The Rules of Flatshare: The boyfriend rule

Couple on sofa

Living with a housemate you get on with can be endless fun but what happens when one housemate morphs into two? This is more common than you might think and can completely change the dynamics of the house – sometimes for the best and sometimes…not so much.

It usually starts slowly, they might stay over one night a week, but before you know it your housemate’s other half has full on moved in, often without any thought as to how you might feel about it.

Here’s how we suggest you avoid the ‘one housemate morphing into two’ scenario:

Set the record straight

41% of SpareRoom users say they’d prefer not to live with a couple. Others (11%) said they’d consider it and a third said they’d be happy to live with a couple if there was enough space in the house. With this in mind, it’s only right that you know where you stand from the very beginning.

So, when you’re looking for a new housemate, ask about partners. Drop it into the discussion when you’re getting to know the other person. If they have a partner who will stay over regularly and you’re happy with that arrangement, that’s great but you need to be clear from the outset.

Implement the boyfriend rule

This is something one of our users suggested – we think it’s genius. Simply, your housemate’s partner can stay over as many nights per week as your housemate stays at theirs. This results in a maximum of 3 nights when they’re both at yours (and if that’s the case, you get 3 nights to yourself). Fair’s fair, right?

Talk

If it turns out that your housemate’s partner is overstaying their welcome, talk about it. If you’re concerned about money, could you negotiate that they pay a split of the bills or contribute to the food shop when it’s their turn. If you’re bothered by their cleanliness or tidiness, could you ask your housemate to deal with it? Whatever your bugbear, talk about it.

Have you seen one housemate morph into two? What did you do about it? Did it make the houseshare better? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us your story.

Safe as houses

The internet is full of scams and spam but SpareRoom isn’t. Here’s what we do to keep you protected while you rent your rooms. (Originally published in Multi-letters issue 9, Jan-Feb 2013)

The Internet has been the saviour of flatsharing in may ways. Not only does it allow people to search for rooms quickly and easily, without needing to be in the area they’re moving to, it also makes it easier for landlords offering rooms to target people searching in their area. However, there has always been a darker side to the Internet and property sites attract just as many scams and fraudsters as other websites. Some sites don’t have the resources (or, frankly, the desire) to combat fraudulent activity, as keeping things secure all adds to running costs (quite significantly if it’s done properly). at SpareRoom security is a core element of what we do – if our users are happy they’ll come back and recommend us. That’s the bottom line.

So how do we keep scams at bay and keep our users safe and happy?

Spareroom has staff dedicated to the task of keeping scams and spam off the site and commits a substantial chunk of our resources to preventing fraud. All our customer services staff are trained in spotting scams. The operation is headed up by Jim Craft. Jim is Spareroom’s security expert. Along with a dedicated team of ad checkers Jim monitors the site constantly to make sure no scam listings creep in and, in the very rare instance where one does, that it’s dealt with quickly and effectively.

People + technology = security

Spareroom has a sophisticated system of automated filters in place that check every single ad, photo and video that comes in, which is no mean feat when you consider that Spareroom has over 68,000 live ads as I write this. We then manually go through these listings for any signs of scams or fraudulent activity. With 8 years under our belts running Spareroom (and 13 with our sister site intoLondon.com) we’re getting good at spotting the signs.

A wider security team of 3 million

We also let users help us as, after all, they’ll spend far longer between them on the site than we can – there are over 3 million of them and not quite so many of us! every listing has a ‘report this ad’ link so users can let us know if they spot anything suspect. even if it turns out to be fine it’s always worth us having a look.

Keeping your email safe

We also don’t publish anyone’s email address directly on the site. This achieves two main things. Firstly, it stops automated programs from scanning the site for email addresses they can ‘harvest’ and add to spam mailing lists and, secondly, we can monitor any communications made by fraudulent advertisers once we’ve spotted their ad. This means we can alert anyone to be on the look- out if we think someone has been trying to con them.

