We receive so many enquiries about apartment rentals that I’ve compiled a list, based on TALF users’ input, advice, and experience, of some dos and don’ts when arranging for short-term holiday flat lets in London. Use the forum’s search engine to find threads with reviews of particular landlords, flats, or agencies.
TALF poster TexScott has helpfully listed some reputable companies from which to let holiday flats here:
DO ask the following questions about the flat:
1. What is the EXACT address, complete with postcode (you can then look up the exact location by postcode on www.streetmap.co.uk)? How far is the flat to convenient public transport? Where is the nearest Tube stop, rail station, and/or bus stop?
2. Is a minimum stay required?
3. Are there discounts for longer stays? Are there discounts for stays of more than 14 days? 28 days? Longer?
4. Is VAT included?
5. What are the cancellation fees?
6. Is there a telephone in the flat? What is the telephone number?
7. Will you provide an inventory list?
8. Are linens and towels provided?
9. What utensils are in the kitchen?
10. What is the bed configuration? Twins? Double? Queen?
11. Does it have a bath and shower? Bath only? Shower only?
12. Is there a television in the flat?
13. Does the flat have air conditioning? Fans?
14. Does the flat have heating? Is it on a timer? How does it operate? Is it on a coin-operated metre and, if so, what coins does it take? Do all the rooms have heating?
15. Is there anything that I need to be aware of regarding electricity? Hot water?
16. Where is the nearest grocery store or supermarket?
17. Does the building have a lift (elevator)?
18. Is daily housekeeping provided? Are there laundry facilities for guests?
19. Are there any cleaning fees?
20. Can you provide the measurements of the flat in square feet or square metres? Can you provide images of the layout?
21. Have there ever been problems with noisy neighbours?
22. Is Reception staffed 24 hours?
23. What time can I check in?
24. What time must we check out?
DO be aware of Scotland Yard’s description of how fraudsters operate, and watch out for telephone numbers starting with (0)70:
“Whilst it appears that 'the fraudsters' are in London/UK they rarely are. They use the veneer of London/UK to add kudos to their Scams. The fraudsters use technology to hide their true whereabouts and identity. All information they have provided about themselves will likely be false.
Payment systems such as Western Union are used because it means there is no fixed location for the individual, and the money can/will be collected anywhere in the world using false identification. Even if the money is collected in the UK, it will be sent out again within minutes. The large number of Western Union / Money Gram outlets causes a problem. There are over a thousand in London alone.
The telephone numbers used are normally Platform numbers (Number starting with 070 or from international calls 004470) These numbers are set up via the Internet with various providers and unfortunately can be answered, again, anywhere in the world. The details given re setting up these account are, of course, again false."
DO get to know the market rate of flats before you start. Those few minutes of research could save you hundreds of pounds. Check out reputable letting sites by clicking on the listings on the first page of Google (search for ‘London holiday rental’). Educate yourself as to what the market prices are in the area. Scammers generally quote half the market rate or less.
DO remember: if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
DO ascertain the rental terms. Is full payment required in advance? If a deposit is paid, can the rest be paid upon arrival? Frequent TALF flat-renters insist on this option.
Similarly, DO note that cancellation fees and payment fees may vary from listing to listing, rather than agency to agency. Ensure that you know the relevant fees for each flat that you’re considering.
DO ask whether the landlord is a member of Visit Britain, and what their rating is. If they're not affiliated with Visit Britain, ask for American references (or references local to you) that you can contact personally to verify authenticity.
DO confirm with the agency that you will not be given a ‘substitute’ flat if the place you rent is double-booked (this prevents ‘bait and switch’).
DO try to acquire a range of RECENT photographs of the flat, preferably showing the house number as part of the montage. Ask how recent the photos are.
DO look at those photographs critically. Note the condition and quality of furniture. Remember that they will be putting photos of their best accommodations on the web.
DO read the description carefully. Does it give a full idea of what is included in the apartment? For example, is there a full kitchen with oven, cooker, and full-sized fridge, or a kitchenette with no oven and a couple of hotplates?
DO ask for instructions to be left for the appliances, especially washer/dryer units and ovens.
DO try to talk to the owner by phone beforehand. Does (s)he know the property and the area? For example, does (s)he know whether there is a supermarket or pub in the area? Is (s)he friendly and happy to engage with you, or is (s)he evasive and vague? Scammers don't want to be caught on the hop, so BEWARE if (s)he attempts to direct you back to email in order to gain time to think about his/her answers.
DO ensure that there's a local contact, and that you have their name, phone number, and address. Emergencies (especially plumbing emergencies) do happen, and almost always seem to happen on weekends or at night. Moreover, as TALF regular Britfan notes, “Sometimes operating instructions are unintelligible, and sometimes you just need to have somebody show you how to turn the heat on, turn the heat down, turn on the water heater, find the water heater, open the window, open the door of the washing machine, bring the towels that were promised and paid for, deal with a break in the water line, etc.”.
DO ensure that, if you are booking outside of central London and will have a car, parking is available.
DO take out travel insurance for any prepaid expenses (e.g. apartment rent or deposit).
DO read the fine print BEFORE you verbally confirm. Some companies hold you to verbal commitments.
DON’T expect anything better than what you see in the photographs.
DON’T forget to include the cost of payment to the owner/agency into your overall budget.
DON’T pay by wire transfer. It's the scammer's preferred method of payment, as it's untraceable. Fraud artists rarely (if ever) have access to a credit card machine.
DON’T look for holiday lets on free listings sites like Craigslist or Gumtree. As they are wholly unregulated, 95% of the rentals offered for London are from scammers. Moreover, they give you false ideas of the market rates in each London neighbourhood.