice.
This is a delicate area of English property law, so make sure you speak to your landlord or estate agent about it before you start renting.
If you give your landlord money as a deposit for an assured shorthold tenancy, they must put the money in a deposit protection scheme or protect it with insurance. This will keep it safe until the end of your tenancy. You should get all the money back if you have looked after the property.
Make sure details of the deposit protection are mentioned on your tenancy agreement. By law, the landlord must give you details within the first 30 days of your tenancy.
The landlord must give you the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property. This will help show how energy efficient it is. It must have a rating of E or above (unless you are just renting a room). If it is below E, it must have a special certificate to show why (for example, it is a very historic property).
You must be given a gas safety certificate (if there is gas at the property). Gas appliances must be inspected every year.
You must also be given an electrical safety certificate. All fixed electrical items must be tested every 5 years.
For homes with a woodburner or open fire (or similar), there must be a working carbon monoxide detector in the room.
There must be at least one working smoke alarm on each habitable floor of the property. Remember to test them regularly and replace batteries as needed.
You can ask your local council for help if you are homeless, or if you are going to be evicted from your home within 8 weeks, for example because you have been given a Section 21 eviction notice and cannot afford somewhere else to live.
Usually, the council will make an appointment to speak to you. If you are homeless, you can go to the council offices in person.
The housing charity Shelter has more information about homelessness.
Be aware that if you have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ in your visa, the council will probably only give general advice. The housing charity Shelter may be able to help more.
There are several websites with lists of property sales. Try to sign up with as many local estate agents as you can because some properties are never shown on websites. This is because the best might be sold without needing to be advertised.
Estate agents pay to be on these property websites. This means not all properties will be on any one website, so it is good to look at many of them.
Here are some of the most popular property websites:
Be aware that room sizes shown in property details are approximate: a survey of 300 properties in 2020 found that 60% had floorplans that made the property seem larger than reality. This can be important if comparing cost per square foot.
Many websites also give details of current sales value. These values are often unreliable. Britain’s homes are so diverse, it is difficult to compare properties – even ones that look similar on the outside.
If you need a mortgage, it is best to apply for a ‘Mortgage in Principle’ before you look at properties. Mortgages can take several weeks to arrange. The person selling the property might not be prepared to wait for you. There is also a chance that no-one will give you a mortgage.
It is also a good idea to find a conveyancing solicitor (a lawyer who specialises in property) and ask them to act on your behalf. This can help to make the buying process quicker. See the question below for help finding a solicitor.
You can apply for a mortgage directly to a mortgage company or bank. However, it is often best to use an independent mortgage broker because there are many different types of mortgage. You might have to pay a fee of £500 or so. Search online for mortgage brokers near you.
You will have to prove you can afford the mortgage. This means you:
Have enough income
Can afford your lifestyle
Have a good credit rating
Have a deposit
You will have to provide documents like banks statements, credit card statements, store cards statements, savings statements and work payslips. You will also have to prove your identity and citizenship/immigration status.
When you buy a property, be aware there are many costs aside from the property itself.
Costs you might have to pay are:
Stamp Duty (or equivalent in Scotland or Wales): This tax is paid in a single payment when the property is purchased. Be aware that because it is a percentage of the purchase price, this payment could be large (it is not payable in all circumstances, however)
Surveyor fees: these are usually about £300-£500
Land registry fee: an administrative fee for changing owner details on the UK’s property database. About £100
Legal fees: these charges from your solicitor (lawyer) will include their time as well as fees from searches to find out if the property has a history of flooding or contamination. About £1,000 in total
Money transfer fee: When you make your payment for the property. About £40
Mortgage arrangement fee: If you have a mortgage, there might be a fee for setting it up. About £400
The government has several ways it tries to help people buy their first home or people on low incomes. There are rules about who can qualify for these schemes.
The Help to Buy scheme. This is usually only for new properties. It is for first-time buyers and people on low incomes. There are two ways this scheme can help people buying property.
1.A special low-interest loan from the government (England and Wales only), called an Equity Loan.
2. Buying a share of a property (you can usually buy a bigger share later if you want).
Lifetime ISAs: A savings scheme with tax-free interest to help save for a deposit. Each year, you can save up to £4,000 and the government will add an extra 25% (up to £1,000 a year). It can only be opened by people aged 18–39. It designed to help save money for buying a property.
