“How do you find a flat in London?!?”
Ah, the question that plagues all London inhabitants, including born and bred Londoners themselves! I’ll be quite honest with you, finding a flat in London is no walk in the park. I sure wish I’d had someone to guide me along the way. That’s why decided to write this blog post – to give you the advice that I wish I knew before becoming a player in the London house hunting game.
To start, let me give you a little overview of the four different living situations I had in London:
Situation 1: St. Christopher’s Hostel
I spent my first week in London in a St. Christopher’s hostel dorm with about seven other girls. This is a good place to base yourself while looking for a more permanent place to live. However, spending too many nights in a hostel might drive some people to madness. Personally, a week was plenty for me!
Situation 2: LHA Bowden Court
I spent the next four weeks in a “long-term stay” hostel called Bowden Court in Notting Hill, which is part of the London Hostel Association. I shared a room with one other girl. In this hostel, I felt a little bit more settled than in St. Christopher’s. I had my own bed, wardrobe and sink, but it still did not feel like home. Meals were included in the price of the room, but the food was terrible so I ended up eating out most of the time anyway! At approximately £165 per week for a shared room, I felt it was a bit overpriced for what I was getting. But hey, I guess that’s London for ya!
The one very important upside to staying in an LHA hostel was that there was no time limit on the duration of my stay. I could renew my booking on a weekly basis and remain as long as I wanted. So although this living situation was far from ideal, I would still recommend it if are looking for a longer-term temporary stay, and if you wish to avoid the short term stress of a traditional hostel.
Situation 3: My Flat in Camden
Finally, over a month after my arrival in London, I finally had the keys to my first flat in Camden Town! Woohoo! Yes, you read that correctly. It took over a month for me to move into a flatshare. Unfortunately, this is not that uncommon, especially when you arrive in London in September – one of the busiest times of the year for flat hunting. September is a busy time largely due to masses of students arriving in London for the start of the school year. This is not to say that there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to find a room in under a month. You definitely can. It just might not be your dream come true living situation.
Personally, I was quite picky with my flat choice. I went to maybe twenty-odd viewings before I found a flat that I was happy with. Of course maybe if I hadn’t been so particular, I would have found a place quicker. Usually, some sort of sacrifice has to be made when settling on a flat. For example, I really liked the location of the place, the bedroom itself, and the two flatmates, but it was a little bit over my budget. So don’t be discouraged if you are having a hard time finding a place that perfectly meets all of your requirements.
Situation 4: My Flat in Hoxton
After living in London for eight months, I felt much more settled. My first flat was getting to be a bit too expensive, so I decided to start looking for a new flat. I wanted to find a place that was a little bit cheaper and closer to work. Because I did not have the stress of wanting to move out of an unsettling hostel, the flat hunting process was a lot more relaxed this time around. I managed to find a place that I really truly loved in Hoxton! So just remember, the first flat you move into doesn’t have to be your home for the rest of your London life. I know people who have moved more than five times!
Key Info and Tips for Flat Hunting:
SpareRoom.co.uk – This website will literally be your lord and saviour during your flat hunting expedition. On this website, tenants and landlords advertise rooms that are available in their flatshares. You can also post an ad of yourself describing what you are looking for, so that roommates looking for a new tenant can consider you. TIP: You can pay extra money for an early bird subscription, which allows you to see ads for flats when they are first released (otherwise you have to wait seven days before you can inquire about an ad). PAY FOR THE UPGRADE! I found both of my flats thanks to my early bird subscription. Totally worth the fee.
London Hostel Association
LhaLondon.com – This is where I found the long-term hostel that I was referring to in Situation 2.
Beware Of Dodgy Agencies!
A lot of properties are managed by estate agents. While some agencies are very reputable, others can be very dodgy and dishonest. Be very vigilant if you plan to rent from an agency. Like everything in life, it is always good to look up reviews first. You can do this on allagents.co.uk. If possible, try to avoid renting a flat that is managed by an agency altogether. They often charge you silly expensive fees that seem completely pointless (ie: £200 to “change the names on the lease”… what is that all about?!).
Sometimes, It’s Out Of Your Control
What many newcomers don’t realize is that often, it is the current flatmates who choose the new tenant, not the landlord. You might be so interested in a room that you are willing to give up all your life savings on the spot plus your left arm! But the flatmates may decide to give the room to someone else. Maybe a friend or colleague of theirs, or maybe just an interested viewer that they ~vibed~ with more than you. Try not to take it personally. Also, don’t get upset if you are already on your way to a viewing and you get a text from the landlord saying the room has been filled. These undesirable yet common scenarios definitely happened to me, and you just gotta, keep calm and carry on!
Get There Before All The Good Ones Are Gone
London is a bit like a Black Friday sale at Best Buy – you may get into a fist fight over a flat screen TV (ok, not actually). But the flat hunting game is indeed very competitive and fast paced. All the flat screen TV’s will be gone if you get to Best Buy too late, and all the desirable flats in London will be gone if you’re not on the ball with your search. I kid you not, I used to wake up early every day just so that I could be one of the first to see any new flat advertisements on SpareRoom.
I’m sure you’ve grown tired of hearing this, but nonetheless, London rent is expensive! It may take some time to adapt to London rent prices, but eventually, we all succumb and get used to it. It is also important to note that London is divided into Zones 1-6. Zone 1 is Central London, while the higher zones get increasingly further out of Central London. This may be fairly obvious, but normally the further out the zone, the cheaper the rent. Normally…
Many flats do not have a living room. Many flats are ancient and could desperately use a face lift. Half-sized fridges are pretty standard. Oh, and good luck finding a flat with a tumble dryer. We all must make sacrifices along the way, but at the end of the day, it’s totally worth it!
So if you are planning on moving to London anytime soon, brace yourself for the ups and downs that flat hunting brings. If anyone can handle it, it’s you!
If you have any other questions about all of this Flat-hunting business, please let me know in the comments below!