What you can do to protect yourself

There are, of course, things you can be on the look out for to make sure you don’t fall victim to a scam. Here are our top 3 tips specifically for landlords renting out property.
1) If it looks too good to be true it probably is
If someone says they’ll take your room and pay up front without having seen it then warning bells should be sounding. There are genuine reasons why some tenants can’t view a room first but you should be extra cautious if this is the case.
2) Read all emails and messages carefully
People write messages in a hurry so it’s not unusual to see spelling mistakes in them, but you should keep an eye out for inconsistencies and errors in emails. The obvious thing is the sender including details that don’t seem quite right. Scammers send out 1,000s of emails a day so they’re probably using a template to start with.
Be on the lookout specifically for language mentioning ‘final asking price’ or someone wanting to ‘buy your item’.
3) Trust your instincts
Your instincts have been honed over a lifetime of experience so, if you have a nagging doubt about something, chances are you’re probably right. If you’re an experienced landlord you’ll probably have reliable gut feelings about people – trust them.

Jim says, “Don’t forget, by using a reputable site such as Spareroom you’re already drastically decreasing your chances of running into scams or spam. If you’re in any doubt at any point then get in touch via the ‘report this ad’ link or via the number on the site and we’ll look into it for you”.

It’s also important to remember that the scammers we keep off Spareroom will surface elsewhere and not all other websites are as scrupulous as we are in weeding them out.

Kindle an interest in Flatsharing

We’re pleased to announce that The Essential Guide to Flatsharing is now available for Kindle. Priced at a very reasonable £4.98, the book is now available to download from Amazon.

Whether you’re looking for a flatshare or renting out a room, The Essential guide to Flatsharing has everything you need to know. Written by Rupert Hunt, the founder of SpareRoom.co.uk, and Matt Hutchinson, SpareRoom’s resident expert, the book serves as a no-nonsense guide to the world of shared accommodation. It brings together the pair’s expert knowledge of dealing with flatshares, lodgers and landlords and shares tips and insights on how to avoid the pitfalls of sharing. From financial issues to living in harmony with your flatmates, this book covers it all.

Now available for Kindle for the first time, the guide will prove your stalwart friend and advisor as you travel through the maze of shared accommodation. Download a copy now!

Room for Rent – Bills Included?

You might think that setting the rent you charge for your room is simple. You just pick an amount that:

  • covers your mortgage
  • gives you a profit
  • reflects the facilities, size and location of the room

Once you’ve done your research, including checking the SpareRoom Rental Index, you’ll know what the going rate tends to be in your area, and you can pick your figure. Right? Wrong.

There are two additional factors you need to consider when deciding how much to charge (and they could have a big impact on the response to your ads).

Bills Included or Excluded?

The most popular way to advertise on SpareRoom.co.uk is bills included. We recently polled our users, asking them how they prefer to see rents displayed in SpareRoom ads. The overwhelming response was with bills included in the amount (94%), with only 3% saying that they preferred to see the amount without bills, and the same percentage not having a preference either way.

Having bills included makes it easy for tenants and lodgers to keep a handle on their outgoings, so they know how much they can afford to then spend on more appealing things – food, clothes and going out! When bills are excluded, it’s unnerving that you could at any time be presented with a large bill you hadn’t planned for.

A quick search of our database reveals that only 14% of our rooms are currently offered exclusive of bills, which should keep most sharers happy!

Weekly or Monthly rent?

The second factor to consider is whether to offer your room with a weekly or monthly rent. Going by current trends, most room advertisers (66%) show a monthly rental amount, whilst 34% list rent weekly. But what do room seekers prefer? Weekly amounts look significantly lower, so it’s tempting to think that could entice them to click on your advert.

A room seeker, scanning a list of mostly monthly rents, might be tempted to click on a tantalizingly low figure. When they realise it’s a weekly amount and, therefore, not as low as it first seemed, they may feel slightly duped.

Our theory was that room seekers would overwhelmingly prefer to see monthly rents, especially if they’re receiving a monthly salary rather than a weekly wage packet. But then we analysed Room Wanted ads (placed by over a quarter of a million room seekers in the last year) and discovered that, in fact, only 60% express their budget in terms of monthly rent, with 40% choosing to state it in weekly terms.

