My boyfriend and I have rented two properties so far; the first was an awful experience and the second, thankfully, has so far been running a whole lot smoother. I'm definitely not a know it all when it comes to property, but there are a few tips I've learnt that have enabled us to be a lot wiser the second time around. On the whole, renting your first place is wicked - but based upon age, income and the fact that it is your first experience of renting can all lead to the experience being even more stressful than usual.
Be Realistic | I think it's important to remember that your first, second or even third home is unlikely to be perfect. Be open to compromise and don't expect everything to feel 'right' straight away. Our first flat was rented in a bit of a mad rush and we had to compromise on a lot of things (travel, location, decor, health and safety... ahem), but one positive to be squeezed out of the experience is that we appreciate where we are now an awful lot more.
Know Your Rights | Knowing your rights and entitlements as a tenant is key and something I wish I'd have spent more time researching before settling into a flat on our own. We've been treated an awful lot better in our current property than we ever were in our first, which is something I largely put down to our status as students. Even so, laws and obligations still exist to ensure that the landlord and/or agents are doing their jobs properly. If they're not, never be afraid to speak up. Places like Shelter and CAB are great starting points when it comes to having a full understanding of your legal position as a tenant.
Visit Estate Agents in Person| I hated this part, if it were up to me all communication would take place via email and human contact kept to an absolute minimum. That said, going in to agents and actually speaking to them in person proved to be a real turning point for us in terms of finding properties that we liked. Perhaps due to our age, agencies paid very little attention to us over the phone and tended to be far more accommodating once we formally met them and (hopefully) showed them that we're actually fairly nice, responsible people. For the most part at least.
Get On Agency Books | As many as you can. If you're looking to rent a property, one great way is simply to send a blanket message to agencies explaining a little about your budget and desired location and asking to be put on some sort of mailing list in case a good match crops up. The vast majority of agencies do this and sites such as RightMove even allow you to send the same message to multiple agencies at a time; meaning you're always on full alert should something great suddenly appear on the market.
Keep A Journal | Organisation is key when you're looking for a place to rent and keeping a written note of things was a massive help for me. I listed properties we'd visited, as well as ones we were keen to look at in future. Writing things down came as a massive help once we'd moved in too, as keeping a written record of any problems or issues you have, however big or small, may come in extremely handy in the future.