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9 May 2014

#realtalk: the nightmare that is flat hunting in London

I remember the first room I moved into outside of my own childhood one; it was in my cousin's spare - en suite - room, in a pretty dodgy part of Wellington, New Zealand. Little care or consideration went into that move; the room had a massive wardrobe, its own bathroom, and the rent was a mere dent in my weekly retail wage. It ticked a lot of boxes on the surface, and those it didn't tick were not concerns until I had moved in and realised they were problems. Like the fact that my room was at the front of the house, on a loud and dodgy street, and had no curtains. Not an ideal room, but pretty sweet - unlike the flatmates I ended up having to live with for those first few months, who were very much broken miscreants that I had no hope of surviving.

As bad as some of the negatives were there though, they gave me a basis for what to look for in my next room (and flatmates); a smaller, but brighter room at the back of a house in a quiet cul-de-sac.... that happened to be super close to the train station that took me to work (and kept me awake at night) every damn day. The flatmates were nicer, although a bit weirder, and I lasted in that room probably another three months until I (stupidly) agreed to move in with my then-boyfriend and two of his best mates. We were about twenty three, and while I had had some flatting experience, they hadn't. The things that were important to me (washing machine, separate toilet/bathroom and lots of kitchen cupboard space), were of the least importance to them - they wanted; a yard for bonfires (sure), a lounge room for parties (no) and a landlord that didn't mind smoking inside (ugh). Well, outnumbered, we took a decrepit three bedroom house along the Petone Esplenade, that was 12 months away from demolition but in a totally beautiful part of town.

We actually made that house work for a good six months before the constant parties, smoking in the house and midnight poker games became all too-much for me, and I made my boyfriend move to a bloody lush little one-bed In Town. Sure, the rent was more, but we walked to work. Sure, it was impossible to get the furniture up the 206 stone-carved steps, but we compromised and brought it in from the primary school next door. Sure, it was next door to a school, but we worked Monday to -- oh, that's right, we worked Tuesday to Saturday. That was fun. besides that, and the heavy-footed man who turned out to be a baker that worked from 3am, and the constant threat of allofthebugs, that wee flat was probably my favourite. After that, we moved to his folks house so we could save to move back to Australia. In the two years in NZ, I lived in five different houses. I loathed moving, but I was getting good at it.
In Melbourne, it was no better, but thankfully a lot of the hardwork was done for us by the time we'd gotten there; my bestie had found us a new-build apartment to move straight into, close to work, The City, and lots of potential coffee shops for weekending. There was even a Sunday Market on... Sundays. That flat was great! Except after my boyfriend and I broke up, then it was super awkies. We all went our separate ways, and I'd gone into a mates spare room (think, family home. There were kids everywhere, but I genuinely loved the hubbub and was ever so grateful to have the family support I needed through that breakup) until I had the strength to begin flat hunting again.

I knew I liked the area I had been living in, and so focused my sights on Gumtree and SpareRoom.com for potential rooms around my work and friends that met the following requirements; must have a tram nearby, must not have more than three (total) flatmates, must have a parking space, must be fully furnished, must have internet. Well, colour me lucky, but I found one. I'd looked at one other room before finding it too, and the girl I was sharing with (although a bit... odd), was from my hometown, had a pretty sweet job, was friendly, came loaded with travelling-the-uk stories, and even found it in her heart to introduce me to the wonders of watching an entire box-set of DVDs in mammoth TV-watching sessions (think Netflix pre-Netflix)(it was Gilmore Girls, thank you for asking)(then The OC)(and Sex and the City). I'd finally honed my flat hunting skills to a fine art, and it had only taken five or six failed attempts to get there.

Which, was good news, as that's about the time I decided to move to the UK. With my excellent room-hunting skills in check, and a chronic Marian Keyes obsession, I had such ambitious dreams of living in a gorgeous little one bedroom flat in Kensington or Hampstead or - if I had to, Angel, because how hard could flat hunting in a city of approximately one billion people actually be? By all accounts of anyone I'd ever met in my day-to-day who'd done their time in the UK, living in London was "awesome", "excellent", "like the best time ever," and I was keen to get there and start brunching in Spitalifields like my comrades before me had.

