When you first begin to look around for a new place to rent you may have some idea of which basic areas are good and which are not. One thing that features in the landscape of places like London is that the desirability of one area over another can change in the matter of tens of meters. Unfortunately you can not see these on a map, and even proxies to facilities can be a tricky indicator of desirability. In one area being close to the station is where the nice places are, the next station down the line the exact opposite is true. One of the key things to take stock of is the reason you are moving. I would spend some time playing around with what you think your reason is and explore if there are any other hidden aspects to your motivation. Given that moving is one of the top three most stressful things ordinary people get to do in their lives, you do not want to be repeating it too often because if it turns out that by doing some homework you could have gotten a better place merely meters down the road. Understanding your real motivations will absolutely make the whole process easier and by knowing what will make you happy, you can convey that to the agencies and they can find you places that meet the criteria.
The point about homework can not be counted enough. First point of reference is to look at all the websites of the agencies in the areas you are targeting. Many people simply go onto a listing listing website and then choose the property and then contact the agency. This to me is the wrong way around. First get a sense of the agencies in the area and then give them a call and talk about the area. Make sure you have a list of pre-prepared to ask them about the area and what the agency will do for you. Most agencies have their own list that they email new properties out to even before they list them on the general listing websites. This is especially important if the area you are targeting is very competitive. I have known times when the property was already taken before the listing ever made it onto the general property listing websites.
Think of this process as you interviewing the agencies where you can actually rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of customer friendliness and the information they give you and their follow up in terms of properties that meet you specification. Another point to rate them on is how much specialist knowledge they have about the area, how long they have serviced it and what their average completion time is. These are all indicators of not only the agencies efficiency but the type and level of area you are dealing with. Generally, the more competitive an area is the higher the customer service from the letting agencies is and they also have higher completion ratios.
The homework lays the ground work but on the plus side it need not take up a significant load of time and effort for you to get an idea of what the areas you initially targeted have to offer. You may want to revise your list of areas and even narrow it down. Once you have your areas and are registered with all the agencies do not simply wait for them to get back to you. Do some additional work by going on to property listing sites and searching your target areas. It is also important during this phase to go and burn some shoe leather by visiting the different areas you have targeted. I would say spend at least an hour wandering about, have coffee in a coffee shop and look at the residents and passers-by to get a feel for the area. Make sure the place has the right feel.
Once you have found the place you are happy with and want to take it, now is the time to get on the haggle boots. All agencies will have some leeway on fees and responsibilities and it is up to you to ask. Do not ask and you do not get. The important thing to remember is that you have agreed you want the place and now you just to agree on price. Why you should not get it for the lowest price you can? If you do not go for it you only have yourself to blame. Good luck and hopefully a few of my hints will prove useful.