It seems like only two minutes since I was sat here writing ‘how is still January?’ and yet here I am and it’s already March.
This week is a particularly exciting one for me because today I move into my new flat in London. It’s taken me a while to find somewhere that was affordable, in a nice area and that didn’t look like it might have once been a crime scene but I’m glad I took the time.
It’s slightly further out than I originally planned to be but I quickly realised that if I wanted an affordable and desirable property I had to compromise on location. And let’s be honest; what’s up and coming today is a prime location tomorrow.
So, with my search out of the way, I wanted to share my top five tips for flat hunting in London. Now I don’t claim to be a property finding expert but these are the things I’ve learned that have worked for me in all my years of renting in the nation’s capital.
Ask Your Friends
This may seem like an obvious starting point but it’s one that many people overlook. Everyone knows someone in London who is either moving or is looking for a flatmate and let’s be honest we’ve all encountered the flatmate from hell at one point in our lives. Asking friends takes the guesswork out of finding a decent flatmate. Personal recommendations say a lot about an individual and whilst you might still not always see eye to eye, you can guarantee if you have mutual friends there will be some common ground to start from. You also stand a chance of getting ahead of the game when it comes to viewings.
Avoid Estate Agents
In my opinion, unless you’re buying a house there’s really no need to use an estate agent. The cost of renting is already so high in London, why would you want to pay hundreds of pounds in admin fees that are of absolutely no benefit to you whatsoever? Admittedly, your rental options are somewhat more limited if you use a private landlord, but if you’re willing to put the time and effort into your search, there’s a strong possibility you’ll save money not only on fees but rent too. I also guarantee you’ll get your full deposit back when you leave. Of course, I would always advocate signing a contract and using the DPS to secure your deposit, but in my experience, the rental process has always been far less traumatic when I’ve dealt with my landlord directly.
Ignore the Tube Map
It’s a well-known fact that living on a tube line bumps up the cost of your rent. There are still several parts of London that aren’t served by the tube that have excellent transport links and as such benefit from cheaper rents. Whilst I can’t pretend the railways are always 100 per cent reliable, they still connect you to the city centre faster than and as directly as the tube. So, if you’re prepared to look outside of the tube map, you can often find yourself a hidden gem.
Factor in the Cost of Transport
Paying for travel is an unavoidable part of living in London. Few of us are lucky enough to live in an area that’s walking distance from zone 1 and even when we do, the city is so sprawling now that the chances of you being able to walk to where you want to go all the time are slim. For as long as I’ve rented in London – and we’re talking at least a decade – I’ve always factored the cost of a monthly travel card into my rent. With rents in London at an all-time high and TFL operating arguably the most expensive public transport system in the world, it doesn’t always pay to live further out. Being on a train line instead of a tube line can drastically cut your commute time, too, as services often don’t stop at as many stations.
Prepare to Compromise
As I stated earlier, I wanted to live closer to the centre of London. When I started my search I focused on the areas I knew and had lived in previously; namely Clapham, Wandsworth, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. I quickly realised that I couldn’t comfortably afford to rent in these areas any more. In 2010 I paid just £400 a month for a large double room in a two bedroom flat next to Bethnal Green station and in 2015 I paid £500 a month for a double room in a three bedroom flat close to Wandsworth Town Centre. Now I‘m not stupid; I understand that the days where you can find rents like that in desirable areas of London are long gone but my experience in property searching has taught me never to give up. I started to consider properties further afield, where fewer people were looking and that’s how I found my new flat.