A ‘park home’ is the name for mobile homes or caravans on special sites, licensed by the local council. As well as buying the park home, there is usually also a charge for renting the land (the ‘pitch fee’).
If it is to be your permanent home, make sure that you are allowed to live in it all year round, because some sites are for holiday use only.
There are many special rules about park homes so read about them carefully to make sure it is the right choice for you. Also be sure to find out about any hidden costs.
Only about 5% of new homes in Britain are custom built or designed. However, in April 2021, the government launched a ‘Help to Build’ scheme for people hoping to build their own home, as long as they have a 5% deposit. Read more about Help to Build on the main government website.
You (or your representative) must view the property in person at least once. You can ask for more than one viewing.
Once you see a property you like, make an offer to the estate agent (or owner if there is no estate agent). It will usually be lower than the advertised price. You are more likely to have the offer accepted if:
You don’t need to sell another property
You have a ‘Mortgage in Principle’ or can prove you have the money to buy the property without a mortgage
You already have a solicitor (lawyer)
If the offer is accepted, you will need to give the estate agent your identification documents and the contact details of your solicitor.
You will need to give the mortgage company the address of the property and details of the estate agent. The mortgage company will arrange a survey of the property to check its value. They will also send legal documents.
Be aware that nothing is legally binding until the exchange of contracts stage, so both you and the seller (often called the ‘vendor’) can stop the sale at any time (for example, if you found something bad about the property).
SCOTLAND: The system is different in Scotland. Offers should be over the advertised price and include the date you’d like to start owning the property. If the seller agrees to your price, there will be a series of negotiating letters, called missives. When all aspects of the sale have been agreed, the sale is legally binding.
See the independent organisation Which? for more details about the buying process across the UK.
Buying a property in England and Wales usually takes weeks, if not months. 5 weeks would be quick and 3-4 months is fairly normal. This is because it can take time to get results from the survey and searches (checks for flooding, contaminated land and planned work).
If there are any points that need to be negotiated or investigated, the process will take longer. If you selling a property at the same time, it can also make things more complicated. It is difficult to work to a fixed date.
There are some ways to make the process quicker:
Buy a property that is ‘chain free’ – this means the seller is not trying to buy another property at the same time.
Have your ‘mortgage in principle’ before you make an offer.
Find a solicitor (lawyer) before you make an offer.
Don’t try to sell a property at the same time as you buy. Sometimes it is easier to sell, then rent for a while.
In Scotland, the process is usually faster. You agree a date for the actual sale very early in the process. Usually this is 4-8 weeks later.
For buying (or selling) property, you need a solicitor who specialises in ‘conveyancing’. Most high street solicitors offer this service, but there are others which might be suggested by the estate agent. It is important that you don’t have the same solicitor as the seller because you want a solicitor to have you as their priority.
When you have had an offer accepted on a property, give your solicitor the details of the property and estate agent contact details.
Your solicitor will arrange the transfer of all the legal documents. They will also do background searches to look for information like flood risk, conservation status or if the property might be affected by a new development nearby, for example a new motorway or high rise building.
Be aware they do not arrange a physical examination of the property.
Exchange of contracts is the moment when you legally agree to buy a property using the English buying process.
Your solicitor and the solicitor of the vendor (the person selling the property) exchange identical legal contracts.
At exchange of contracts, the buyer pays a deposit. This is usually 10% of the purchase price. From this point the buyer is legally responsible for the property. A date is set for completion. This is usually soon afterwards, or can be on the same day.
Before exchange of contracts, you should have the property surveyed and have all the important details of the property (see the question above). You will need to arrange buildings insurance. Your solicitor will ask you to sign the contract ready for the exchange.
Either the seller or the buyer can stop the sale at any time until exchange of contracts.
An EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) must be shown when a property is for sale or for rent.
Each EPC has coloured graphs showing how energy efficient the property is. This is measured by looking at the type of lighting, windows, water heating system and insulation. A high rating (dark green, A) is very energy efficient, a low rating (red, G) is very inefficient.
Most British homes are on yellow (D). Low efficiency homes will cost more to heat and light than high efficiency ones. Older properties are usually not very energy efficient.