Well. Let me tell you something about flat hunting in London....Just, don't. Ok? Just don't. It is soul destroying, financially crippling, and will make you reassess everything that's integral to your health and wellbeing, possibly even your safety.
with my first few months spent on a sofa in my mate's two bed in Essex, I jumped at the chance to sublet a colleague's South London room over Summer while she went home to Spain. Except, what did I know of the area I was moving into? Absolutely nothing. Did I ask? No. I'd taken the Number 12 home with her once after work to meet her flatmates, who didn't bother turning up. What I'd foolishly mistaken as a quiet residential block of flats, turned out to be a pretty awful council estate. There was a KFC, a 24-hour McDonalds and a pretty trendy pub only a few minutes walk from my door - oh, that meant it was on a high street, and should be avoided at all costs.

Then there were The Riots. Remember those? Right outside my window, keeping me constantly worried for my life and barricaded in my tiny room in a share house full of non-English-speaking and very anti-social Italians. There was a cleaning rota, which was emailed to me by the Lead Tenant, and a hard copy slid under my door (while I was inside) with a note attached telling me it was my turn to clean... I'd moved in the day before. The shower had no pressure, and there was salt in the sugar bowl, all for £500pcm - more than a third of my entry-level salary. I wanted to call up Ms Keyes and tell her how it really was, this living in London lark.

When the summer was up, my then-boyfriend and I took a room in a two-bed in South East London - the second room was let on a Monday to Thursday basis to a lodger who worked in The City, and who was incredibly quiet, rarely socialised with us, and gave us no grief. It was ridiculously perfect; we had our own lovely room, access to a shared garden and it was close to transport. Best of all, because it was let privately, it was incredibly cheap. But, short lived; twelve months in, the landlady decided to move back in, and our little happy bubble was burst; we moved out of our master room and into the smaller, back bedroom - complete with a pigeon in the chimney, and no way of avoiding the quirks of the socially inept Italian woman who liked to think she was my best friend one minute and my mother the next. Six months of living on eggshells saw us move again, to save our sanity.

With a combined budget and with some very real non-negotiables this time (must be landlady free), we found the perfect little flat not far from where we had been living in part-time harmony. The top-floor flat of a purpose-built block that overlooked a sports pitch and was a quarter mile from any kind of high street and train station was finally ours. And, for pretty cheap too. Well, that is until you add allofthebills on top, and then not so much. But, it was all ours. Oh, except, it wasn't furnished, and we had none. No problems, to Very.co.uk we went, to take full advantage of their buy-now-pay-later scheme, and within weeks we had the staples. Some pretty clever tip-diving (don't judge, Kirstie Allsop does it) and boot-sale-hunting had the rest of the furniture in after a few months. Pinterest and Instagram and the general use of the internet had d.i.ys coming out of my ears, and within six months, that flat was perfect. But you know what life does when things get perfect, right?
Yup. Fucks it all up. So, for the last few weeks, I have been on the hunt again. This time, just for me. Except, now I have all this fucking furniture, and certainly can't afford a one-bedroom on my own. So, I need a room. Except, all the rooms come with furniture in them. and certainly no room for a dining set and four seater sofa. So, not only am I flat hunting, I am furniture selling, which - let me tell you, is a no-profit job. Like, as soon as you sit on a sofa, it depreciates by half. Aw, don't worry, I'm not bitter. I fucking love shaking my life up. Keeps things interesting.

So, I narrowed my options down to some of the better less crap rooms currently being offered to rent in South East London. Not including the ones that are "room to share with one Polish man", "free room offered to white female only in exchange for services", and "small double room available two days a week, every three weeks", my options were to share a two bed apartment with an eccentric charity-working live-in-landlady, take a room as a 'lodger' in a two bedroom apartment with a self-employed woman and her 13 year old son (who lives in the lounge room), or the basement room of a posh chap's 'work in progress', where the window looks out into four walls between the toilet and the conservatory next door. Slim pickings huh.

Turns out you can have a list as long as your arm for what to look for in a new flat. Unless you live in London. Then you just have to work out if not having access to the lounge room is actually a big deal, or if wanting a flatmate who is normal and quiet, and not a student or party girl or stoner or serial killer is really that big of an ask. Can you guess which of the above is lucky enough to be my new flatmate?

leave your answers in the comments.

i originally wrote this piece to share somewhere else, and i wrote it a few weeks ago. i'm not so bitter about moving anymore, i promise... all pics sourced from we heart it.

