Expat

Finding Long Term Accommodation in Edinburgh, Scotland

View over Edinburgh's rooftops

Finding a place to live is never easy but, thankfully, finding long term accommodation in Edinburgh is a relatively straight-forward process. Having spent several years living in Edinburgh, I’m more than familiar with the joys of renting here so, hopefully, this guide will make it that little bit easier to settle into Edinburgh.

Tip: Have a short term plan

It can take a while to find an apartment. Usually it only takes a few days, but often it can take a few weeks. This is especially the case if you’ve decided that you want to secure a job first.

While you find your feet, you’ll need somewhere to stay. Many people make the mistake of staying in a hotel, and thinking that it’ll only be for a few nights. The process may end up taking longer than you expect, especially if you’re trying to rent an entire apartment, and hotels in Edinburgh are expensive anyway.

The following are some options

  • Rent a room on Airbnb: Renting a room on Airbnb is usually fairly affordable. Unlike a hotel room, you also usually get access to facilities like a washing machine and cooker.
  • Rent an entire apartment on Airbnb: If you value your space, and don’t mind paying extra, Airbnb is one of the best options for short-term lets in Edinburgh.
  • Couchsurf: Probably the cheapest option as it’s free, and a great way to make friends in Edinburgh, but Couchsurfing is a very unsettled way of settling into a new city.

Timing

Naturally, you want to hit the ground running as soon as you get to Edinburgh and to find a job and a place to live as soon as possible.

You should begin replying to housing listings a few days before you arrive. Let the landlord, letting agent, or other tenants know when you’re arriving, and schedule an appointment to meet them as soon as you can.

Apartments and room rentals go quickly in Edinburgh, so there’s no point in scrolling too far back through the listings. Rooms are usually filled within a week and apartments within 2.

You can even begin applying a little sooner for jobs. Some jobs, particularly low-skill jobs like bar work, are normally filled quickly while others have a long recruitment process. Ideally, you should apply for jobs at least a week before you arrive. The more professional the job, the earlier you can feel comfortable applying.

Flatmates or an Apartment?

The next question to ask yourself is whether you want to rent a room or an entire apartment? Renting a room is a lot cheaper, and it can be a good way to meet people and get that all important local knowledge. It’s also usually a lot quicker than trying to rent a private apartment, and there internet and utilities are usually already sorted. Of course, there are a lot of downsides to having flatmates as well.

Renting an apartment is more expensive, and can come with some additional hassles like having to arrange for the internet to be installed. If you want to avoid the joys of living with flatmates, however, it may be worth it.

Renting a Room

  • Gumtree: The UK equivalent of Craigslist, and largest classifieds website in the UK is Gumtree. Here you’ll find jobs, apartments for rent, second-hand cars, and people looking for flatmates. Sometimes the ad is posted by the other tenants, and sometimes it’s posted by the landlord.
  • Spareroom.co.uk: Spareroom is one of several specialist websites that are geared towards shared accommodation, along with RoomRental, EasyRoomMate.com, and RoomBuddies.
  • Facebook MarketplaceIncreasingly, a lot of adverts for room and apartment rentals are now posted on Facebook Marketplace.

Renting a room in Edinburgh is usually a fairly uncomplicated process. You arrange a time to see the room, and you usually get to meet at least one of the other flatmates in the process as well. Some places are simply looking to fill the room, while others will want to ‘interview’ a lot of different people before making their decision.

If it’s the former, let them know you’re interested straight away. Most people will have several people lined up to see the room, and usually the same day that you’re viewing it.

You’ll normally then sign a contract, and pay a deposit as well as the first month’s rent in advance. The deposit is returned to you when you leave (assuming there are no problems). It’s usually equivalent to 1-month’s rent, but in rare cases is as much as 2.

Renting an Apartment

  • Gumtree: As well as rooms for rent, Gumtree is also a major hub for apartments to rent particularly those owned by private landlords as opposed to agencies. Private landlords must be registered, and you can check ask for their landlord registration number and look it up online if you like.
  • Letting Web: Letting web specialises in properties for rent in Scotland, primarily focusing on letting agents, and usually has more rental listings than any other property website.
  • City Lets: Like Letting Web, City Lets focuses on rentals from letting agents in Scotland. It is one of the best places to look for rentals in Edinburgh.
  • S1Homes: A large property website, S1 Homes lists homes for rent and sale throughout Scotland and lists properties from selected estate agents in Edinburgh.
  • ESPC: One of the larger property websites in Scotland, ESPC contains listings for properties that are for sale and rent in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland.
  • RightMove: Like many of the other property websites listed above, Right Move is more focused on property that’s for sale but you can usually find homes for rent as well.

As with renting a room, you will normally be asked for a deposit and one month’s rent in advance. Occasionally the deposit can be larger, but not more than 2 month’s rent. Landlords legally must put the deposit into a Deposit Protection Scheme.

If the landlord asks for a guarantor, this person has to be UK-based. Naturally, this is often a problem for people moving to the UK from another country. If you are unable to provide a guarantor, you will normally have to pay several month’s rent in advance.

