Rise of the midweek renters

It's a simple deal: you let out a room from Monday to Friday, but keep your privacy at weekends. Helen Brown reports on the boom feeding off a new breed of lodger
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The Independent Online

Back in the macho 1980s, when lunch was for wimps and you needed steroid injections to lift a mobile phone, commuting was cool. "My baby takes the morning train," simpered Sheena Easton, overawed by the man who worked nine to five, then took another train home again to find her waiting for him, presumably in her dodgy turquoise jumpsuit, dusting the home that a young couple then could afford to buy.

But 30 years on, lunch is organic, commuting is uncool, and, more to the point, working hours are longer and house prices are increasingly prohibitive. If a young couple can afford to buy a home, it's often not where the work is. The same goes for growing families: buying where property is cheap, and working where wages are relatively high is the modern way. So perhaps it's little surprise that an increasing number of people are opting to rent a room in the big cities from Monday to Friday, then go home to their partner or family – and their own set of bricks and mortar – at the weekend.

"Monday-to-Friday room rentals have always been out there," says Matt Hutchinson of the UK's leading flatshare website, spareroom.co.uk, "but over the last few years, we've seen the market soaring. Six months ago, we'd get five or six ads placed for weekday accommodation in London. Now, it's closer to 100. The market is also growing in cities such as Edinburgh and Bristol. People want to safeguard their homes but need to be where the work is."

Hutchinson thinks that it's because people are cautious about committing themselves. Working contracts are short and city prices are steep. Consequently, the people seeking a reasonably cheap city-centre room are no longer students or recent graduates, as they were in London a decade ago. "We knew that flat-sharers were getting older," says Hutchinson, "shifting more from The Young Ones types to the professionals of the Friends and This Life generations. But we were startled to find that, according to the people using our website, the average age of Brits living in shared accommodation is now 33-plus. That average age has increased by two years and four months over the past two years. Based on that rate of increase," he says, "the average age of flat-sharers will be 40 by 2012."

Launched in 1999 as a national version of intolondon.com, spareroom.co.uk was inspired by its creator Rupert Hunt's struggle to find accommodation when moving to London. "Trawling through Loot every day, in which properties were listed by postcodes that meant nothing to me, was hard enough," he says, "but on top of that, most of the flats had gone by the time I called."

The internet allowed landlords and tenants to include photographs in advertisements, and could be constantly updated so that nobody spent days responding to ads for unsuitable accommodation that had already been snapped up before the ink was dry. Although it offers free ads, the website makes its money charging for highlighted adverts with exclusive "early bird" access – advertisers pay £7 for seven days, or £11 for 14 days.

The Monday-to-Friday renters are decidedly of the internet-over-ink ilk. When Keith Oswin, 51, got a job with Qantas Holidays in west London, he didn't want to give up his 300-year-old cottage in Bath. His first stop was Google. "I just keyed in 'flatshare, London'," he says. Having figured out the commuting rail fare would set him back £750 a month, and that renting in London would be cheaper, he also knew that he didn't want to stay in impersonal Travelodge rooms. He didn't want to have to drag all his belongings to and fro each week. He didn't fancy the bedsitter life, with its transient population, lack of security, and dubiously maintained communal toilets. So he advertised for a Monday-to-Friday room with internet access and parking, suitable for a mature professional.

In a couple of weeks, he got a call from his future landlady, Sue, who wanted to make some rental money from her two-bedroom flat, but wanted it to herself at the weekend. "She's 38," Oswin says, "and a mature student. We both have a media background, so we get on pretty well. On Friday nights, I drive back up the M4 to my cottage in Bath, where the noisiest thing to pass my door is usually a horse."

Rachel Barber, 33, is a director of the busy marketing agency Tom Tom Nation. When her sister got married four years ago, she bought out her share in their two-bedroom two-up, two-down terrace in north London. "Until recently," she says, "I'd rented it out full time to mates. "I'm out so much during the week, working and socialising, and the £650 'mates rate' I collected each month was easy money.

"But when it came to advertising for a lodger who wasn't a mate, I thought I might want the place to myself at weekends. And then I found out that you can charge 65-70 per cent of the full rental if you let a room four or five nights per week. So I could still make £550 a month while having noisy dinner parties and friends or family to stay on Saturday nights. It sounded perfect. Plus," she says, "weekly lodgers don't need to bring so much stuff: just a few shirts and things. I would provide towels and bed linen. The idea is that it's more like a guest room."

Aware that many Monday-to-Friday renters might be on short-term contracts, Barber knew she couldn't expect them to sign the usual 12-month contract, so set three months as her minimum-let period. Within three weeks, she'd found her lodger: an IT professional in his thirties who had a home in Edinburgh but was working for Reuters in London till February.

"He seems very nice, very responsible," she says. "Apparently he's a good cook and into healthy eating. If you're staying at a business hotel, meals can get expensive and it's hard to eat healthily on a budget. So he's looking forward to using kitchen." And Barber can make as much noise and mess as she likes at the weekend, and when her lodger returns, he'll find his clean towels waiting for him.

Want to find weekday lodgings?

www.flatshare.co.uk

Claiming to receive twice as many new adverts as any rivals, prospective landlords and ladies can upload videos from cameras and mobile phones to give you a guided tour of the property. Flatshare also claims to have better spam filters than its competitors to protect advertisers.

www.easyroommate.co.uk

Boasting that it receives around 1,000 new ads every 24 hours, like its rival Flatshare, easyroommate's website also features mugshots of prospective tenants. The site also operates in 28 other countries so encourages an international mix.

www.flatmateclick.co.uk

Offering a postcode search to allow prospective lodgers to really narrow down their desired search area, Flatmateclick also has free downloadable documents such as lease agreements, moving plans and those all-important cleaning plans.

www.housepals.co.uk

It's free to search and advertise on Housepals. However, potential timewasters are filtered out since, to contact a potential landlord or tenant, you first need to purchase a membership option. These are available in one-, three- and six-month packages.

www.loot.com

The online version of the famous ad-rag, Loot includes buy, rent and share options in its property section, making it easy to compare the prices of different accommodation situations. Most ads seem to direct potential lodgers to adverts on one of the other flatshare sites.

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