UK rental crisis stories: queues outside flat viewings, properties snapped up in minutes and soaring prices

The UK’s rental sector has been plunged into chaos over the past year.
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If you’ve been on the hunt for a new rental property in the last year or so, you’ll know all too well about the chaos that is currently enveloping the UK’s housing sector.

Rents have just hit the highest rate on record, and letting agencies are seeing a huge demand for properties - which the supply in the market simply hasn’t matched up to. Both of these challenges have combined to cause something of a warzone for those hoping to move home, adding an extra level of chaos to an already stressful time.

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If you’re looking to stay put at the moment, and remain blissfully unaware of the UK’s current rental crisis, NationalWorld has collated three tales of some of our team’s desperate attempts to move home. Here’s a snapshot of what’s been going on.

Ethan Shone - Edinburgh

When people say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do, I’d always assumed they were referring to the physical act of moving, rather than the search for a new home. Now, jaded and embittered by a six-months-and-still-going process, I know that finding a flat in a major city is not something that can be achieved half-heartedly. It requires dedication, organisation, and a significant amount of luck. Also, shockingly, having plenty of money really helps.

My routine is this. I open the Rightmove app on my phone several times a day and run the same search, always filtered to include only properties that have been uploaded in the last 24 hours. Even among these results, most have inexplicably already filled their viewing slots by the time I enquire. You can, in this circumstance, sign up to receive an email inviting you to book a viewing slot if anyone drops out, but whenever I’ve received one of these emails, I’ve always been beaten to it within minutes by some unknown and inexplicably responsive competitor. So, anything that’s been on the site for longer than that can be safely assumed to be long gone.

Assuming you can find a property before all viewing slots have been booked, you progress to the next stage - where the “fun” really begins. Given that I currently live approximately 240 miles from the city I want to move to, there are a few logistical issues in attending viewings - but I’d thought there would be easy ways around this, not least by just skipping the viewing stage altogether. That was until one letting agent kindly informed me that to allow me to apply for a flat without first attending a viewing would be, I quote, “illegal”.

The UK’s rental sector has been plunged into chaos over the past year. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorldThe UK’s rental sector has been plunged into chaos over the past year. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld
The UK’s rental sector has been plunged into chaos over the past year. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld
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The vague feeling that I was being fobbed off only intensified when the same letting agency - albeit a different agent - encouraged me to apply for a property even if I was unable to attend, although, as they put it, “landlords do tend to prefer applicants who’ve made the effort to come”. (Duly noted.) The solution then, is either to make the trip to attend a viewing myself, which takes 6 - 8 hours and costs between £100 and £200, depending on my method of travel, or to rope some poor friend who lives nearby into going on my behalf. However, as another agent put it, “landlords do tend to prefer applicants who’ve made the effort to come themselves”.

I now look back on certain properties with the same wistful longing and melancholy usually reserved for relationships that never got off the ground. Oh, what could have been, reasonably-priced, dog-friendly, two-bed with a garden! We would have been so happy together. I managed to secure two viewings for this particular property. The first was cancelled with an hour’s notice after I’d spent £120 on return train tickets plus £80 on accommodation. The second time I arranged for a friend to go on my behalf, but the viewing was cancelled once again. I was assured I’d be contacted when viewings were rearranged, but when I called back a few weeks later, I was informed, without so much as hint of regret, that I had been missed off the new viewings and the property was now under offer.

Even after successfully arranging six or seven viewings, and applying for each property, I’m still no closer to moving. I suspect the part of the application form I keep getting wrong is the question of ‘how much would you be prepared to pay per month for this property?’, to which I have always answered with the amount advertised. I think this is actually more like a written auction, rather than a test of whether you paid close attention to the listing.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the kitchen of a very nice but somewhat overpriced AirBnB - the irony of contributing directly to the overheated rental market I am suffering from through my use of a short-term rental anything but lost on me - eagerly awaiting a viewing that’s booked for 10am tomorrow morning. Wish me luck.

Properties are being snapped up within hours of being listed on lettings websites. Credit: Getty ImagesProperties are being snapped up within hours of being listed on lettings websites. Credit: Getty Images
Properties are being snapped up within hours of being listed on lettings websites. Credit: Getty Images

Imogen Howse - London

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When my friends and I were looking for a flat in London, we definitely weren’t prepared for the chaos we saw unfold. We went in with lofty ideas of what we were looking for - a nice living area, possibly a balcony, and even preferences over which borough of the capital. But we ended up looking basically anywhere that had a listing, and feeling relieved when each of the bedrooms had a window.

We would spend days on end scouring Rightmove and various estate agents’ websites, putting in calls as soon as we spotted a three-bed flat. In the vast majority of cases, we were told the flat was already gone - and the company just hadn’t removed the property from the website yet. Sometimes, this would happen despite the page saying the flat had only been added ‘one day ago’, and the three of us came to realise that if a place had been listed for longer - after viewing such properties - that it was a terrible sign.

We soon learnt we’d only be in with a chance if we came across a flat listed with the mystical ‘one hour ago’ pop-up. In these circumstances, there was no choice but to arrange a viewing for that day. This meant I often found myself traipsing across London after work to make it to several different viewings. Sometimes, I’d get a phone call to let me know the flat had been taken whilst I was on my way over. On the rare occasion I’d actually make it to a viewing, I was never the only one there.

I remember one time in Clapham, I counted at least thirteen people waiting outside the flat. When we were allowed in to view the house, I had barely made it into the bedrooms when I heard someone putting an offer in then and there. On other occasions, we were told by the estate agent to not even bother offering if we weren’t prepared to go hundreds over asking. There were definitely a fair few tears as we wondered if we were ever going to find somewhere!

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In the end, we got our flat by handing over a hefty deposit before we even saw the place in person. Other prospective tenants subsequently - and frantically - placed offers which far exceeded ours, but because we had our deposit down, we had secured the flat. Luckily for us, we loved the place and it turned out fine - but the risk definitely could have gone in a different direction.

Adam Gearing - Manchester

My girlfriend and I decided to move from Newcastle to Manchester in early 2021. We knew it would be more expensive, but were happy to accept that for the benefits the city brought. When I viewed flats in April 2021, rent prices were reasonable and we were lucky to get a two-bed for £975pcm on a year’s contract. In June 2022, we signed an extension and were happy to be staying put, having moved around every year following university.

But a month after signing our contract extension, I was told our flat was being sold. I don’t know why this is and I don’t have any clarity on whether we can stay even if the property is sold. The only saving grace is there has at least been some time to work out what I want to do.

In 2021, when I was first looking to move here, the average price was probably around £900-£1100pcm. Now, the average is £1400-1500pcm - and I even spotted one property, which I viewed in 2021, popping up with a 50% rent increase. There doesn’t seem to be any discernible improvement to justify such a hike.

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When we’ve been lucky enough to find a property we’re interested in, it’s a huge struggle. I ring and enquire about properties I’ve seen and they’re already gone - even the ones listed just hours earlier. Other estate agents ask you to put down huge deposts in one lump sum, which simply isn’t feasible during a cost of living crisis.

Resorting to the outskirts of the city has proved no help, as rent increases and rising demand seem to be at the same level. Essentially, I’ve been searching for six months and found nothing - and I can’t see anything changing anytime soon.

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