living in London Part 2: Housing
Here’s the second part of my living in London blog series. Housing in London
Part 1: Cost of Living
Part 2: Housing
Part 3: Actually, for real, like totally doing it
Finding housing in London is difficult because it is so dependent on when you are looking. The vacancy rate is quite low (my google search didn’t reveal any definitive numbers, but I think it’s between 5-10%) but the nature of residents in London is that they are always moving in and out. This creates a market where great places pop up and are gone within days.
Finding a Flat
In my experiences there are two ways to find a place to live in London. Three if you count begging your friend who already lives there for some temporary floor space.
1. Gumtree and Spare Room
Gumtree works like Craigslist in North America. It’s mostly free to post room vacancies and beyond a few premium ads, it’s free to view them. Most of the housing options on Gumtree are for rooms in shared accommodation or short term sublets directly through landlords. It’s perfect for those coming to London with unknown futures and don’t want to commit to a 12 month lease when they might not even find a job. Plus beyond the (often many) negatives of shared accommodation, it’s a great way to meet people. Some of my greatest London friends I met in the first house share I lived in, of course they all left London in the months after I arrived (no one is in London permanently!)
Spare Room is better in so many ways. The people looking for flatmates are usually a bit more professional and older and my friends who have used it have had much better experiences than on Gumtree. It’s usually worth paying for the early bird access too if you really want to find a good place.
Most flatshare accommodations will have you come for an interview or mingle with the current housemates and from there it is basically a popularity contest to see who gets the room. I’ve heard of people bringing beer (good idea but then were considered to much of a try-hard) to others bragging about how popular they are and how many friends they could bring to great parties this house could have. My suggestion is to just be yourself and take as much time to interview your potential housemates as they do you. Living together isn’t a sprint (or a sweet house party) it’s a marathon and you need to know if they are cool when you leave your breakfast teaspoon on the counter all day.
Be ready to put up first/last months rent as a deposit, and make sure to discuss payment options. Are bills included in the rent? Who buys the TP and laundry detergent? Is there a cleaner who comes in weekly to keep the communal areas
conflict mess free?
One major pro to this type of accommodation is the price. House shares can make it affordable to live in the most central of locations (I have a friend who lives in SW1!) Most are well under £1000 a month and include everything.
2. Letting Agencies
Letting agencies and Employment (temp) agencies are a necessary evil in London. That being said I’ve had great experiences with both - Thank you Spring Personnel - and would suggest that people engage with them but also be aware of their underlying motives (hint: it’s not your happiness).
Letting agencies have a billion high street locations with very pretty pictures in the windows of available properties. You can also search around on the internet to find something in your price range. Rents are quoted in weeks rather than months, so remember to multiply that by 52 and divide by 12 to get an idea of your monthly rent rather than just X4. Most places in Central-ish London will cost you at least £250/week - I’ve seen some in the £100s but… you’d have to look very hard to find a diamond in that rough. If you approach an agency they’ll register you and then get you out seeing properties as soon as possible. You usually have a designated agent who will meet you at the properties (some will even drive you around if you have a whole afternoon booked with them) and let you in to see the place.
After you’ve seen a few places (in our case we saw just 1 and wanted it) the Agent will press you on making an offer - which they will take to the landlord for approval. A lot of places are listed at their highest price, and if you can sign a longer lease many will accept a lower price of rent. You can also put a break clause in your offer so after a few months or a year both parties can have the option to break the lease.
Most of this is pretty standard rental stuff around the world - but it’s helpful to know that demand in London is high for good properties so if you want a place you may have to take some risks.
Letting agencies get a % of the rent and a bunch of fees from the tenants and landlord - so it is in their best interest to get things tied up fast. Don’t be rushed by what seems like urgent paperwork and make sure to be sure your butt is covered. The fees when you move in are usually add up to around £200, and you’ll also be paying another £100 or so if/when you move out. It’s important to keep these things in mind when you are budgeting your move(s).
IMO the best part of dealing with letting agencies is that you get a direct line to a property manager 24 hours a day. We are letting through one of the biggest agencies in London (the world actually) and when things have gone wrong in our flat we could call someone to get it fixed right away(ish). The landlords usually have insurance through the agencies so fixes can be made right away and in a sense, the tenants are taken care of since they are also customers of the agency. Anyone who has dealt with a difficult landlord knows what a pain it can be to get even the smallest problems fixed - having someone at the agency do all the nitty-gritty work for you helps. The agency will also help you contact the landlord if you want reimbursements for the problems.
One is not better than the other - I have friends who have gone through both and had nightmare/dream situations. When you are first arriving it can seem daunting to commit to a longer lease, but it may work out cheaper in the end?
Furnished v. Unfurnished
If you are like me and loathe moving because of one time when you had to literally throw your mattress off the balcony, furnished accommodations are the way to go. Especially when dealing with letting agencies (they make sure the furniture is up to standard). It’s the easy way to move around the world without the weight of a van load of furniture weighing you down. In London there are tons of furnished accommodations and they aren’t that much more expensive than unfurnished (plus no one ever works in the cost of Ikea-build-frustration to those £30 Billy Bookcases). You will have to do a check in where every teaspoon is counted by the agency, but it is in your interest as well so you aren’t charged for things you didn’t damage.
So don’t fret when you move to London with only a 17lbs suitcase (thank you redic airline excess baggage fees) you will find a place to sleep and a Primark for cheap throw pillows to add a small touch of your own.