Coming from the perspective of a professional, I’m not going to cotton wool you – it can be hard especially when you have certain high standards of living. You see those stories all the time about someone renting out a literal cupboard as a “cosy room” in London at horrendous prices. There’s even those great places you find at equally horrendous prices. Even if you find a place you like, you blink and it’s gone. Here’s some advice that could help you find a place to live in the city or what you can expect to deal with:
1. Can you afford it?
If you can’t, don’t. I understand that people may have a certain reason to leave home. For me, there was just too many people in a small house and I felt like I had lost my independence.
You have to budget carefully and think it through properly.
- Your monthly income after tax and how much rent you can afford excluding bills – some people say it should be a third of your wage – this is more likely zones 3 and beyond. Zone 2 (where I pushed myself to find a place) is harder. People who manage to find a place a third of your wage in Zone 2 either do not live in London, have a great income, are really great with their money or they have the best luck ever if they manage this while living here. The way prices are rising rent will probably be under half of your monthly salary (pretty much half including bills).
- Your utility bills: gas, water, electricity, TV Licence, internet and council tax – all of which may not be billed monthly. So for one month you will have to pay more than another. Ideally you want a place that includes bills, if not you’ll want a low rent place and to find cheap providers of gas, internet and electricity – price comparison and review sites are great. Also, if you end up sharing with students, you will have to foot the full council tax bill – so try live with others who will have to pay. TV licence now also includes iPlayer now so you’re forced to get one if you watch anything BBC related. Wankers.
- Personal bills: your phone, your donations, your subscriptions and memberships etc – think about what you can cut back on if you will move out. I gave up my graze box and cancelled my gym membership until I was ready to really commit. I didn’t want to stop my charitable donations so I’ve kept them and Netflix, well because it’s Netflix.
- Your commute: the further your commute the more you have to pay. Simples. You’ll want to be near enough work so that you can walk or take a bus. You also should be on the same side of the river for ease of access. I’m lucky enough to now only need to take the bus for half an hour to work so twice a day that costs me £3.00 per day if I go straight home after. Check the price of travelcards for the zones you’ll use as a reference point for cost.
- Fees upon fees upon fees – remember you need to have money for a security deposit which vary from nothing to 6 weeks rent. You’ll have agency fees to pay the estate agent as well as a fee for reference. You’ll have to pay rent in advance on top of your deposit too. You may even need to pay a holding deposit on the day you say you want a place on top of everything. If you’re going to rent, save £2000 at least just for the bit before you even move in!
2. Where to look?
So this can mean 2 things: Where should I actually live? Where on the internet would be useful in searching?
You should establish where you want to live in advance to help curb your search even if it is a starting point. For instance, you may want to find a place in Finchley because it’s on the Jubilee line and it’s easy for you to get to work. You can use resources to narrow your search. But if you can’t find what you want in the Finchley look at towns nearby or even alternatives near where you want to be. If you don’t know much about the city, you may be drawn to parts that you’ve actually heard of like Shoreditch but that part has become expensive to rent because of gentrification. Well where else can you live that takes you there? Check the tube/train map or even google maps for that matter because you won’t always get what you want – advice that will constantly be repeated to you.
There are so many resources out there but my search was mainly on Spareroom. I also paid the fee so I could get early access to listings which you can also freeze. I didn’t end up finding a place to live through them but I did see the benefits. You also have to be very quick. If you’re looking for a whole property to rent, going through agents for viewings is recommended. Again, you have to be quick but don’t be pushed into anything you can’t afford.
Spareroom is also the preying grounds for agents who will message you constantly about rooms you don’t want, even random landlords will be the same. It’s great when people contact you because you’ll be a nice addition to the flat but when you reach out to people it can be equally a hassle. The more I think about the end of my lease while writing this, the more anxious I’m getting about my impending stress.
3. Don’t lower your standards (too much)
So you’ve got your budget and now you’re on the hunt. You won’t always get the one you wanted because of how competitive it can be but try not to lower your standards for your own future salary.
When I first started looking for a place to live I was looking for a houseshare. This type of hunt seems to be the most depressing. I searched like thousands of others on Spareroom. You’ll get hassled by agents who only want to make commission, landlords who just want to make money, potential flatmates who may be cliquey and only want to live with a certain type of person. People will polish turds and try to sell it to you. There will be tiny rooms in a place with no living room in a neighbourhood that are obscurely near some hip part of town or a single artisan bakery so they can get away with charging a stupid amount.
I felt like because I already had a nice room in the family home, there is no point in me spending rent on a place I didn’t like. I technically had the option to stay out home but moved out for the sake of my own sanity. Everyone’s situation is different, sometimes you just have to take what you can get because of circumstances, especially if you have a time limit. You just have to keep yourself motivated while living there.