So although there is a defined preference for monthly, it’s not as clear-cut as whether to include bills or not. Something for you to ponder, before you place your next room offered ad.

A free course for landlords

We don’t generally do much promo on the blog for other people’s stuff but, every now and then, we spot something we think will be of use to our users and make an exception. This is one such exception (no financial interest on our part, we just thought it was worth promoting).

School for Landlords is a free email course from Tessa Shepperson, who is an experienced solicitor and specialises in landlord and tenant law. All you need to do is enter your email address and you’ll get a weekly installment direct to your inbox.

Tessa says:

We constantly hear in the news how new and ‘accidental’ landlords make unnecessary, and sometimes costly, mistakes due to lack of knowledge of the laws which apply to rented property. My free course will help landlords understand what is involved and give them the background knowledge that they need.

To sign up for the course visit schoolforlandlords.co.uk

How to offset the shock of an increase in SVR

More than 1 million UK homeowners got a shock last week when 4 mortgage providers (Halifax, the Co-operative Bank, Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire bank) increased their standard variable rates. NatWest also pushed up the rate on its One Account, affecting a further 100,000 customers.

With many homeowners already living on frozen salaries, and with tightened belts, this further increase in outgoings could be critical.

The general advice in this situation is to speak to your mortgage lender in the hope that they may be able to help. The earlier you let your mortgage lender know if you think you’ll struggle the better.

One practical way to offset increased outgoings is to take in a lodger. Not only will the £4,250 you can charge tax free under the Rent a Room Scheme be a huge help in these circumstances, you may also benefit in other ways. Having someone to water your plants or feed your pets while you’re away, for example. Friendship is often a happy consequence of taking in a lodger, and we’ve even heard about one or two marriages that resulted from it too!

Make sure you speak to your mortgage provider first, but taking in a lodger could give you the breathing space you need as SVRs increase. Visit http://www.spareroom.co.uk/lodger for more information.

New Tenancy Deposit regulations for Scotland

New regulations are coming into force this summer to introduce a Tenancy Deposit Scheme in Scotland. The scheme(s) will be run by independent 3rd parties and will protect tenants’ deposits until they’re due to be repaid.

The regulations are set to come into force on July 2nd 2012. Under the new system landlords in Scotland will be required to:

  • Pay tenancy deposits into one of the approved schemes
  • Provide their tenant with information about the tenancy and the deposit

One scheme has been approved already and two further alternatives are being considered with the aim of having all 3 in place by July 2nd.

What you need to to depends largely on when the tenancy began (or will begin). Here are the key dates for deposits to be paid into one of the schemes (according to scotland.gov.uk’s tenancy deposit page):

===

1. Deposit received prior to 7 March 2011 and where tenancy renewed on or after 2 October 2012 and before 2 April 2013 (Regulation 47(a))

Within 30 working days of renewal

In any other case (Regulation 47(b))

By 15 May 2013

2. Deposit received on or after 7 March 2011 and before 2 July 2012 (Regulation 48)

By 13 November 2012

3. Deposit received on or after 2 July 2012 and before 2 October 2012    (Regulation 4)

By 13 November 2012

4. Deposit received on or after 2 October 2012 (Regulation 3)

Within 30 working days of the beginning of the tenancy

===

All sounds a bit confusing doesn’t it. The key thing to note is that, once the scheme is up and running and bedded in (after October 2nd by the looks of things), then the rule is 30 working days from the beginning of the tenancy.

For more information (including details of events you can attend to learn more about how this works) visit scotland.gov.uk

Tenancy Deposit Scheme legislation – important changes

As from April 6th there have been some changes to the way the Tenancy Deposit Scheme works. These changes are important for both landlords and tenants.

(These changes aren’t relevant to Scotland – click here for information on Scotland’s new tenancy deposit regulations)

Why have the changes been made?

