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20 Mar 2022

Renters struggle to move as demand outstrips supply

One tenant took eight months to find a property - and it was £200 over budget

Three-quarters of surveyed tenants who tried moving home in the last six months have failed to do so, according to a Which? survey of over 2,000 UK renters.

People cited affordability, difficulty finding properties, and the fast-paced nature of the lettings market as reasons they'd been unable to move.

This comes as Rightmove's latest quarterly data revealed tenant demand was 32% higher at the end of 2021 than it was the year before, while 51% fewer properties were available.

Here, Which? takes a closer look at the difficulties renters are facing.

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Why can't tenants move house?

When we surveyed 2,003 renters between 25 February and 7 March 2022 earlier this year, some 351 (about one in five) said they'd tried moving in the past six months. Of those, three-quarters (74%) were unsuccessful.

When asked why they were unable to move, several reasons came out on top:

  • 59% couldn't find a property or room within their budget
  • 49% couldn't find one that matched their desired criteria
  • 31% said properties were coming on and off the market too quickly
  • 11% had their offers rejected

It seems the problems don't end when those in search of a new place to live do find appropriate housing. A separate Which? survey carried out via industry body Propertymark in February found that 70% of 142 estate agents have seen an uptick in renters offering above the asking rent in the last six months.

This means opportunities to save money by offering below the advertised rent are lower, and tenants may be priced out of properties they thought they could afford by rival house hunters with bigger budgets.

Rising rents and the cost of living crisis

With moving more difficult, many tenants will be trapped in flats facing rent increases they can't afford.

Some 38% of the renters we surveyed who had renewed their tenancy agreement in the past six months saw an average rent increase of 7.2%. Property portal Rightmove says the average rent outside London is £1,068. In the English capital, it's an eye-watering £2,142.

These rising rent bills come alongside increases in council tax, energy, food, fuel and telecoms, compounding the cost of living burden on millions of tenants.

Listen: Which? consumer rights expert Adam French and Generation Rent's Dan Wilson Craw join host Lucia Ariano on the Which? Money Podcast to share their tips on renting during the cost of living crisis.

'We were feeling pretty positive about it'

Kirstie and her flatmate moved out of their south west London rented home in July 2021. The two planned to move back in with their family for a few weeks while they looked for a new place nearby.

They wanted to find somewhere more affordable, as their rent had crept up from £1,400 to £1,500 in the four years they'd lived together, and Kirstie's flatmate was looking for a new job after her previous fixed-term contract had ended.

'We were feeling quite positive about it,' Kirstie told us. 'We were thinking at the time we might be able to get a bit more for our money, maybe a garden.

'We thought we'll be home for a little bit, but then we'll be back in London and things will be great. That is absolutely the opposite of what happened.'

'It felt like the battleground had completely switched'

After beginning their search in August 2021, Kirstie and her flatmate saw a few homes they liked but 'none of them were quite right'. Then everything changed in September.

'It felt like the battleground had completely switched and all of a sudden there was just tumbleweed in terms of properties becoming available. And the ones that were becoming available were hundreds and hundreds of pounds more expensive than we were seeing literally four weeks earlier. We were just shocked.'

Estate agents sent them several listings they couldn't afford. 'It was just incredibly frustrating.

'I think estate agents have this assumption that everyone in London earns £70,000 a year and can spend £2,000 or more a month on rent.

'We don't earn that much and the rent we are paying is pretty much 50% of our salary. Which is a lot of money when you're not taking into account the increased cost of living.'

'It's like a second full-time job'

Kirstie continued looking for months. 'I literally felt like it was a second job, looking on Rightmove and Zoopla and the property websites. Just constantly refreshing, refreshing, refreshing. Updating. Enquiring with estate agents. Calls every single morning.'

Kirstie had to take this approach because the market was so competitive. 'We were 'sniped' multiple times,' she said, after rival viewers put in offers on properties they visited before they'd had a chance to discuss them. 'It's just this vicious cycle of first come, first served.'

Over the eight-month search, Kirstie estimates she viewed 20 to 30 properties, in person and virtually, and looked at hundreds of listings. She has now moved into a new flat with her flatmate, but at £1,700 a month, they've ended up paying more than what they wanted.

It's soured Kirstie on the renting experience: 'One of the very few benefits of renting is the flexibility to pick up and move easily. And that one benefit now is being completely taken away from you.'

Which? advice for renters

Whether you're a new renter, trying to move or staying put, we have free online advice for you.

Our renting first steps guide has everything you need to know if you're new to renting. You can read about complaining to your landlord or letting agent in our tenant's rights guide. And you can learn more about how tenancy agreements and the tenancy deposit scheme work here.