By Steve Smethurst
What makes a house a home? It might seem a straight-forward question, but Google suggests there are as many as 3,230,000,000 potential answers, so it may take a little time to find a solution that works for you. One thing is certain, though, if you're renting your property, the challenge is magnified.
In the UK, around 4.5 million households are rented from the private sector, with a further 4 million rented from local authorities and housing associations. Added together, they make up around 36% of the country's housing stock 1.
Your place, or mine?
The difficulty for tenants is that renting puts you at the whim of your landlord in terms of the state of repair of your property, how much scope you have to make changes and sometimes even the style and quality of your furniture.
Aviva research 2 suggests that 13% of renters have moved three or more times in the past five years, while 45% feel they are likely to rent in retirement. This is backed up by Knight Frank research that shows young professionals (aged 25 to 34) no longer make up the largest group living in the private rented sector, having been overtaken by 35 to 49 year olds, with "difficulty in obtaining a mortgage deposit to buy a home remaining a hurdle" 3.
Interior design wins
This only serves to emphasise how crucial it is that a rental property feels like home. This isn't as hard as it might seem and interior design blogger Rachel Southern from www.theordinarylovely.com recalls that renting inspired many creative ideas.
"I was a tenant for seven years and had my two little boys while renting. One thing that came from that time was my love of walls painted in pure brilliant white. I thought I wanted colour but after renting I realised how amazing white walls are. You bring in colour and style in through accessories, which you can then take with you when you move. I know a lot of people worry about their kids' dirty fingerprints, but white paint is only £10 a tin, so only if you do have to put the walls right before you move out, it's easy to spend half an hour touching it up."
Rachel also uses clips to showcase her children's artwork. "We use a brand called Moebe, they make Pinch Clips that we stick on the wall using 3M's Command Strips - they don't damage the paintwork when you take them off. You can get a whole wall of colour and photographs. It really personalises the walls. The kids love them and choose what the clip up in their bedrooms - sports tickets, photographs, medals and so on."
Rachel also advocates wall stickers. "These used to be for kids rooms," she says, "but they are increasingly sophisticated. For example, they do beautiful trees that you could have behind the sofa in your living room as an extra feature." She does warn, however, that you have to be careful if it's a sunny room as you may notice a dark patch if the sun has faded the colour of the surrounding paint once you take it off.
Lighting is also important, she advises. "We had two tall standing lamps in the corners of the room, then put table lamps next to the sofas. We bought really good quality stands, but cheaper shades. The stands are about 14 years old now and when we moved we just changed the shades to go with a different room."
As she says, if you are likely to move frequently, you don't want to be buying new things for every house you move into. "You want to invest in things that will look good in every house but that you can quickly and cheaply change if you need to."
Memories are made of this
In many ways, graphic designer Lauren Hay and her baker partner Darren Wemyss are typical of the rental market. They moved to London from the Aberdeenshire town of Stonehaven in 2017 and, with house prices in the capital being what they are, had little choice but to rent. They currently live in a one-bed flat in the West London suburb of Acton and have a tenancy agreement in place until May 2020.
"I massively enjoy the interior design side and our landlord's been quite good," says Lauren. "He doesn't mind things going on the walls. It was quite a blank canvas, so we've been able to put up prints and paintings. He's also said that he's happy for us to put up some basic shelving units.
"We have lots of personal items around the place that help to make a place feel like it's ours, rather than just somewhere temporary or someone's else's living space. We also make good use of plants and soft furnishings.
"I've got a couple of typographical prints that I've picked up from different artists and designers, which really help. Also, before we moved to London, one of our friends gave us a globe that you can stick pins into for all the places you've been to around the world. It's not just something nice to have on the shelf, it's memories as well.
"Little things like that make it feel like home. It's down to both of us to keep the globe up to date – like the flat, it's not just Darren's and it's not just mine – it's both of ours."
Peace of mind for tenants
Aviva is doing its bit to make life easier for tenants. Its latest insurance product, Aviva Plus, sees a more tiered offering in terms of cover. Jonny Cracknell, Aviva customer underwriting manager, says: "Tenants will have more options and flexibility – not just a £50k blanket sum. There will be more affordable tiers for those who don't need that level of cover. It also introduces bespoke elements.
"For example, renters can sometimes face unresolved issues and legal disputes with their landlords. They will now be able to buy legal services cover, which will give them some protection when it comes to costs and fees.
"There are also bespoke covers for rent guarantees and tenants would be able to claim for the costs incurred in terms of getting their deposits back. We also offer liability cover if damage occurs to the landlord's fixtures and fitting through the standard key perils if tenants are responsible for them as part of rental agreement."
Jonny adds that tenants, particularly those who aren't looking to buy a property one day, might want to consider life insurance.
Aviva currently offers free life insurance to all parents with children aged four or under, whether they rent or own their property. Though it might be said that tenants might benefit from this protection more than homeowners who have a physical asset to leave to their family.
"It's not something people always like to think about, but life insurance may help you feel more confident your family will be provided for, which is really important for peace of mind."