Make a list of your essential requirements for your rented property, and a separate list of what you would ideally like when you rent your new home. Essentials would include:
The minimum number and size of bedrooms that will suit your requirements.
Location - close to work, access to bus routes/tube stations/main roads, school catchments.
Rental budget - don't forget to budget for council tax, and get a feel for rent levels from www.rightmove.co.uk. If you can afford to pay a little more, then you will get much better value as the competition is always fiercest for properties at the lowest prices.
The earliest and latest dates by which you must move - property is let on a quick "turnaround". A landlord will normally receive one month's notice that tenants are moving out and they will try to find new tenants as quickly as possible. As a result, most rented properties are only available for a few weeks before they are let. If you look too early then you will not be able to proceed unless you are prepared to sign a tenancy agreement and pay rent several weeks in advance. If you look too late then you will have a reduced choice of properties and will have to compromise on your requirements.
Furnishing - the majority of properties are un-furnished or very sparsely furnished. The exception is student accommodation which is normally fully furnished. Most landlords will be reluctant to store furniture, so if you have your own stuff then it's best to search for unfurnished. If you want to store furniture it costs around £70 per month for the contents of a one bed flat, rising to £100 per month to store the contents of a 3 bed house. If you need furniture then look at unfurnished properties as well and ask the landlord or agent before the viewing if there is any possibility of items being supplied. If you are prepared to pay the full asking rent and perhaps take a longer tenancy then landlords will consider hiring or purchasing extra items to secure you as their tenant.
Parking - it's worth paying extra for off-street or secure parking.
If you have young children, then you will probably want ground floor accommodation or a property with a lift if considering an apartment. Check if there is a secure garden for your children to play and avoid properties where the front door leads directly onto a main road. Homes within the catchment of a good state school are more easily rented than finding a property to buy.
Restrictions - Your tenancy agreement may limit the uses to which you can put the property. Check this for any restrictions that may be included - typically you will be prevented from running a business. Other restrictions may include:
Pets - both the landlord's head lease and the landlords' insurance policy may prevent pets being kept at the property. If you are permitted a pet then expect to lodge a higher deposit with the agent and to pay for steam cleaning of carpets and flea de-infestation at the end of the tenancy. Animal fleas can lie dormant for weeks, so the agent may hold some of your deposit until after the new tenants have moved in.
Smokers - smoke damages the decorative surfaces of the property and leaves an odour which puts off non-smokers so landlords would prefer you to not smoke. If it's evident you have smoked then you may become liable for re-decoration costs.
Young children - crayon marks on walls, sticky handprints and extra wear and tear can mean landlords would prefer a childless professional couple. However, if it's a larger house with garden then the natural tenants are a family and it's always worth asking if the landlord will consider your family, perhaps if you lodged a higher deposit.
Sharers - higher levels of wear and tear and a requirement in some circumstances for the property to be licensed as a "House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)" with attendant costs for the landlord. Shared properties command a higher rent to compensate the landlord.
Recipients of Housing Benefit - the landlords' insurers and mortgage lender may impose a restriction on this.