Since the legislation was introduced in 2007 there have been a few significant cases that have highlighted loopholes in the legislation. The new changes aim to close these loopholes.

What’s changed?

There have been several changes to the legislation. The most significant being:

  • Extending the time limit for protecting deposits (and providing the tenant with the prescribed information) from 14 days to 30
  • Changing the penalty for non-compliance from 3 times the amount of the deposit to between 1 and 3 times the amount. This allows courts more discretion when deciding penalties
  • Clarifying that penalties still apply even if a landlord complies after the deadline

When do the changes take effect?

They already have – the new legislation came into force on April 6th 2012

What about existing tenancies?

In cases where deposits aren’t protected landlords have a 30 day window to comply. If not they become subject to the full range of penalties. The 30 day window means the deadline is May 5th.

Don’t forget, the legislation only applies to Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs). If you have a lodger, for example, the rules don’t apply to you.

What happens if I don’t comply?

If you don’t comply with the legislation:

  • Legal proceedings can be instigated and a fine of up to 3 times the amount of the deposit can be handed out
  • A section 21 notice can’t be relied on so it may be difficult to evict your tenant(s)
  • The tenancy becomes an Assured Tenancy

In a nutshell

  • Landlords now have more time to protect deposits and provide tenants with the information required
  • Compliance after the deadline doesn’t exempt landlords from being penalised
  • The amount of penalty charge is now more flexible to allow courts discretion
  • Landlords have a 30 day window to comply if they’re holding existing, unprotected deposits

Taking in a lodger #5 – Placing an ad as a way of testing the water

So you’ve done some research and considered what it is you want from a lodger. Now it’s time to place an ad. You may be thinking ‘But I’m not ready to advertise my room just yet’, and that’s fine. Advertising your room can be incredibly useful though as it can tell you several things you can only guess at otherwise:

  • Will anyone want my room? – Advertising can help you work out how many (and what sort of) people are likely to be interested
  • Am I charging the right amount? – If your room is too cheap (or too expensive) it’s worth finding this out so you can make adjustments
  • Is my ad any good? – You may well find you end up tweaking your ad as you go. The responses you get will give you an idea what you might not be saying that you should
  • How to deal with enquiries – Learning how to communicate with prospective lodgers can hep you get the kind of information out of them that’ll tell you whether they’re suitable or not

Of course, we wouldn’t suggest anyone puts up an ad if they’re not planning to rent out a room as that would just waste people’s time. However, advertising sooner rather than later gives you plenty of time to meet several people and find the right fit.

Taking in a Lodger #4 – Benefits of a lodger

The most common unexpected benefit of taking in a lodger is something we touched on in our last email: friendship.

We get thousands of emails from SpareRoom users telling us about their experiences. Probably one of the most commonly used phrases amongst them is ‘friends for life’. There have been bridesmaids, best men and women and (while we’re on the marriage theme) we’ve had a surprising number of SpareRoom weddings. I should stress at this point that one of our golden rules for choosing a lodger is not to select one you’re attracted to, but romance can spring from unexpected places!

That’s not to say you should expect to become best of friends, or feel like the arrangement has been a failure if you’re not. There’s a very comfortable middle ground that many lodgers and landlords occupy, where both get on with and respect each other, have the occasional conversation or meal together but otherwise get on with their own lives.

Another great benefit that doesn’t always occur to people is security. Have you ever gone away for the weekend or on holiday and wondered which light you should leave on so it looks like someone’s home? With a lodger chances are there will always be one of you at home. Unless, of course, you’re one of the ‘friends for life’ ones who goes on holiday with their lodger (as several SpareRoom users have reported!). If you have a pet then your lodger may well be happy to take care of feeding duties whenever you’re away.

There are many other weird and wonderful benefits we’ve heard about. For instance, several people have taken in lodgers from overseas and learned a new language. You never know what skills, talents and interests your lodger may have. Some landlords had their laptops fixed, gardens manicured, dogs walked and even driveways cleared of snow by their lodger.

Of course the money is the reason why most people take in a lodger, but nobody said there had to be just one upside.