Furnished or Unfurnished?

Both furnished and unfurnished properties exist in Edinburgh. Unlike in Germany where people move with their kitchens, unfurnished properties in the UK usually come with utilities like a fridge and oven. Of course, it’s worth speaking to the landlord or letting agent beforehand and confirming what is in the property.

Bills & Other Costs

As well as you rent, you will have other costs such as council tax, utilities like heating, and internet.

Council tax rates vary depending on the property. Most adverts will list the council tax band, and you can check the costs on the Edinburgh Council website. If you don’t know the band, the easiest thing is to ask the landlord or agent.

Students are exempt from paying council tax. If you live in a property with a student, the property gets a 25% discount on the council tax.

Heating costs vary from house to house but, if you ask the landlord or agent for the energy efficiency rating (EPC), you should be able to estimate it. Obviously, look out for properties with poor ratings.

Calton Hill in the Snow
Heating can be expensive in Edinburgh, but at least you don’t have to worry about paying for air con

Contents Insurance

While your landlord will pay for the property to be insured should there be a fire or other disaster, your contents are unlikely to be covered. They’re also unlikely to be covered against theft.

Contents Insurance isn’t essential, but is probably worth purchasing if you have expensive items like laptops, mobile phones, a bike, or anything else that’s precious to you.

Where & (Where Not To) Live in Edinburgh

What makes a good neighbourhood

  • Is it near a decent supermarket? While there are small supermarkets like Tesco Metro dotted throughout the city, these are more expensive and have less stock than standard supermarkets.
  • Can you get to work (or university if you’re a student) easily? How long will your commute take? Are there regular bus services?
  • Can you get in and out of town easily? Similarly, can you get to and from central Edinburgh easily. This isn’t such a big deal during the day, but is something to think about if you plan to go out at night.

Good & Bad Areas

When you move somewhere new, you’re unlikely to know where the good and bad areas of the city are. I made this mistake when I first moved to Edinburgh: I went to view an apartment in Pennywell and later an apartment in Dumbiedykes. Neither of these are considered particularly good areas to live in.

This map highlights the good and bad neighbourhoods in Edinburgh fairly accurately. Some areas are debatable, but it’s definitely a good starting point.

Transportation

Getting around Edinburgh city centre is fairly easy: the city is extremely walkable, and there’s a fantastic bus service as well. The Ridacard (monthly pass) is the best option if you expect to take the bus regularly.

There’s also a tram service, although this only covers limited parts of the city and it usually isn’t any quicker than taking the bus, as well as a train service. The train service connects Central Edinburgh with the suburbs, Fife, and other parts of Scotland.

Uber and other taxi sharing apps like MyTaxi and Gett (for black cabs) are also available in Edinburgh, and much cheaper than hailing a traditional taxi.

Unless you’re planning on living in the suburbs, a car is probably not worth owning. Traffic moves slowly in the city centre, parking spaces are limited, and you may need a permit to park it. You can always rent a car at the weekend, if you plan to take a trip into The Highlands or other parts of Scotland.

You can also get around by bike, if you’re feeling adventurous. Although Edinburgh doesn’t have bike lanes, and many of the streets are narrow and cobbled, there is an active community of cyclists here. This isn’t always an all-year-round transportation option, but it’s definitely something that you can consider.

When looking into an apartment, take into account:

  1. How much time you’ll spend commuting to work or getting to and from the city centre (Google Maps is great for estimating this).
  2. How much you’ll spend on transportation.

If either of those feel too high, consider spending a little more and living closer to the city centre.

Other things to consider

Renting with Pets

If you have a cat or a dog, expect the process of finding an apartment or house to take even longer. Many adverts state whether or not they allow pets, while others don’t think to add it. Generally speaking, it’s much easier to find a private landlord that will accept pets (through Gumtree, for example) than a letting agency.

If you do find a landlord that’s okay with you having pets, you may find that they ask for a larger deposit.

Which Floor?

Edinburgh has a lot of basement flats. They often don’t have much natural light, can be noisier than other apartments, less private, a more humid. If you do decide to rent a basement apartment, it’s worth arranging the viewing in the day and maybe strolling by again later at night. That way you can see how much natural light it gets, and how noisy the area is at night.

Top floor flats can also be an issue for two major reasons: crime and rain damage. Criminals often break into top floor apartments as there is less likelihood of them being caught by passing neighbours, and it’s not unusual for the roof to get damaged during bad weather.

Ground floor flats are okay, but can be noisy and by-passers tend to like to look in. Generally, the best flats are on the second or third floor.

Rental Contracts

Rental agreements are usually for six months, regardless of whether you’re renting an entire apartment or just a room. After that, you are normally required to give 1 month’s notice although some contracts may ask for 2 or more.

Viewing the Property

Legally, it’s not possible to send someone else to view the apartment on your behalf. You will have to book an apartment for a few days (or weeks) while you view the properties that you’re interested in renting.

Have you rented long term in Edinburgh? Share your advice and thoughts by leaving a comment below. 

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