Every American dreams about having a cottage in a little village where they can walk to the market every day because that is what we see on the television. While this is a fabulous idea, I want to live there too, but it is not very sensible. Most homes in the center of towns are very small compared to American standards and will not fit the large furniture we love. Also very few of these towns have a market every day in the local area except Cambridge. You can see the market days and times here.
I lived in Newmarket while I was stationed at RAF Mildenhall in the best flat ever. You have to remember that USAF pay about 60% higher than locals would for homes, that has caused the rental prices closer to base to be more expensive. This is the fault of the base, as the OHA rates go up, so does the rents. It also means that you are more likely to live in areas where your neighbors will be older because young families cannot afford the same houses that you can. So that may mean that your children may be the only ones in the area. When I separated from the USAF, Jon and I moved to a “two up, two down” home in Newmarket, we had to downsize as my rent was no longer being paid for by the USAF. A “two up, two down” is a house that has just two bedrooms over two rooms downstairs. It was very cozy but really opened my eyes up to the difference in storage space. Now we live in Histon outside of Cambridge in a semi-detached house. You can see the housing terms here.
You might get the choice of living off-base or in base housing. There are a lot of benefits to living off-base that you should think about before you make up your mind. If you are keen, you can immerse yourself in the local English way of life. If you have visitors, they can come and go as they please without having to be signed on-base or escort them everywhere. If you have English neighbors or friends, they can help to explain things you don’t understand and give you information that only the locals know, such as the best butchers or where to get your haircut. If you are careful with your utility usage, you can make a bit of money. See more Pros and Cons here.
When you arrive, you may be offered base housing. If you turn it down, you will have to secure off-base lodging by the time that house would have been available. If you intend on turning down base housing, book a place where you can have a short term lease so that you are reimbursed the costs of this and do not find yourself in a bind. Places like Shakespeare's Lodge and Mr G's in Brandon provide short term rentals.[i]
[i] Military Installations, “Check-in Procedures,” accessed June 24, 2013, http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/MOS/f?p=MI:CONTENT:0::::P4_INST_ID,P4_CONTENT_TITLE,P4_CONTENT_EKMT_ID,P4_CONTENT_DIRECTORY:4690,Check-in%20Procedures,126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.0,11
Renting in England is quite simple, and leases are generally for 6 or 12 months. It is also important to ascertain from the landlord that they have no plan to sell the property while you are a tenant, otherwise you might find yourself having to start all over again. Take your time to find the right house, but when you do, jump on it as the good ones go quickly!
The Housing Office produces a standard rental agreement which has a Military Clause in it, which means you can break the lease at any time if you are given base housing or relocated. The Housing Office will not accept any other type of lease. The estate agents around the bases know about this requirement and often use the standard lease. If you are using a new estate agent or one where American military do not generally live, make sure that they know about this. Also you can only get out of a lease by the military clause, which means you have been offered base housing or you find someone to take it over. Other than that, you cannot get out of a lease.
The security deposit is usually one month’s rent and the landlord has to put it into a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme to protect the money when you come to move out. Your landlord is required to give you a letter telling you how your money is protected 14 days after you rent a property. This money is put in this scheme in case of a dispute when you move out. If there is a dispute on how much of your deposit you get back, there is a third party who will decide the outcome. I suggest you take pictures of your house before you move in and after so that you have a record of what it looked like as this can quickly settle any disputes. Also be sure to read the inventory carefully and make notes of any problems.
As in the States, it is advisable that you have rental insurance covering your possessions. The landlord should have home insurance but this will not provide cover for your possessions. Your rental insurance will come in handy if your home is broken into or if there is any damage from a burst pipe.
The Housing Office’s services are limited, they:
Will give you a SATNAV to help you find a home.
Do not check the homes listed on AHRN.com if they are suitable for Americans.
Do not Quality Assure the landlords listed on AHRN.com.
Do not do the safety inspection before the house is listed (so a house can fail and you will be stuck looking for another house).