A Victory in the 2015 Budget

Raise the Roof logo

As most of you who’ve used SpareRoom in the past six years will know, we’ve been campaigning hard to get the chancellor to increase the Rent a Room Scheme tax threshold. We just found out he did just that in the budget, raising it from £4,250 a year to the £7,500 we asked for.

This is great news for renters – especially flatsharers. With around 19 million empty bedrooms in owner-occupied properties in England alone, we’re just not using our housing effectively. As we’re not building in anywhere near the numbers we need to, unlocking some of those rooms will make a big difference.

Here’s how:

  • Encouraging people to rent out their rooms means more supply – that helps keep rents down
  • There’s a huge demand for affordable rentals right now, especially rooms. This addresses that need head on
  • Average rents for people living with the owner are lower than traditional rents – good news for renters on a budget
  • Unlocking just 5% of those empty rooms would house almost a million people, that’s the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham!

It’s great to see the government addressing the housing crisis with simple, effective measure that will make a difference to hundreds of thousands of people quickly, while they work out the longer term policy changes we need to fix the housing crisis for good.

Thanks to all of you who signed the petition or helped spread the word. We’d also like to thank the people and organisations who’ve supported Raise the Roof publicly over the past six years, including Shelter, Sarah Beeny and Generation Rent.
Great news all round.

Matt

How the Benefit Cap will affect private sector landlords and tenants

With the government’s Welfare Reform on the horizon, we take a look at the Benefit Cap and how it’s likely to affect the Private Rented Sector.

Starting this April, and due to be in place nationwide by the autumn, the cap aims to prevent households on benefits earning more than those in work, (and to cut the Housing Benefit bill). But what will the impact be on landlords who rent to tenants on benefits?

The full details of the Benefit Cap and how it will affect tenants and landlords are outlined in our Info & Advice section.
Not all claimants will be affected, and some will only suffer a small shortfall, which they’re expected to cover by rearranging their finances, and budgeting well. They could avoid it altogether by working a minimum number of hours. How likely these outcomes are to happen in reality is another matter.

We expect many landlords faced with a shortfall in rent will simply reduce their rents accordingly to keep good and long-term tenants, whilst less impeccably behaved tenants or those in short term accommodation will probably get moved on. We’ve seen reports recently of homeless families being moved into hotels due to a lack of suitable short-term accommodation. This is not likely to do much to cut the welfare bill.

Do you rent rooms or whole properties to tenants on benefits? Is the Benefit Cap going to affect you? Get in touch and tell us your views.

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.

Taking in a Lodger #3 – How much can I charge?

This is one of the most important questions people ask us when they’re thinking of getting in a lodger. It’s hardly surprising as the extra money is the reason most people do it – we polled 2,500 people with lodgers and 59% said they wouldn’t be able to afford their mortgage without a lodger.

The answer is, of course, ‘it depends’. Several factors will affect what your room is worth. Location, the type of property, the decoration, fixtures and fittings – all of these will affect what you can charge. The current UK average for a double room, including some bills, is around £90 per week. In certain areas (London for example) you’ll get far more than this whereas in others it can be as low as £70.

Your best bet is to visit SpareRoom and have a look what other people nearby are charging. Just pop your postcode or area into the search box on the homepage and click ‘search now’.

If you do the same but check ‘Rooms wanted’ (instead of ‘Rooms for rent’) you can also see a list of all the people looking for a room in your area, which will give you an idea of who’s looking and what their budget is likely to be. Also have a look at the ‘Check average rents in this area’ link (on the right hand side of the ‘Rooms wanted’ search results page) to see average rents for different room sizes (with and without bills) in your area.

Don’t forget, you’ll need to to say whether your rent includes bills or not. Don’t just say ‘bills included’ without working out what they’ll add up to or you could end up cancelling out some of the financial benefit of having a lodger.

Taking in a lodger #2 – How do I know who I’m taking in?

In the U.S. there’s a saying that they’re just friends we haven’t met yet; in the UK we’re told from a young age never to talk to them. It’s no wonder we Brits are more likely to treat strangers with suspicion.

If you’re British and visited the US you’ve probably experienced the surprise (and initial discomfort) of a complete stranger suddenly launching into conversation with you, perhaps on a bus or train. Many of us have also been surprised when, talking to a stranger, we realise that they are in fact not a freak and we’re actually getting on quite well with them – but really the odds of a stranger being a nice decent human being are pretty damn good, it’s just easy to forget that!

“How do I know who I’m taking in” (and variations on that theme) is one of the most common questions we get asked by people thinking about taking in a lodger.

Here are our top 3 tips to help you feel more reassured about who you’re taking in:

  1. Take your time. Not only do you not have to take the first lodger that responds to your ad, you also don’t have to make up your mind after one meeting. Try meeting for a drink in a cafe or pub. It’s neutral ground so you can both relax and get a more natural impression of each other. The more time you spend with them, the more opportunity there is to realise that they aren’t right for whatever reason.
  2. Get references. You should try to get previous landlord, employer, bank and personal references.
  3. Trust your instincts. Your instincts have thousands of years of evolution behind them. Sometimes you just know when something’s right or wrong, even if you can’t say why. It’s often best to use gut instinct over any list of pros and cons.

More than 9 out of 10 lodger landlords (of the thousands we’ve polled) have had a positive experience taking in a lodger. And 59% would even consider their lodger to be a friend. Out of the small % that had a negative experience, most were down to domestic fall outs and lifestyles differences that could’ve been avoided with the right preparation. Over the coming weeks we’ll give you our top tips straight from the mouths of other lodger landlords who’ve been there, done it and learned through experience.

Taking in a lodger #1 – Who makes the best lodgers?

