In the midst of a global pandemic, and just as a scorching heatwave engulfed London, my friend and I went flat hunting in the capital city. Growing up in the Midlands, many a school lunchtime had been spent discussing whether we’d one day move to London. Now though, work and study commitments had made the urban lifestyle of post-work drinks and underground travel a looming reality.
As I started to prepare for the move, I found myself wondering just how much planning and research was necessary. I didn’t want to go in unprepared. Equally, I didn’t feel that I knew London well enough to be able to nail down what I should be looking out for. The week that followed proved that I did, indeed, have no idea what to expect. Things didn’t always go to plan. Surprisingly, that was actually for the best.
Finding A Place To Stay In London
The pace of the London housing market demands flexible scheduling. However, this isn’t easy when you live over two hours away. It makes sense then, to temporarily move to London for a week. This means that you have a base from which to start a search. We quickly learnt that things won’t always go as expected. Even with hours of research and preparation, bizarre events can occur. When this happens it’s important to take it in your stride, and let your planning help you out as much as possible.
For us, plans began to unravel as soon as we arrived at the wooden door outside of our Airbnb. The reason we remained – sweaty backed – outside of the Airbnb rather than inside in the refreshing cool, was that the door was refusing to open. If that was odd, even stranger was the failure of our previously communicative Airbnb host to respond to messages… or answer his phone. After therefore spending a couple of hours looking like the world’s most incompetent burglars, we retired to the local Premier Inn for an expensive, albeit air-conditioned, night’s stay.
When you face an inconvenience like this, it’s frustrating to realise that you’re spending as much as would get you a decent holiday simply to find somewhere to live. While I’m not using this mad anecdote to bash Airbnb (we all know how useful a service it is), I do recommend you think carefully about where you want to stay in the first instance. No one needs the stress of needing to find two different flats in the same week.
Hunting For A Flat
The preparations for finding our actual long-term flat hadn’t exactly run like clockwork, either. If you want a fun afternoon activity, I do not recommend trying to co-ordinate viewings with London estate agents. I would spend hours scouring sites with slim property lists reducing by the day, constantly flicking back and forth, as Google Maps calculated transport links. Having finally narrowed it down to a few properties, I would be met with an awkward silence, then referred once again to the fact that because “the London market moves so quickly” these properties may not be available to look at, but they would “see what we can do”.
After all the preparations, apartment viewings themselves can feel strangely brief. You’re lucky to find a two-bed over 800 sqft, meaning viewings often only last a matter of minutes. There isn’t even the anticipated sales pitch from estate agents desperate to push you into renting a dodgy box room a la Stath Lets Flats. Particularly in the COVID-19 era, websites are pretty detailed about the properties on offer. Many have virtual tours, which leads to the slightly unnerving sense of déjà vu as you enter a flat you’re certain you’ve seen before.
Although it’s difficult not to form an idea of ‘the dream flat’ from these hours of research, it’s important not to set unachievable expectations. Remember that despite the photo quality, apartments always feel different once you step inside.
You might, at this point, ask why you should bother with the effort of going all the way to London, booking an Airbnb etc. if you can simply do everything online. It’s a point which seems applicable to pretty much everything nowadays. However, living locally for a week can be the perfect opportunity to build a guide for yourself. In the time that you aren’t able to fit in appointments for viewings, you can explore surrounding areas, and get a feel for whether you’d fit in where you’re looking.
Indeed, despite its many merits, Google isn’t the source of all knowledge. Walking to the supermarket, I passed a local firm and after a quick enquiry, managed to set up a viewing that afternoon. Over the weeks of planning, the dream of a Suits inspired city apartment, all moody lighting and brick walls had been fading when property finder search engines brought up blank pages. Understandably, I was therefore surprised when we were shown into a trendy flat in a prime location, and within budget at our very first viewing. This is an opportunity I simply would not have found had I remained confined to my trusty laptop.
Being in the city itself also enables you to set benchmarks. Despite our initial success, we continued to view other apartments. Coming directly from a student house share, it can be difficult to accept that almost doubling your budget in London will get you half of what you’re used to. Yet, even though there can be a difficult difference between flats, prior research can prevent you from being ripped off; we looked at one property out of our budget purely to see what that kind of money can get you. Besides, we were often told that London is a renters’ market. This means that even if an apartment appears out of range, a well worded offer to a desperate landlord could easily result in a bargain.
Embrace The Unexpected
In retrospect, given the sporadic nature of our flat hunting, it would be easy to conclude that planning for a move to London is futile. It is clear that being reactive is vital. However, frustrating as it was having to ditch and change so many plans, careful prior thinking about location and budget meant that when we were shown properties, we could quickly weigh up pros and cons. It also meant that, when we found ourselves locked outside of our Airbnb, we simply found ourselves somewhere closer to where we wanted to be and carried on. Ultimately, it’s a hard truth that the London market moves quickly, and with a bit of flexible planning and some reactive thinking you’ll be able to too.
Words by Adam Goldsmith
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