Flatsharing heads to the Fringe

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We’re excited to announce SpareRoom’s partnership with Rent Girl, a hilarious and brutally honest comedy about the life of a renter, written for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Rent Girl is the latest project from actress and writer Maddy Anholt and follows the success of Diary of a Dating Addict, which enjoyed a sell out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and transferred to London’s Soho Theatre this year.

Previews start this month and run across the UK throughout July, before the show heads up to Edinburgh for the Fringe.

Here’s what Maddy has to say about Rent Girl:

Hello, my name is Maddy Anholt and I am a rent girl. I’ve been a rent girl for the last ten years in London. I worked out the other day what I’ve spent on rent in London over the last ten years. £136,000. That’s not a typo… £136,000. Pretty vomit-inducing, isn’t it?

The fact is by 2025 only 26% of young adults will be on the housing ladder. That means 74% of us will be rent boys and rent girls by 2025. Rent goes up and up and our salaries stay the same so we don’t have much choice in the matter.

But is it possible to have an enjoyable renting experience? An experience where you could leave food in the cupboards safely knowing it’d be there when you got home? Where you didn’t wake up to your flatmate watching you sleep at the end of your bed? Where you didn’t find questionable hairs in your toothbrush?

It all started in 2009 when I first came to London from a remote countryside town to try and build my empire. I put up an advert looking for work: “Young, fresh girl seeks any part-time work… excellent typing and oral skills”. You can imagine the responses I got.

Rent Girl is Sliding Doors meets Pretty Woman … was I better off taking the job as a children’s entertainer ending up with two broken toes, or should I have sold my underwear for £800 a pop to afford my rent?

Rent Girl previews opened 26th June at The Comedy Room, Camden and run throughout July. For full dates and tickets see: www.maddyanholt.com or find Maddy on Twitter @maddy_anholt

Rent Girl will be at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Gilded Balloon, 17:30, 3rd – 29th August. www.gildedballoon.co.uk

Bedroom Tax or Spare Room Subsidy – What’s in a name?

Yesterday’s spat between David Cameron and Ed Milliband at Prime Minister’s Questions included a squabble about the under-occupancy penalty, about to come into force on 1st April. The PM tried to shift the terms of the debate by using the phrase ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ to counter the opposition’s use of ‘Bedroom Tax’ to describe the penalty. Whilst the two parties can argue till kingdom come about the naming of the measure, its effects will be the same – to put more pressure on low income families who live in social housing, and who are reliant on benefits to pay their rent.

The intention was to save some expenditure on the £23bn housing benefit bill, as well as reducing under-occupancy in the social sector. It’s becoming ever clearer that the measure will achieve neither of these aims – as there aren’t enough smaller houses for people to move to, and many of those affected will have few options to raise the funds to pay the penalty, simply racking up arrears instead. This will put further pressure on the stretched resources of social landlords, who won’t be able to invest in more house-building – the one thing we’re all agreed is most needed.

Whilst party leaders squabble about the words they use to describe the measure, its implementation draws ever closer and anyone who is likely to be impacted needs to understand how it affect them. We’ve put together a concise guide to the Bedroom Tax, which you can download for free.

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.

7 tips for renting safely over winter

We asked shared house insurance experts Endsleigh what they recommend flatsharers do to protect themselves and their possessions over the Christmas period. Here’s their 7 top tips for flatsharers:

1) If you’re going away for more than a few days over winter, turn the water off or keep the heating on in the property to prevent pipes from freezing.
 
2) Check the condition of the locks on doors and windows, and ask the landlord to repair/replace any damaged/broken ones as burglaries increase during the winter months.
 
3) Don’t leave Christmas lights or candles unattended – Christmas lights can catch fire!                                    
 
4) Don’t keep large amount of cash in the property and position valuable items/Christmas presents away from windows/doors.
 
5) Don’t leave keys near doors or windows and make sure you lock everything even if popping out for 5 minutes, it takes very little time for an opportunist to get in and steal belongings.
 
6) If you are going away for a while, arrange for someone to keep an eye on post/packages at the property.  Parcels/post left outside the property will either get stolen, or build up, which is a clear indication that no one is home.
 
7) Ask the landlord when the boiler was last serviced and request, that if not done within the last year, for a service to be completed to prevent any winter breakdowns.
 
And just in case anything does go wrong, make sure you know your landlord’s/letting agent’s emergency contact details, and keep them to hand in case of a burst pipe/break in or other winter emergency!

Students could now become their own landlords

A twist to the usual narrative about how hard it is to be a student these days (£9000 a year fees, student loans, massive debts) and even harder to get a foot on the property ladder for young people (huge deposit requirements, impossibility of saving, rising rents) has come to our attention.

Whilst most students are scrabbling down the back of the sofa for a couple of quid to buy a kebab, there is a new opportunity for the canny and organised ones amongst their numbers to kill a few birds with one stone, with zero outlay. Those birds include solving their current housing dilemma at the same time as becoming a homeowner.

A new scheme announced by Property118.com, a popular community for landlords and property professionals, gives students the option to invest in their own student house. The deal involves offering a mortgage of up to 100% on a property up to £250 000 in value, with no deposit necessary. On loans above 80% LTV, a collateral charge on the student’s parental home will be required by the lender.

We could see students buying their own two or three bed flat or house, and renting out the spare rooms to their fellow students. They’d become live in landlords, and so may also benefit from tax free rent collection up to the amount of £4250 a year, under the Rent a Room scheme.

