Finding a Home
So you’ve arrived in London and are looking to find your very own first home as soon as possible.
It’s understandable to want to settle in right away, otherwise it makes all the other aspects of moving to a foreign country difficult – like attending job interviews, budgeting and feeling at-home – all this is very hard to do when you’re living out of a suitcase and sleeping on someone’s floor or hostel.
Before you start house-hunting, you need to ask yourself some pretty important questions so that you know what you’re looking for – the How, What, When and Where (we already know the Why).
How do you find your first home?
There are numerous websites to search for your new home.
www.gumtree.com is the first and most obvious one. I don’t particularly like using Gumtree though because it’s very repetitive with the same ads over and over again, and you have to sort through a LOT of crap to find anything decent or applicable to you. People also don’t get too personal in their Gumtree ads and therefore don’t provide a lot of information about themselves, which isn’t ideal when you’re looking for a share house.
www.moveflat.com is a great option, and this is how I found my first place.
It’s mostly for people who are looking to flatshare, and ads are a lot more personal and informative. People tend to tell you a little about themselves, who they’re looking for and provide lots of photos. Also, if you’re looking for a ‘Couple’ like I was, you can select to only view the rooms that are available for couples (saves you a LOT of time as most people don’t want couples).
www.spareroom.co.uk is another good one for flatsharing. It has great search options, but it’s a little less personal than MoveFlat, yet still better than gumtree. My friend found her flat through this website and was really happy with it.
www.primelocation.com, www.zoopla.co.uk and www.rightmove.co.uk are real-estate websites (similar to the Aussie realestate.com) which have listings for whole properties to let. These are a good option if you want your own place, but beware that you will need to prove a regular income with at least 3 months of UK payslips and references to secure yourself one of these babies! You will also need to organise things such as internet, TV licence and everyday items such as pots and pans, so it may be wise to avoid this for your first home, and see it as an option for the future.
www.beroomers.com is a also good site for students who are looking for accommodation in London, and all of Europe as a whole actually. It includes share houses, student halls, private apartments and host families.
What are you looking for in a house?
Do you need something with a central location, do you want to live in a social environment with other housemates, do you need a living room? Think about what exactly you want and what is most important to you, and set some guide lines, then search accordingly. It’s likely that the more boxes you need to tick, the more expensive it will be to rent. Whatever you do, don’t panic and forget your priorities. You’ll end up unhappy and wanting to move again in a couple of month’s time. Write them down and refer back whenever you need it!
London has a very competitive rental market. You need to look daily and be quick with picking up the phone and arranging inspections, or you’ll miss out. When my boyfriend and I were looking for our own flat, we would see a new ad come up one day and by the next it was already gone. Don’t get your hopes up until you have signed the lease – trust me! We had a place stolen out from under us even after we’d told the landlord that we’d take it and come by the next day with the deposit! Someone was quicker to put money on the table.
When do you want to move in?
Have you got accommodation organised for a while or do you need a place right away? The more time you have to play with, the more likely you are to find something perfect as you can be a little more picky and not take the first thing that comes up. In saying that, if you need a place ASAP then remember to only sign a 3 or 6 month lease, that way if you hate it or it’s not working out where you are, you won’t have long until you can start house-hunting again for something more suitable.
Most rentals in London don’t come on the market until about a month before the move-in date, so you almost can’t find a place any earlier than 1 month in advance. In fact, you’ll find that most places have an available date within two weeks which is perfect for a quick move, but if you want to secure a place ahead of time then be prepared to pay some extra rent.
Where do you want to live?
What are the factors that will influence what location you want to live in?
Safety, work, friends, night-life, art-scene – London is so vast that it can be hard at first to get a grip of all the different areas. My biggest factor was safety, followed by some sort of social-scene. I wanted to be near shops, restaurants and bars which helped me narrow down my search to a number of specific areas.
As a very broad and general overview of what I have learnt about central London, here is a very quick run down of North, South, East & West.
