With house prices in this country (and specifically in London) being so high that even couples with two incomes are now struggling to buy anything at all and in the absence of rich mummy and daddy to fork out for a bijou apartment in a swanky part of town, renting is fast becoming a more and more common way of life. Weirdly enough this isn't much of an issue on the continent and it's only since moving to the UK that I've experienced the strange mindset that seems to suggest renting is somewhat "abnormal" and that anybody should strive to own their home by the age of 30... Well, I guess this country will have to adjust and attitudes to renting will have to shift.
With all that in mind and since I've experienced being a homeowner as well as a tenant, I thought I'd put together a little list of my top ten tips on how to rent AND feel at home. This is obviously a totally non-scientific and by no means exhaustive list and purely drawn from my own experience. The list is also pretty specific to the UK as I know that things work very differently in other countries.
1. Before you even agree to rent a property, make sure "the shell" works for you. There are many things that can temporarily be rectified, but if the ceilings are nearly caving in because of 10 layers of wallpaper (yes, I've seen a property like that) or the bedroom is too small to actually fit your bed in, then move on and find something else.
2. Pay your rent on time! Sounds obvious, but when I hear about people running to the postoffice to post their rent cheque, I despair. This is the 21st Century! Set up a standing order for the money to leave your account as soon as you get paid. That way the landlord will trust you (important!), you know exactly how much money you have left after this hefty expense and you'll have proof that you've paid should you ever need it.
3. Treat a rental property as you would your own home: with respect! There are a lot of extremely bad landlords out there, but that would be for another post. Unfortunately there are also bad tenants out there. There seems to be a very odd mindset in this country of "it doesn't belong to me, so why should I invest in it". Well, I'll tell you why: whilst you live in that property, it's your home. Home doesn't mean that your name has to be on the deeds or that you have to actually own the land. Home is where your furniture is, where you cook, sleep, eat, watch tv, entertain. Investing (and I'm not talking major improvements here, obviously) in your home will make you feel content, settled and to an extent in control - a feeling that can lack when renting. Another plus is of course the fact that you'll get your deposit back when you move out and possibly a nice reference.
4. Build up a rapport with your landlord. It is important to be open about any changes you wish to make and to show that you look after the property. I know from own experience that building a good relationship with a landlord paves the way to a more flexible approach when it comes to decorating. I am allowed to paint walls and hammer nails into those walls to hang up art which isn't always a given in this country. I also know that any necessary repairs are always done promptly as I assume that my landlord values good tenants.
5. A bit like point 4, but worth mentioning: When painting, fill any holes and cracks - make everything look as good as possible. If you're in the "lucky" position to rectify the last tenants' decorating disasters, make the most of it and let the landlord know about it. You'll look like a star and will be allowed to hang up pictures as you've shown that you can clean up the messy holes afterwards.
6. Use lots of cheap fabric rather than too little of an expensive one if you're planning to hang curtains but you're on a budget. This is probably one of the few times where I'd say "quantity over quality". If you have a limited amount of money and invest it all in a really expensive fabric which - when the curtains are drawn - barely covers the window, it will still look cheap! You are far better off buying 3 times the amount of fabric (a plain cotton always looks fresh and goes with everything) and having big curtains - the effect will be far more sumptuous and expensive-looking.
7. Tidy up! Have (real!!!) plants and fresh flowers, place a large bowl of fruit on the table and light scented candles in the evening. Sounds like a sales-pitch? Well, maybe it does, but why would you make more effort for somebody you don't know than for yourself? After all, you live in this place every day, so shouldn't it be really inviting for yourself?
8. Use self-adhesiv window film. Sometimes it's simply not possible to have net-curtains (if that's what you like) or blinds. I have previously used window film with great effect. It simply sticks on the window with water (so no worries about taking it off), lets the light through whilst giving you much needed privacy should your window be on street level.
9. Layer! Cushions, throws, rugs... All these are things that won't break the bank, don't require the landlord's permission and are interchangeable with your mood. Flowery and light for Spring and Summer, more cosy and woolly for Winter. The more of these items you layer up, the more your rented space will feel like your home.
10. Dot lighting around the place. Most of the time changing light fittings is simply not an option. So, have single lamps in various places. Desk light, a floor light in a corner, a lamp on a chest of drawers, fairy lights around a mirror: all these will give a much nicer light and make for a much more relaxed and homely atmosphere than that one ceiling lamp your landlord put up in around 1985...
So, these are a few of my "wisdoms". If you don't find them helpful, then I hope you at least find them entertaining. I hope you're all well and wish you all a lovely weekend.