Interested students and their parents should inform themselves fully of the possible implications of investing in a student property before committing. Studying away from home is a short term commitment, as opposed to a twenty-five year mortgage, and students need to think carefully about what happens once they finish their studies.

For more information visit Property118.com.

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!

Deadline imminent for protecting tenant deposits in Scotland

If you’re a landlord with a rented property in Scotland, there’s an important deadline looming for protection of tenants’ deposits. From this coming Tuesday, 13th November, the new regulations come into force, by which date you should have registered with your local authority and transferred any existing tenant deposits into an approved custodial scheme. If you haven’t acted yet, here’s why you should.

If your tenants find you haven’t complied with the new deposit regulations, they can take you to court, where you may be ordered to pay back three times the deposit amount for non compliance with the regulations.

Scotland launched 3 tenancy deposit schemes to ensure that all deposits are protected by an independent third party. One scheme is run by SafeDeposits Scotland, a not for profit partnership between landlords, agents and tenants, including NUS Scotland, the student body. The other two schemes are The Letting Protection Service Scotland and MyDeposits Scotland, also government approved.

What do the changes mean for tenants in Scotland?

The schemes give tenants the benefit of access to an independent dispute resolution service if there is any argument over the return of the deposit at the end of their tenancy. The schemes will serve to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords, as well as helping to improve perceptions of the private rented sector.

Find out more information about deposits in Scotland on the Tenancy Deposit Scheme Scotland page.

More popular than John Lewis…

We don’t like to blow our own trumpet, at least not too often. But if you’re the kind of person who loves apps, and downloads them regularly for your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, you might have noticed that SpareRoom is currently more popular than John Lewis!

Our iPhone app, free to download, is at no. 45 in the Lifestyle category, 2 places above everyone’s favourite department store. We’re frankly astounded to discover we’re also more popular than B&Q (104) and Harrods (55), though we’ve still got a way to go to get into the top twenty. SpareRoom would have to elbow such giants as Next, TimeOut London and Tesco Clubcard out of the way to get there, but we don’t see why not!  It was amongst those chosen to be featured in the Sunday Times’ App List 2012 – a hand-picked list of the 500 best apps in the world.

The success or failure of an app isn’t all about downloads though. Plenty of people download apps and never use them more than once, if at all. The Top Grossing Apps give a measure of how useful an app is (revealing that people are willing to pay either for the app, or make in-app payments). We’re at no 3 in our category, on this measure. When it comes to being trusted enough for people to pay to use additional features, we’re right up there, it seems.

Recent reviews of the app reveal why it’s popular:

“I heard about SpareRoom on the news, I had a quick look… I liked it, created my details and I started receiving enquiries from first day” – 5 stars
reviewed by TheCedarsHouse 16 Oct 2012

“Fab fab fab fab fab app :)” – 5 stars
by Gemmmmyyyy2222 15 Oct 2012

“A perfect landlord app” – 5 stars
by Night player by day 17 Oct 2012

So, thank you to everyone who downloaded the app and uses it regularly. If you like it, please take a couple of minutes to leave your review on the App Store, so that others may also discover it. Thanks!

A birthday win for Andy

Our latest winner of the Live Rent Free Competition, run by SpareRoom every month for the last few years, is Andy McSkimming. Not only was Andy lucky enough to be picked out of our enormous hat, he was jammy enough to get the news on his birthday! Andy won with one of his 31 loyalty entries – yes that’s 31! – which are extra free entries we give out for entering the competition regularly.

Congratulations to Andy, who lives in SW17 (Tooting) in London, and wins £585 – the average rent for a double room inclusive of bills in his area, according to the SpareRoom Rental Index.

Andy responded to the announcement with delight, saying:

“This is absolutely fantastic news! I’ve diligently entered this competition for a few years now and not only did this news come through on my birthday, but I’m also in the process of looking to move from SW London to the East, so the news is both wonderful and amazingly timely. I’ve loved sharing over the years with friends, strangers who became friends, and also living on my own, but sharing for me is my preferred living style. Not only can it help keep costs down but, when you get the right bunch of people together, it really gives me a great sense of a home feeling; somewhere to truly relax in and not just somewhere people are living together in a house!”

Andy’s prize takes the total we’ve given away in the past 41 months to £25,676.15!

Live Rent Free in October

Our Live Rent Free in October competition is now open so Enter Now for your chance to win October’s rent.

Don’t forget, if you entered last month’s competition, you’ll get an extra entry added if you enter this month, virtually doubling your chances. You’ll get 3 entries next month and 4 the month after so it really pays to keep entering. At SpareRoom we believe it’s good to share, so for every friend who enters, you’ll get another free entry.

Enter Now

(Closing date is 12PM 30th Sep)

Want free tube travel? Flatshare with a TFL employee

thisislondon.co.uk and The Evening Standard are reporting increasing pressure on London mayor Boris Johnson (who my 10-year-old niece does an impression of an ape for when she gets him in the ‘mime’ round of the name game) to scrap a scheme costing £30m a year whereby partners (and even friends, flatmates and lodgers) of TFL employees get a free oyster card.

All 28,000 TFL staff are entitled to free travel plus they can nominate friends, family etc to get the benefit too (as long as they’re resident at the same address as the employee).

Does this seem like a fair use of taxpayers’ money to you? One thing’s for sure, if there’s even the faintest whiff of the scheme being scrapped the unions will be up in arms about it. We all know what that means – yep, even more tube strikes.

Tweet us (@spareroomuk) and tell us what you think.

Matt