"We've thought about it for years and now is the time before Ruby starts secondary school," says Dave. The family have been saving hard for the trip but for that "rainy day when we come back" they are renting out their four -bedroom, Brixton terrace property through agents Barnard Marcus. "We tried a couple until we found some who offered good service and the best deal. We're renting to single sharers and are surprised by how much we can charge."
Dave and Megan will receive pounds 350 per week but must pay 16 per cent commission to their agents. Could they avoid this penalty by letting their property independently? "We'll be out of the country so we want the security of knowing someone will visit regularly. We paid pounds 80 for an extremely thorough inventory clerk who made a note of any rips in the curtain linings." The clerk will take a final inventory in August before their return and deduct damage from the deposit.
The family's house was very much in demand. How did they choose their prospective tenants? "The agents checked references and financial status which helped. In the end we've gone for a group of trainee solicitors as they can't afford to put a foot wrong. I imagine it will be like This Life - there may be a few relationship problems but no wild parties," says Dave, a self-professed "trusting person", who is leaving most of their furniture but is locking away personal possessions in the loft on the agent's advice.
Dave has decorated and removed all Spice Girls posters, but negotiations are ongoing over the fate of Billy the cat. A friend has agreed to cat- sit but the tenants want Billy to stay. "It seems a bit much paying for the pleasure of looking after our cat," says Dave.
There are other options for renting out your home, particularly if you prefer a longer-term arrangement. Many local authorities and housing associations have private rental schemes which find landlords for people on their waiting lists.
Woking Borough Council introduced a scheme 18 months ago and is about to advertise for more properties. Its role is mainly introductory and tenants, often homeless families, pay rent directly to the landlord.
The council sets a bond of pounds 500 against which a landlord can claim for damage, although this is rare according to Jan Chapman, who runs the scheme. Who is the typical landlord? "They vary; from people who've inherited and don't know whether to sell, or they may have moved in with a new partner leaving their own home empty," says Jan. "Some have bought for investment."
Woking won't accept steep rents but it does agree an inventory, make follow up visits to check all is well and negotiate between landlord and tenant. It frequently finds replacements if tenants leave prematurely, as public housing is scarce and waiting lists are long.
Some authorities and associations extend the scheme by giving deposits to landlords and repairing the property if it gets damaged.
Steve Twyman owns a two- bedroom, Sixties-built terrace home on the Isle of Grain, which he bought in the mid-1980s. "I'd like to sell," says Steve, now living in Forest Hill, London, "but I'm in negative equity so I'm waiting for prices to rise."
He has a two-year lease with Swale, his local authority, which collects rent, does repairs and guarantees tenants for as long as he wants. Steve accepts he is not getting the maximum amount of rent for his house but prefers the security of a guaranteed income because of bad experiences with tenants. "Our agents were useless and didn't keep a good eye on the property, leaving us with constant repairs. One guy moved out but had removed the fence and left an old MG in pieces in the garden. We eventually got it taken away but he came back for it and wasn't too happy."
Mortgage companies may be reluctant for you to rent out your property. Steve overcame this problem by talking to his lender, Barclays, which eventually agreed to a two-year period, the minimum lease that Swale would accept.
Jim Chadwick, marketing director for Barclays Mortgages, finds clients who are having difficulty selling often decide to let their properties: "We don't object as long as it's financially viable and on an assured shorthold tenancy so we can recover the property if things go wrong."
Barclays doesn't insist on mortgagees using agents or local authority schemes but recommends them for added security particularly if the home's are leaving the country.
Renting out your home can bring flexibility and finances to go with it. Tempted? As you read this Dave, Megan, Lily and Ruby are closing the door of their Brixton home, picking up their backpacks and heading for the warmer climes of the Caribbean.
National Housing Federation: 0171 278 6571; Woking Borough Council: 01483 755855; Swale Borough Council: 01795 424341; Barnard Marcus: 0171 924 2536Reuse content