Lifestyle is all-important in the lucrative twentysomething rentals market

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As the cost of housing continues to rise, young people are now renting for longer. The average age of first-time buyers has risen to over 30, so there has never been a better time to rent accommodation to the young. But letting to people in their twenties requires an appreciation of their needs and aspirations.

Different areas appeal to different personalities. West London, for example, appeals to the traditional young professional who wants to meet people, eat out, go to the theatre and cinema, and watch sports. They are drawn to places such as Battersea, Earl's Court and Fulham.

Amanda Hodgson, lettings manager at John D Wood in Fulham, says that a low crime rate is important. "It is a really popular, central, but nice and safe area, where there is lots to do," she says.

Fulham is still a bastion of sharing, and properties should be prepared with sharers in mind. "Most young people prefer a sitting room with wooden floors, and an extra-large kitchen where everyone can meet," Hodgson says. "They like equal-size bedrooms with fitted wardrobes and at least one bathroom, preferably two."

The Victorian houses of Fulham often do not fulfil these requirements. The front bedroom tends to be larger than the back bedroom, and it is difficult to install en suite shower rooms. The large spaces on the ground floor, however, make for sociable living.

Sharers must be handled carefully to protect the landlord's rights. It is not advisable to let to one person who promises to fill the place up by advertising for sharers -you lose control of who is living there. It is also essential for every occupant to be liable for payment of the rent or repairs to damage, even if one of the tenants does a bunk.

"As company policy, we make all the tenants liable jointly and severally, and we limit the number of sharers to four. All the tenants are referenced individually. If one hasn't got a job, we insist on a guarantor for all of the rent, not just that person's share," Hodgson emphasises.

The ideal sharers are an established group of friends, such as in the sitcom This Life, perhaps moving down together from university. "We prefer groups rather than individuals," Hodgson says. "Our job is to know everyone in the property."

In Docklands, on the other hand, it is more normal for individuals to rent alone, according to Jason Keiller of Keiller Collins. "The vast majority of our tenants in Canary Wharf are between 20 and 40, wanting studios or one-bed flats."

The area is dominated by the financial sector, so tenants tend to rent because they will not be staying for long. One- or two-year tenancy agreements are common, Keiller says. These mobile workers also want to move easily and quickly, so they require furnished accommodation. "Ninety-five per cent of our units are furnished," Keiller says. "They won't take it if it is not." Keiller is a buy-to-let landlord, with a portfolio of units in local Barratt developments, which have appealed to younger residents.

Increasingly, parents are going in with their offspring to buy their first property, either as an investment or as a gift. This is an avenue open only to the relatively well-heeled, especially for large families, so the Bank of Ireland is offering "first-start" mortgages that can take the parent's net income into account.

Linden Homes has taken up the scheme at several of its developments where smaller units are on offer, says Steve Laver, the company's sales director. "The available mortgage is calculated by subtracting the parents' mortgage repayments from their income, and multiplying by four. Add in the child's salary, and you get the amount that can be borrowed," he explains. "The mortgage payments can then be offset by renting out one of the rooms to a sharer, which is why we concentrate on units with two bedrooms and two bathrooms."

Linden is promoting the mortgages at its developments at Leatherhead, Woking, Kenley and Bromley.