Rents soar in towns as tenants priced out of cities

Towns outside of big cities have seen some of the biggest rent rises as tenants choose comfort.
Rents soar in towns as tenants priced out of cities
Women moving into student accommodationGetty Images

Towns within commuting distance of major cities have seen some of the biggest rent rises of the last three years, new research suggests.

The cost of new lets rose by more than a third in areas such as Bolton, Newport and Bradford between 2020 and 2023, property portal Zoopla said.

Although Glasgow, London, Manchester and Edinburgh also saw big rises, new working patterns have made an impact.

Working from home has allowed some to rent bigger places further from cities.

“They may only go into the office two or three times a week and, if they are in a flat, may have looked for a bit more room,” said Richard Donnell, Zoopla’s executive director of research.

Agents said there had been “staggering” levels of competition in areas with easy transport access to bigger cities.

Graphic showing rent rises in cities and towns in the UK in 2020-03, led by Glasgow and Bolton

The Zoopla figures, compiled for the BBC, tracked the rise in rents for people looking for somewhere new to let in 65 cities and large towns in the UK. Six of the 10 biggest increases were in areas with relatively easy access to the major cities of London, Leeds and Cardiff.

They included Wigan, Newport, Bradford, Rochdale and Luton.

But they were led by Bolton, where:

  • Rents for new lets were up nearly 39% in the three years to the end of 2023
  • The rise of nearly 15% last year alone was the biggest of any area on the list
  • Rents had gone up twice as fast as earnings in the last three years (as they did in Glasgow, Manchester, London, Edinburgh and Wigan)

“There have been multiple offers on every single property,” said Stuart Matthews, managing director at Miller Metcalfe estate and lettings agent, based in Bolton.

“The price can be put up by £100 a month, and it still goes.”

Having been in the business for 23 years, he described the last 18 months as “staggering” and unlike any other time he knew.

One attraction of Bolton is that the average rent for a new let is still lower than the neighbouring areas of Rochdale, Warrington, and Manchester (which includes Bury and Oldham in Zoopla’s calculations).

“You get a lot more for your money in Bolton than you do in central Manchester – like a house instead of a flat,” said Mr Matthews.

A two-bedroom terraced home typically costs about £800 a month to rent, he said. It was a draw for families, alongside shopping and schools.

Graphic showing rents rising faster than earnings

Some renters may work in Manchester so commute or blend with working from home, and Bolton has transport links into central Manchester.

Although demand had been high, Mr Matthews said, the lack of available properties was an even bigger factor. Some landlords had left the sector, while buy-to-let investors were not taking on as many properties.

This lack of supply has been key to soaring rents across the UK.

The number of rented homes had barely changed since 2016, according to Mr Donnell from Zoopla, failing to keep pace with exceptional demand in the last couple of years.

He said that immigration, a relatively strong jobs market and the return of students since the pandemic had led to demand in cities, prompting some tenants to look further afield.

Constant struggle

A recent survey by the website Save The Student found its users were finding high rent levels tough to cope with.

Among the students who paid rent, 64% said they struggled with the cost at least some of the time, including 20% who described it as a constant struggle.

Two in five said they had thought about dropping out of university due to the cost of rent.

Although rents are expected to keep rising, tenants should see the pace of growth fall quite sharply in the coming year, according to Mr Donnell.

He said there was a danger that some rents were being set beyond affordable levels, and there were signs of some rents being reduced on listings after failing to secure a tenant at a higher price.

Another property portal, Rightmove, also said there was an average of 15 enquiries for every available rental property at the start of this year, down from 20 a year earlier and the lowest queue to view since 2021.

The support provided through the benefits system to private renters through Local Housing Allowance rates was improved in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.

However, campaigners are calling for more assistance and an acceleration in the proposed ban on no-fault evictions in England, which ministers have discussed watering down.

Cost of living: Tackling it together

How you can get to the front of the renting queue

Agents say there are some simple ways to make it easier to secure a rental property, including:

  • Start searching well before a tenancy ends and sign up with multiple agents
  • Have payslips, a job reference, and a reference from a previous landlord to hand
  • Build up a relationship with agents in the area, but be prepared to widen your search
  • Be sure of your budget and calculate how much you can offer upfront
  • Be aware that some agents offer sneak peeks of properties on social media before listing them

There are more tips here and help on your renting rights here.



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