Insight of an Intern – House Hunting in London

August 28, 2012 in Afterhours, Community Internship, House Hunting, Intern Advice, Intern Guide, Intern Training, Introduction, London Living, Personal, Pictures

A bit of a long one today! Hunting for somewhere to live in London can seem daunting and rather overwhelming, but there’s no need to stress about it.

For the past two weeks of my life I have been immersed in the task of finding a room in London. In a city of over 8,000,000, people (not including Greater London) you’d think that a few of them would have a nice and affordable spare room for rent – apparently this isn’t the case.

Sounds Like A Plan

First and foremost, you need to decide on your budget. Before setting your heart on a luxury 6 bedroom penthouse, you’ll need to work out exactly how much you can afford to pay each month to avoid disappointment further down the line – remember to take into account travel expenses, bills (electricity/gas/water/internet/etc) and council tax, as well as any extra costs such as a deposit and expenditure for furnishings. These all add up rather quickly, and you might not have as much money to spend as you thought. Like most interns, I couldn’t afford to live in my own flat, and so I started out by looking for a flatshare.

Once you’ve decided on a budget, the second tip I would give house and room hunters is to narrow down where you’d be happy to live.

This may sound simple (London, duh?) but in reality this city is a sprawling mass, and where you live in it can mean between a 1.5 hour commute via buses, trains and the tube and a 10 minute stroll to work. It can also be the difference between living somewhere you’re happy to go jogging around at 11pm and where you don’t want to leave the house after sunset. If you have friends or family in London, it’s definitely worth asking around to see where people recommend. Do your own research as well – there are numerous guides to London living areas on the net.

Where To Look

Rather naively, I began my hunt by contacting local estate agents. Now, they tend to get a bad rep in this world, but I must say my experiences with them were generally positive. They were eager to find out what I was looking for and to get me booked in for some viewings. However, with my rather limited budget the type of properties they had listed were far out of my price range. Once the estate agents realised this, they oddly seemed to lose interest. Strange that.

I turned instead to my good buddy the internet, as I’d been recommended two particular sites: Gumtree.com and Spareroom.co.uk.

Gumtree.com: Gumtree is a wonderful mishmash of advertisements; whether you’re looking for a new job, to purchase a plethora of junk or, as was the case in my situation, looking for somewhere to live. I started out by browsing ‘rooms to let’ in the areas I had previously decided on, and personally contacting any which caught my eye. This is time consuming, so set aside a couple of hours a day minimum to carry out this task.

I found that people tended to be rather sluggish at replying, and that I had a nightmare of a time keeping track of which adverts I had contacted and which had got back to me. I got a few viewings booked this way, though none turned out to be ‘the one’.

Changing tactics turned out to be the best solution for me – instead of trawling the advertisements day in day out, I posted my own ‘room wanted’ ad:

Click to Enlarge

Spareroom is certainly more focused, and easier to navigate. Similarly to Gumtree, I started by browsing the ‘rooms to let’ adverts, but quickly ended up posting my own ‘room wanted advert’. I deleted my account after I’d found a place though, so I”m afraid no sneak peek at that one, though it was basically the same as my other ad.

My top tips for posting your ‘room wanted’ ad are:

  • Be clear about what you’re looking for – include location, budget and other details such as furnished/unfurnished or bills included.
  • Include a photo of yourself – prospective housemates want to know who you are, and putting a face to a name really helps with this.
  • Be honest – if you’re not a party animal, don’t say that you’re always up for all-night benders. If you are a party animal, don’t hide it! You want to be in a living situation which suits all involved. Let people know about your quirks and your hobbies!
  • Think twice about including your phone number (especially if you’re female!) – I made the stupid mistake of openly including my phone number, and received some less than savoury calls. Instead, perhaps opt for just email contact.

Responses and Viewings

In my experience, responses start coming in pretty quickly once you list a wanted ad – in fact, at some points I felt a little swamped by the amount of potential viewings I had. To save myself  from spending every evening traipsing  from place to place, I first went through my list of responders and ruled out any that were too expensive/too far away/too weird. I then contacted those I was interested in, and asked them to tell me a little more about the flat and themselves, then rinsed and repeated the cutting down.

Once I had a final list (though ongoing as replies kept coming in), I started to book viewings. Something I learned from this, and which I cannot stress enough, is to group viewings of places that are in the same area on the same evening. If I’d been doing this from the start, I would have saved myself a heck of a lot of travel and stress.

As well as this, I would always advise letting someone know where you will be going, and ideally taking a friend along with you to each viewing, Not only is this safer, but it means you gain a second opinion on the property and can talk it through afterwards with them. Make sure to buy the friend lunch to say thank you!

Questions to Ask

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you do your research thoroughly so that you don’t get caught out. Here are some useful questions to ask when thinking about renting a place:

  • How much is rent/the deposit/utilities/administration fees/management fees/internet/council tax?
  • Experiences of the local area? Is it safe?
  • How much notice do you have to give to move out?
  • Is it furnished/unfurnished? If furnished, what items are included?
  • What kind of heating system is used?
  • What are the housemate’s work schedules like?
  • What are the noise levels like? Are you constantly going to be awoken in the middle of the night by a fire engine station just up the road? Or are the flat above you party animals?
  • What’s transportation like? Will you be able to get to work easily in the morning?
  • Does the flat have white goods such as a washing machine/dryer/dishwasher? If not, are you happy to use a laundromat?
  • Are you allowed to decorate your own room? Some places won’t even allow posters to be put up.
  • Are there any house rules? How are chores divided?
  • Is there storage space for you to use?
  • Is there parking?
  • What are the local amenities like?

Finally, I would say use gut instinct – if you get a bad vibe about the place, or you don’t seem to click with your potential housemates, chances are you’re not going to enjoy living there and are going to be tied to a place for an unhappy duration of time.

Remember that you don’t have to take the first property you see – be picky, be careful and be certain!