You may have noticed that I’ve gone a bit quiet on my blog recently. The reason for that is that I have been rather preoccupied… I’ve just (finally) moved to London!!
Although I was born in London, I’ve pretty much spent all of my life living about an hour’s train ride outside of the city, in the Kent countryside (with a brief interlude when I was living in Nottingham for university). When I was a kid, I was weirdly obsessed with the fact that I was born in London. I felt as though I was still a Londoner at heart- even though I had only lived there for the first year of my life and I obviously remember none of that. Long story short, I’ve always wanted to move to the city. As much as I love Kent, I’m a city girl; I like hustle and bustle and having activities on my doorstep.
Over the past few months I had to decide whether I wanted to go travelling again or finally make the move. It was a tough decision- in a perfect world I’d do both- but I opted for the latter. Anyway, hoards of tourists come to London every year, I can easily be a traveller in my own city, and I still hope to get the chance to be an actual traveller again at some point.
Moving is inevitably going to be stressful and this was no different. I barely slept in the week leading up to my move but, after nearly a week of being in the flat, it’s already been worth it.
Over the next few months, I’ll doubtless be posting a lot about living in and exploring London so to kick things off, I’m going to start with a few insightful (I hope but probably not) gems about how to go about house-hunting in London:
1. Pick an area
London is kind of a big place. You simply cannot search the whole thing, so narrowing down your search area is a good place to start. For me, it was Clapham in South London and the surrounding area. This was purely based on the word of one guy I met on holiday with my now flatmate. He told us it was a good place for young working professionals and we took his word for it. It was the wrong side of London for my work, which is just north of London, but it is good for both of us to get back to our respective family homes from here. That was that stage done then!
Since returning from holiday, I have to admit that I’ve heard mixed reviews: Clapham is overpriced and the nightlife isn’t great; South London is cheaper and Clapham has a good nightlife. One friend told me to steer clear as it was like living in the area where all the students lived in our old university down of Nottingham and you always ran into people you vaguely knew. Far from putting me off, that spurred me on. That’s what I’ve been missing, while I’ve been living in a field in Kent. I feel that when you start to recognise people in a place then that place starts to feel like home. I’ve been here a week and already bumped into two familiar faces in Clapham and Brixton.
2. Contact estate agents in the local area
I started my search by downloading apps for several estate agents database sites, such as Right Move and Zoopla. The problem I had with these was that by the time I’d found a property and asked for more details, that property was long gone. And even if wasn’t, it was about to. I was on the train from Kent into London for my first two viewings when my friend messaged me to say that the first one had just gone off the market. Then I got a call to say that the other had gone too. It’s a pretty fast moving market.
However, through using those sites, I was put in touch with loads of estate agents in the areas I was looking in. They would email and call me all day everyday with new properties they had on their books. I could then tell them my requirements and the times I had free for viewings, around work, and they’d just show me whatever they had available at that time. That turned out to be a much more successful strategy than trying to go and see specific properties that I’d found online.
3. Throw that long ‘want’ list out the window
As you search, you will probably find that your priorities and search criteria evolve a bit as you discover what’s out there and explore new areas. My first set of search requirements were: a furnished flat on at least the first floor with two, good-sized double bedrooms and ideally double-glazing, close to a tube station in Clapham. Almost instantaneously I realised that that just did not exist for our budget.
The location was the first to go- and it went further than I expected. I quickly started looking around Balham, Tooting and Colliers Wood, since they were close to both Clapham and the Northern tube line, and Brixton, on the Victoria tube line. However, even those places were tricky, although not impossible, on our budget. Then an estate agent recommended that we looked in Streatham. Although it is in the same kind of area, we had ignored it at first due to it’s lack of tube station, something that I had considered a priority. However, that particular transport-requirement was the next thing to go. Streatham has three mainline stations and an infinite amount of buses so it’s not exactly cut off from civilisation.
We finally found a flat (house viewing number 11) that ticked a surprising amount of our requirements. It’s furnished, full of character and has two double rooms (mine is quite a bit smaller but it is still perfectly formed, cosy and has plenty of storage). The flat has double glazing, is on the top floor of the building and is a 10-15 minute walk to a mainline station and buses go from both ends of our road into Central London. Clapham South, Balham and Brixton tube stations are also only a 25-30 minute walk. We may not use them that often, but it’s nice to know they’re there.
4. Accept that your budget may have to be a bit blown
London is not cheap. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My rent is more than double what I paid for my university house in Nottingham. But that’s just a price that has to be paid if you want to live in the city.
Although my flatmate and I did look at places that were not only on budget but actually under, we settled on somewhere over, and not only because it ticked more boxes. Now, I don’t believe in The One when it comes to relationships, but it turns out that I do when it comes to real estate; as soon as we walked into our flat, we knew that we’d found it.
I think there is a kind of rite of passage that means that you should live somewhere a bit gross at some point in your life in order to save some monies but I have definitely been-there-done-that with my first house at university, which was mostly mould. By the end of the year, all my stuff smelt of damp and I have no inclination to do that again. We did find several nice places for less but, at the end of the day, you have to think about where you’ll be happiest and where you can find a lifestyle that suits you. If you can find that for less then great but if not, then that’s what budgeting spreadsheets are for!
5. Dedicate yourself to the search
As our house search came to an end, I was exhausted. I’d spoken to and emailed what felt like dozens of estate agents, we’d seen 11 properties and had dedicated weekends to the search. I tried to count how long we’d been properly searching: it had been a week. But it felt like an eternity.
We properly started on Valentine’s Saturday, when we’d seen four properties. Before this, we’d only seen one flat, after work one evening. That was the time that two properties went off the market en route but one of the estate agents had something else close by that we could see. We then saw another six the Saturday after, the final of which we are now living in.
That may not necessarily sound like a lot, but if you add up the number of hours we spent searching online before and during this time and contacting estate agents and the two full days spent traipsing the streets of London, it is quite a lot. The thing is, the property market in London is so fast moving that you need to be quick off the mark in order not to miss something. So even if you only spent a week properly searching, it will be one intense week.