Convenience, but at what cost?

Rented furniture seems like a great idea, and the market for it is booming. But is it worth it?
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The Independent Online

It isn't a difficult sum to calculate. Regular rental payments on a sofa will, at some point, exceed the amount it would have cost you just to buy the thing outright. Yet rented furniture is occupying a large slice of the capital's rented interiors, and turning furniture rental companies into large, lucrative businesses.

It isn't a difficult sum to calculate. Regular rental payments on a sofa will, at some point, exceed the amount it would have cost you just to buy the thing outright. Yet rented furniture is occupying a large slice of the capital's rented interiors, and turning furniture rental companies into large, lucrative businesses.

So who is this market aimed at? And what do you pay for a service that will deliver and install a complete furnished home package, which can extend to filling cutlery drawers, tuning in the TV, and making the bed with your new linen?

The 1988 Furniture and Furnishings Ruling which set tighter fire resistance regulations for domestic upholstered furniture and furnishings in rented accommodation was the turning point, according to Carolyn Brown, group marketing manager for www.room servicegroup.com. "It was this ruling that really set the scene. More properties than ever before were coming onto the market unfurnished which helped to carve out a need for companies to provide good quality furniture solutions. The landlords were suddenly scared of providing sub-standard furniture," says Brown. "And increasingly they opted to leave rental properties empty."

Large blue chip corporations in the business of relocating employees from abroad have embraced this "empty property + rented furniture" equation in such a way that they are the biggest clients for four of the market leaders in rented furniture: www.furniturerentaluk.com; www.roomservicegroup.com; www.johnstrand.com and www.fully-furnished.com.

Global banks, computer and pharmaceuticals companies are increasingly turning to renting for their relocated employees for reasons of cost, convenience and efficiency says Kim Munson, director of The Furniture Rental Company.

"Most importantly, it is a very cost-effective decision. When a business rents domestic furniture for housing and accommodation for employees, the rental payments are fully deductible as a business expense. It doesn't make as much sense to buy the furniture outright, as it is then deemed a fixed asset which is only 40 per cent tax deductible."

Another financial plus is the cost to rent furniture, and an unfurnished apartment on a monthly basis will still prove cheaper than the costs involved in putting someone up in a smart hotel for the same amount of time.

When wasted time is wasted earning power, large corporate clients see many other advantages in using the furniture-rental business. It is in their interest to settle in their executive as soon as possible so they can start their UK assignment,

It is potentially awkward and time consuming to sell off furniture (they have bought instead of rented) at the end of a tenancy. Even if the relocatee has chosen to have his or her furniture shipped from abroad, there are often lead times of two months or more when short-term furniture rental solutions can help in the interim.

What type of schemes are the city's expatriate community enjoying, and at what cost to the company?

It really does depend on the seniority level of the client who is being looked after when looking at what sort of allowance these people have. Carolyn Brown says: "The sky really is the limit. We will fully furnish a six-bedroom house in Kensington should the situation arise, which might cost the client in the range of £3,000 per month. Alternatively, we have an emergency pack covering just the basics that is charged out at as little as £12 per day."

In terms of the most sought-after look and feel, it is Olivia Warren's role, as tenancy manager from corporate relocation company PKL, to find out just that, and then link a client's taste with a suitable company. In her experience, the current demand falls into one of two categories. "Either people want a very contemporary and minimal scheme, mostly requested by young single professionals. Or people will ask for a traditional English look complete with heavy fabrics and drapes, open log fires, deep mahogany wood – a very homely and cosy look popular with relocating families," says Warren.

John Cousins, an investment banker from New York on a one-year contract has benefited from his company's choice to set him up in a Docklands penthouse flat with modern rented furniture. "All I had to do was arrive with my laptop and clothes, and it let me get on with my job almost from day one. It really was brilliant. All I had to focus on was getting out and about and meeting new people."

Finally, is it advisable to get into the furniture rental game if your hand isn't being held by a large company?

Although the bulk of business does comes from large corporate clients, Debbie Ward, furniture rental division manager from John Strand, says: "It does boils down to personal circumstance, lifestyle and budget requirements. I have seen plenty of examples of people hiring our baby packs for one or two months at £39.95 a month and being thrilled with how convenient and easy it is."

Munson agrees, although is keen to add that it can be an expensive way for people to set up home who aren't benefiting from the tax deductions that companies get. She says: "We will be really quite upfront and honest with people who ring up wanting a sofa bed for two months, and tell them that it will end up being cheaper for them just to go to Ikea."

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