North – Camden is known for its awesome grunge appeal, full of character with loads to do and a big music scene. Further north you have the beautiful Primrose Hill and Hampstead areas – picture beautiful homes, stunning parks, clean streets, wealthy families and organic cafes filled with prams.
The Islington and Angel area is safe with lots of cafes, shops and nightlife, especially around Upper Street. It’s popular with young professionals, wealthy politicians and yummy mummies. There are loads of transport connections with Kings Cross/St Pancras not too far for all those last-minute trips to Paris 😉
East – East was known as the up and coming area of London, but it has certainly now err.. upped and come?! Expect a mixture of dirty, spit-laden streets, questionable buildings and dodgy businesses side-by-side with the coolest cafes, boutiques, restaurants and bars in London. It’s the creative hub of the city and a hipster’s paradise. It’s probably the best place to find a bargain rental with great proximity to central London, however it’s a real mix of cool and poor so make sure you inspect all houses/flats before committing to anything.
South – South London is becoming more popular with Brixton becoming the latest up and coming suburb. Still in its growth spurt, it’s a mix of council housing, young renters and families who have lived there for years. There’s a really popular weekend market with new brunch and coffee spots opening up regularly. The further south you go, the cheaper the rental costs become and living here is a good option if you’re on a strict budget. There are a lot of Australians living south around Clapham, which has become London’s unofficial Aussie hub.
West – Richer and mostly expensive. Beautiful suburbs and streets but less night-life and it all seems a little ‘stiff’ on that end of town. Good transport connections. A little further out it gets more affordable – e.g. Maida Vale area, with some beautiful tree-lined streets and typical English town houses. There are lots of families in these parts, so you’ll need to commute to get to the good nightlife spots and restaurants, but it’s well connected to central London. I found that most internet housing scams claim to have rooms available in these Western suburbs, so just be extra weary and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Now I know everyone has their own opinion on the areas of London, so don’t just listen to me but do your own research. Go spend some time in each of these places and get a feel for the vibe and culture.
Here is a good website that gives you an idea of the safest and more dangerous boroughs in and around London. http://www.londonsetup.com/london_accomodation_safety.html
The Finer Details
Also worth a quick mention are the costs which you’re most likely to encounter.
Most commonly you will be asked to pay 6 weeks rent upfront as a deposit. This can be quite a hefty amount so ensure that you save this amount and put it away where you can’t touch it!
Your deposit should always be kept in a safe deposit protection scheme such as MyDeposits. Always ask the landlord or agent to ensure this is where your money will be held, to avoid being scammed. After you leave your flat, the landlord legally has 10 days to notify you of any amounts that you are liable for to be taken from your deposit, or else you will get your full deposit refunded.
Sometimes the landlord will charge you a small fee to add your name to the deposit protection scheme – usually this is less than £50.
If you’re going through a real estate agent, you may also need to pay a one-off agency fee which can range anywhere from £80 – £400, depending on your agency. You can normally find this information in the ad, or on the agency’s website.
If you move into a house on your own, the gas, electricity and water will already be turned on, but you should call up the providers and register your details on your FIRST DAY, as well as quote the meters, to avoid being charged at the highest rate on the highest pricing scheme.
You will most likely need to arrange internet yourself.
Within a couple of weeks at your new home you should receive a Council Tax bill – tenants must pay this and it costs between £80 – £150 per month on average, depending where you live and how big your home is.
You will also get a letter to pay your TV licence. This tax is included in Australian income tax, however here they only charge it to those who have and watch a TV, this includes watching on your computer. If you don’t pay for it, and they see you watching TV (yes, they will visit at awkward hours and look through your windows), then you will be fined.
One more tip – when you first move in, take photos of e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. The landlords have a lot more rights here than tenants. We are the enemy, so the more evidence you have of how everything looked when you first moved in, the less likely you are to be paying for things you didn’t do. Do a proper inventory check on day 1, write it all down, sign it and keep a copy of everything!