When you get a mortgage, you must get buildings insurance as well. This protects the structure of your property, any fixed items (for example the kitchen cupboards and bathroom), the land, and usually also sheds or garages.
It protects against dangers like fire, natural disasters and storm damage. Most buildings insurance also covers floods and subsidence (but check before you buy). It does not usually cover terrorism or war.
Stamp Duty Land Tax (sometimes called SDLT) is tax paid to the government on all English residential property over £125,000 (for land and non-residential it is over £150,000). If it is your first home the rules are different and you might not have to pay.
In Scotland, Stamp Duty is called Land and Buildings Transaction Tax. In Wales, there is the Land Transaction Tax.
In all 3 places, the tax must be made in a single payment when the property is purchased. It is therefore a significant extra cost.
A freehold property means you own the rights to the land for an unlimited amount of time. Most houses are freehold.
Some apartments have a ‘share of freehold’. For example, if a building has been split into 4 apartments, each one might own ¼ of the freehold. In some ways this is better than leasehold because the lease won’t run out and you may have more freedom to make changes to the property. But it can be difficult to get everyone to agree to pay for repairs.
Shared Ownership is part of the government’s Help to Buy scheme for housing. It is only for people who don’t own any other property. Usually you need to live or work in the area for several years. Only some properties are in the scheme. To begin, you buy part of the property and rent the rest. Later, you can buy the rest of the property.
When you buy a property ‘leasehold’, you are buying the lease (the rights to the property), not the actual property. The true owner is called the ‘freeholder’.
The lease only lasts a certain amount of time (commonly 99 years). When the lease ends, the freeholder gets all the legal rights to the property again and can sell it to someone else. This means the length of the lease makes a difference to the price of the property. Property with less than 75 years on the lease will be worth less than the same property with 99 years.
Usually it is possible to extend the lease. If the freeholder of the property cannot be found, this can be a big problem.
If you have a leasehold property you will have to pay ground rent and service charges (for lifts, communal areas etc) to the freeholder. The freeholder is responsible for maintaining the property. It is very common for apartments to be leasehold because it is easier to maintain the apartment block.
Sometimes there are strict rules. This can include a ban on hard flooring (because of noise) and restrictions on changes (including new bathrooms/kitchens or pipework), so check your lease carefully.
By law, there must be an annual ground rent for a leasehold property. Sometimes these ground rents are on very old properties and are now a very small amount of money (£1-5 a year, for example). This is known as a ‘peppercorn rent’.
Freeholders who do not want the hassle of collecting rents may ask for literally 1 peppercorn instead, so they don’t need to ask for money. The peppercorn is symbolic – in reality, the rent is never collected.
This is the amount that someone owning the leasehold on a property must pay to the freeholder (property owner) each year. It can be as low as £1 (known as a ‘peppercorn rent’); £300 a year is more usual. It varies from property to property. Check the ground rent carefully – sometimes it increases over time.
Sometimes freeholders don’t ask for the ground rent, especially if it is low. However, you must pay it if you are formally asked, otherwise you may have to go to court.
There are over 9,000 Conservation Areas in Britain. They help to preserve the local historic character. If you live in a Conservation Area, you must ask the local council for permission before doing some types of work to your home or garden.
‘Listing’ helps to preserve the character of old buildings for the future. Most buildings from before 1840 are listed, as well as other special buildings. You can read more about listing on the Historic England website.
There are different grades of listing:
Grade I: The most interesting buildings. Only 2.5% of listed buildings have Grade 1 listed status. Few changes are allowed.
Grade II*: Quite important buildings. Limited changes to the building might be allowed.
Grade II: A building of special interest. Interior changes are more likely to be allowed than exterior changes.
Owning a listed building can mean that repairs and alterations cost more than for non-listed properties. There are also rules you must follow. Anyone with a listed building must first discuss changes with the Conservation Officer at their local council.
A housing estate is an area of houses built by the same company, so they all look similar. Be aware that although terraced houses all look the same, this is not a housing estate.
Sometimes people talk about a ‘council estate’. This is an area of social welfare housing. They often have a recognisable architecture. When council estates were first built, all the homes could be rented cheaply. Now it is common for many of the homes to be privately owned.
Be aware that the word ‘estate’ can also mean a country estate – the villages, woods and fields that belong to a large country house.