Add your comment

  1. I hate apartment hunting, I too live in a city and find it excruciating to find the perfect combo of just simple requests. I have never lived in London but it is a great place from visiting, like everyone else I've also dreamt of how great it would be to live there. Its good to know the apartment hunting process isn't as promising as the actual city is. Im glad things worked out for you though!

  2. OMG what a nightmare! I now realise how lucky I was in London, I moved into a house share in Wimbledon that I already knew about because my best friend lived there, I was lucky that her housemate was moving out so I just stepped on in! She left a few years later to buy her own flat so I got a new housemate in .. she wasn't my favourite person in the world but she wasn't awful and I could tolerate her. I managed to live in this same house for the entire 5 years I lived in London! The landlord eventually contacted us to say she wanted her house back but by then I'd already decided I was relocating to Newcastle, it just meant I ended up leaving London 3 months earlier than I'd originally planned!

    Hope you find something good soon
    Chloe x

  3. Good grief, I love house hunting, but sometimes it's a piss take and for some it gets worse and worse in pickings. I hope what you picked will work out for happiness doll xx

  4. I think I've always been immeasurably lucky with my flat-hunting. When I first moved to London I was living in my best friend's parents' spare room in the far reaches of zone 6. I paid minimal rent (which was great cos my salary working in a Wetherspoons was also minimal) but it was just SO FAR AWAY. Now I'm in a teeny-tiny single room in a teeny tiny four-bed flat near Wimbledon. My flatmates are great and I spend most of my time at the boyfriend's house anyway so the titchiness isn't that much of an issue. I think I haven't done to o badly to be honest!

    Best of luck with your move :) xx

    Katy | www.littlemisskaty.co.uk

  5. Flat hunting in London is like being in Dante's deepest circle of hell. x

  6. I wrote all of that up there ^ but you just put that so succinctly. thank you. you win this round. x

  7. thanks Katy! I suppose we all have those bad rooms that make up appreciate the good ones - it's just suuuch a shame i'm now leaving the GOOD one for a LESS THAN GOOD one! x

  8. thanks Kizzzzzzy! <3

  9. gahhhd girl, you did get it lucky!

  10. *time will tell* X

  11. Oh God I will be embarking on the hunt for a room in London in a few months and having heard a ton of horror stories I am not looking forward to it! Best of luck with the new place though!


  12. Ala Skrakowski9 May 2014 at 10:45

    I've always been quite lucky when looking in London, but it's literally a case of going round somewhere for 5 minutes, and asking yourself 'can I see myself living here for the next 12 months maybe more?' and making a split second decision because it's a bloody race and if you don't take it there and then, you'll miss out. But I totally agree about house shares, so touch and go.

    Hope you've found somewhere nice now! x

  13. And that is why I'm moving out of London. Goodbye expensive flat that stinks of curry from next door and river dancing upstairs neighbours! Good luck with your hunt :) x

  14. Maisie Gibbons11 May 2014 at 20:33

    I've never had the pleasure of having to flat hunt in London(or anywhere in the UK for that matter) but it sounds... most pleasing.
    Good luck hunny! xx

  15. My guess would be the two bed apartment with eccentric charity-working live-in-landlady? Whatever you decided to go for, I hope it all works out for you!! When I first moved to London, I ended up in a house share with EIGHT completely random people. It was very chaotic but somehow it all worked out (£500pm bills included definitely helped). About a year later I decided to invest in my own place but complications arose. I had already given in my notice to my landlord so all of a sudden found myself with nowhere to live!! In the end, I moved to Surrey and stayed with family for a couple of weeks, before moving into a (newly) unfurnished flat that my friend had just moved out of (but there were ten days left on the lease). After this, I moved into my manager's flat for two weeks... and thankfully at this point the complications had cleared and I could move into my apartment in Greenwich! Things are never easy in London... but they are most definitely worth it. Wishing you all the best in your new place - GOOD LUCK!! xx

  16. I'm putting my money on the eccentric charity lady, or the single mum and her son? Man that sounds like hell! If I do move to the UK one day, remind me to choose a city other than London. xx

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