Finding a room, flat or house to rent in London is mayhem. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you offer, or how much you are willing to pay, the entire process sucks.
Hubby and I have recently returned to London on sponsored visas. While Dan started work almost immediately, I was left to the tedious tasks of job searching and house hunting. Surprisingly, it only took ten days to get decent freelance work, but almost six weeks into our house search I have a feeling that we are going to be overstaying our welcome at the home of some very generous friends who offered to put us up temporarily.
Having lived in London for almost two years we thought knew what we wanted in a house and what we could expect. During our first week of house hunting we wanted a large double room, in a pretty Victorian house with a garden, within 10 minutes walk of the nearest tube station, on a line that takes me directly to work within 30 minutes, with a maximum of 2 other cool housemates. Our new house family would be 9-5 professionals who travel frequently, enjoy being out in London and are fun but chilled when at home. Was that too much to ask?
After the second week we were no longer looking for a pretty house with a garden. We had become more flexible in terms of the perfect housemate and started to look at rooms in smaller ex-council flats with tiny windows and a kitchen that was in great need of renovation.
By our third week we were exhausted. Our 70+ inquiries on Spareroom.co.uk had less than a 10% response rate and the rejection was starting to take its toll. Was it something in our profile that was offensive or off putting?
We decided that joining an existing share house was proving too difficult and we needed to change tactics. We were going to create our own awesome share house, with a garden and a nice kitchen, in a great location with brilliant housemates. Another week passed and I started to lose hope.
Surely we didn’t need to be within 15 minutes walk of the tube? And we definitely didn’t need a garden or outdoor space. Living with 18 year old students – why not? Furniture… we could probably do without that too…
Even buddying-up with others seemed too difficult and there was always something to contend with: their budget was higher than ours, it would take longer for us to commute from the location they wanted, they didn’t believe in sharing bills, she didn’t want to be on a lease, he couldn’t provide references, was there room for her 2 cats, French bulldog and budgie?
The entire buddying-up process is much like online dating. You sign up, pay your monthly fee, select your preferences (double room, non-smoking, no pets), describe who you are (a social, tidy and friendly professional couple), what you like to do in your spare time (long walks along the beach, authentic cultural experiences… blah, blah, blah), and what you expect in another housemate (don’t be dirty or mean).
Recently I found a profile that perfectly captured what I was feeling at the time. The profile started like this: “Once upon a time there was a professional, called George. It was very important for George to remind people he was a professional because it meant, in the eyes of many other self-proclaimed professionals, that he wasn’t smelly (like a student), and that he had a time during every 24 hours when he switched off to recharge his batteries (unlike a student).” It was brilliant! George then continued to write his creative and intriguing ad in third person. I wanted this guy as our new housemate… if only he would respond to our request.
Pinning down the right housemate was hard. At one point last week we were submitting an offer to rent a property with another couple who we hadn’t met yet. It was like committing to an arranged marriage without having been on a first date.
So far, almost six weeks into our futile hunt, my hubby and I have viewed close to 20 properties between us, submitted offers on three properties, unsuccessfully, had 169 conversations on Spareroom.co.uk, found eight potential housemates to move in with and zero housemates who want what we want, contacted approximately 45 letting agents, changed our preferences hundreds of times and every morning at 9.01am I get a phone call from Igor at Foxtons following up on our search.
What we really need is Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer on hand to expertly select the perfect house that fits all of our requirements and desires.
Tonight we are going to view house number 1,678,324 – wish me luck!
An update! (17th Oct 2014)
Perhaps good things do come to those that wait – We are in the process of signing a new lease on a 3 bed ground floor flat, with a private garden!
Now… to find our new house family…
Read more of my Honeymooning Nomad series about life as an Aussie expat on Australian Times.