As promised, here’s the first post in a series aimed at anyone thinking of taking in a lodger. There’s plenty more info and advice to follow but you’ve got to start somewhere so we started with a question:

Who makes the best lodgers?

Something that causes great debate between our users (and us at SpareRoom) is whether existing friends or strangers make the best lodgers or flatmates. On the surface it seems like the answer would be obvious, but in fact it’s not so straightforward. Of course, existing friends can make fantastic flatmates, but this should be approached with caution because there’s a danger of losing them if things don’t work out.

The trouble is that living with someone is a wholly different kind of relationship. When friends fall out it tends to be over the important things in life, but in a household it’s more likely to be relatively trivial things (that in an ideal world no one would ever fall out about). Things like who last bought toilet paper and the maximum time washing up should be left for. Some of us have experienced moving in with partners only to have the honeymoon period brought to an abrupt end once the bickering over domestic chores starts!

The other issue is that, if you know someone well and are very comfortable with them, you’re more likely to take things for granted and abuse the situation – often unintentionally. If, for instance, your friend is struggling for money one month, he or she might think that (out of the people they owe money to) you’re the one who would mind least hanging on. Because they’re your friend you might not feel comfortable saying ‘actually I really do need the rent on time this month because I’ve got to pay the mortgage’.

Out of 100s we polled, only 28% said existing friends make the best flatmates. Most felt that strangers were better, mainly because they’re more likely to know where the boundaries are and it makes it easier to establish ground rules from the outset.

Of course some friends end up living together and loving it so don’t be put off by any of this – all we ask is that you consider the options first as the great thing about taking in lodgers is there are plenty of options.

If you’re considering advertising for a lodger, the next post will try to answer the question almost everyone asks: “How do I know who I’m taking in?”.

Taking in a lodger series starts next week

The New Year always sees a rush for shared accommodation. In fact January is the single busiest month on SpareRoom.

In part, no doubt, this is driven by a new batch of people taking in lodgers to cope with the post-Christmas financial hangover. With that in mind we’ll be starting a new series of blog posts as from Monday, full of tips and advice for anyone thinking of renting out the spare room in their home.

It’s a big decision and one you shouldn’t take lightly. Luckily we’re on hand to guide you through the process and we also have plenty of advice from others who’ve done so (and who can point out the pitfalls in advance to help you avoid them).

Check back on Monday for post #1

Matt

The Essential Guide to Flatsharing 2nd edition

The second edition of our book on living in shared accommodation, The Essential Guide to Flatsharing, is available to buy now on Amazon. We’ve updated the information and links in several places but also doubled the length of the chapter on taking in lodgers as more and more people are doing this to counter the effects of the recession.

How to de-clutter and rent out your spare room

This week’s guest blog comes from Big Yellow self storage and deals with de-cluttering to make space for a lodger. It also contains some excellent advice on how to best store your things to keep them in good condition.

How to De-clutter and Rent out your Spare Room

It’s no surprise that so much of our home space is filled with useless clutter – 61% of people questioned in a Big Yellow Self Storage survey admitted to hoarding useless items around the house. But hoarding can really cost you; households across London could be making up to £38 billion a year, just by storing excess clutter to rent out a room. (This equates to over £250 million a month based on average rental incomes across the UK, or an extra personal income of as much as £320 a month or £3,840 a year per household). Just under a third (26%) of us that have a whole room in our home filled with junk and the research found that over a third (41%) would definitely rent out a room to make money to help in these tougher financial times. Looking at these figures it could well be time to get the junk out of the spare room.

So now you’ve decided to de-clutter and rent out your spare room, what’s the best way to store the things you’ve no longer room for?

Storing Clothes

Clothing should be stored in wardrobe boxes, on hangers, to retain their original shapes. Keep out of season clothes accessible, as you may need to store your clothing for longer than anticipated. Before you pack anything away, make sure it’s dust free and clean:

– Don’t cram too much into a box, as fabrics need to breathe. Make sure the boxes aren’t packed too tightly.

– Refold items regularly to prevent dust settling.

– Don’t store fabrics against wood and bear in mind that certain fabrics need specific care i.e. use muslin or acid free tissue between delicate fabrics for added protection.

Wooden Furniture

Before placing any kind of wooden furniture into storage, wax well with wood varnish. This prevents moisture from affecting the wood. Likewise, if your furniture can be dismantled easily, then do so as it will prolong the life of that piece. If you dismantle furniture, collect the nuts and bolts of each item into a plastic bag and tape it firmly to the dismantled set. In addition, place thick cloth such as old carpets between wooden pieces to prevent them scratching one another.

Storing Sofas

It’s worth taking into consideration which type of material your sofa is made from before storing. Generally, it’s better to store vertically on a flat sided arm. Leather handles the pressure very well, as does micro-fibre. Silky high end fabrics are better to kept on their feet as they don’t have the structural integrity to withstand the additional pressure. For transportation itself, a professional mover knows how to use furniture pads to keep the pressure off the arms. If you are doing this yourself, you’ll need to stand the sofa on end with several double folded blankets to provide a soft surface for the arm.

Avoid Rust

If you are planning on storing metal objects like lawnmowers or filing cabinets, it is a good idea to treat them with rust protector first, or at least wipe them down with an oily rag. You can use the cheapest oil available; it makes no difference as you’re just using it for its lubricating qualities.

Compact Discs

Store your discs in a CD wallet (don’t place compact discs in plastic wrap because if your storage area heats up, these might destroy or compromise the disc). Always back up data in several different ways and store in several different locations. Take tapes out of VCRs, camcorders and data backup devices, and CDs and DVDs out of drives and players.

Big Yellow Self Storage can store items of all shapes & sizes, in rooms from 9 sq ft to 400 sq ft, with leases starting at just one week long.