You start off with high standards and then the deeper you are into the search you become hysterical and desperate – and this is where the horror that is the housing crisis gets you. I cannot remember the number of viewings I went to that I knew I hated deep down but on another insecure level considered it as an actual place to live.
“Oh there’s a mouse trap – at least I’ll never be lonely”
“Oh I have to go through a graveyard to actually get to this estate from the nearest station – hmm I guess I’ll… learn more about history.”
One time I went to a viewing near Finsbury Park. My potential housemates would be two proud communist guys; one of whom I think I would be fine with, the other already irritated me. I would have the biggest room in the house – L O L. I’m sorry but seeing what is considered a big room in Zone 2 compared to what I had at home… Well I was not going to pay close to £750-800/month including bills for that especially considering the wallpaper was blue tacked on. Yes, blue tacked.
The rental industry is aggressively shady, so get what you want especially if you’re paying so much for it. If you want a place with a living room, you make sure you get one. Again, such a basic necessity that is apparently not that common in house shares any more.
4. Fake it ’til you make it
I’m not condoning being a fake ass bitch. I’m just saying that sometimes it may be the people you don’t like rather than the actual place. If you’re OK with living with people like that then you will have to get through the housing interviews. People are not always aware of their faces so you can tell when they don’t like you (as nice as you can be).
I saw a few places in East London, most where my flatmates would be women though I would have preferred to live with men because I grew up with brothers. The one I really wanted was where there were two housemates – guy and girl. The woman was a few years older than me and I could tell she hated me for my youth as I hate younger women too. So I never got that one despite having a laugh with the guy in the interview.
But my worst housemate interview was when I realised I had lowered my standards with people and let it get to me. I went for a place with a big room though the rest of the housemates would have been older than me, I didn’t really mind because I was getting to grips with the idea that not everywhere you find will be like ‘Friends’. I spoke to the first housemate, she was ok, didn’t seem like a psycho kinda bland to be honest.
Then the other woman who I think was 10 years older than me was chatting to me while the first person I met showed other people around the flat (that was grim but I was deluded by my need to move out). The second woman was the epitome of someone I tended to deeply dislike. The types of people who move to London and add no culture to it but love all the trendy things that make them look cool so that the void of their empty personality is filled. In the middle of our patronising talk where the woman made me feel insecure about being young, this woman came in who was also looking at the room, sat herself down on the sofa in the middle of my “interview” and started giving her life story. I’m literally sitting there like ‘Bitch, please’.
She just sat and talked about how she broke up with her boyfriend and is still living with him so really needs to move out. I could see why he broke up with her. I left shortly after because I get angry at things like principles and a lack of manners from both of this random woman and the second housemate.
Even though I ended up finding a place with a friend instead, you have to make out as if you’re going to be what they need and even if you don’t get it, try not to have it bring you down.
5. Find a friend or a buddy up
It’s like that tense moment in ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ when you don’t know the answer and need to phone a friend. If I didn’t know someone who also needed to move out I did consider a buddy up. This is where you meet others that want to move out like you through spareroom and find a place together either using the same site or alternatives like Zoopla or Rightmove. BUT be careful there are some dodgy adverts and people out there.
You should be careful with friends too. Love em all you want until you have to live with their habits. You may end up being the responsible one who has to deal with most of the bills and getting things sorted for the flat while the other moans about the one time you ask them to chase a quote. Differences aside, it is often easier to share with a friend especially if you can trust them. For instance, if you know they have enough saved for fees and if they earn enough to pay rent.
Prepare yourself for your relationship to be affected because this is someone you will have to see potentially everyday. You should also find a place with thick walls for both of your sakes. Admittedly, thin walls contributed to some break down in our friendship when we first moved in. Mainly because of *ahem* love life.
6. What do you want out of your local area?
This links in to item 2 on the list and you’ll probably be able to answer the question the longer you live anywhere or choose to move somewhere. It’s all well to find a place to live, but a place you can love is better. I’d like to say that at least like where I live. It’s south of the river so there’s a whole different personality here. I get the benefits of being in Zone 2 with all the great transport links and can take a direct route to Shoreditch if I wanted – and yet there’s so much more of the city I love so I don’t need to that often.
Though there is a uni nearby, it doesn’t feel too studenty – there’s a great mix of people here. My worry is gentrification but it may not be yours so I’ll save my rant for another post. I may not live in this particular flat forever but I do consider this part of town my secondary home in addition to Mum’s back in the West. It’s for this reason that I hope, dear reader, you’ll find a part of town you love the same (even if it is Shoreditch).
Once my manager said to me he was a South Londoner. I laughed and said ‘No, you’re not, you’re from Wembley’. I didn’t get it until I moved to South. I do love it here and maybe one day I’ll actually be an authentic South Londoner.
Yes, there will be stress along the process. Will it be worth it? Well… I can’t honestly tell you that, you just have to make the most of it.