“Moving house,” as the British say, is never an easy endeavor. Because I am the happy housewife without employment, it was my job to find us a place to live. We did have a temporary place to stay, thanks to corporate housing, but time runs out fast when it’s not our money, and it was my turn to learn about London real estate.
In the U.S., or at least Austin, my experience with finding an apartment is finding the street I want to live in, the complex I liked, and walking in to sign the papers. It was never difficult, and there were copious spaces available to a single girl and her cat. Here, real estate is a struggle because this city has over 8 million people. If a flat goes on the market, it’s gone within hours.
So, my idea was: cast a wide net and see what fish I can hold on to.
I walked into a “letting agency,” which is basically a property manager for landlords, and told them what I needed: a one bedroom flat, preferably in Ealing, no children (yes, I had to say I wasn’t expecting to have any during my lease term), and just two people. I was given a list of properties and set up times to check them out during the week.
Two days later, I showed up to my scheduled appointment and got the very typical “bait and switch.”
Oh, that flat has been contracted.
Oh, yes, I remember. It’s now not available.
That’s an old link, sorry about that.
Real estate turns over incredibly quickly over here, and it’s a fierce competition.
One place I showed up to had a group of people in line to check out the space. The landlord walked us through as if it were a Hollywood mansion when it was just a regular place in Islington, and the tenants were still there. The landlord was very insulting to her current tenants, so I had no desire to live under this individual. But as I left, I saw a gentleman hand over his credentials immediately hoping to get in this coveted spot. Unreal.
Another place I looked at was a literal attic. The building was over 100 years old with a kitchen that was so small, I told Jeff that we wouldn’t be able to gain an ounce of weight or we wouldn’t fit. That was a resounding no.
When I finally found the ideal location, space, street, I showed up for my scheduled appointment and waited 30 minutes with no answer or signal from the realtor. I got stood up. A realtor stood me up. Did that mean the place already got letted or I was being set up for a kidnapping?
What the heck can anyone do in finding a place to live? It’s unbelievable the treatment, but I guess all people are to these agents are pound signs rather than people hoping for a place to live.
Finally, after dragging myself all over West London, I had an appointment at an adorable building right on the high street in Ealing. I arrived and met with the property manager, who showed up on time, and he took me through the flat. The tenants were in there, which did, again, make the walk-through a little awkward, but I was able to ask about water, electricity and street noise. There is also this new thing: council tax. And did you know, you have to have a license just to own a TV? A fee for being able to just watch TV, on top of any cable package you buy. There are no “free” channels here.
As I walked out of the place, I was tired and fed up with the system. And I knew the next day I would have to do it all over again. Standing the foyer of the town home, the agent saw my weakness and pounced. He, more or less, bullied me into making an offer on the flat (didn’t know you could do that either) and sign some paperwork detailing my intention to move in.
The next steps would be an interview with the landlord and a complete background check. We’ll see how that all goes with no English track record. More on what follows later…
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Here are some of the letting agents around town in no order of preference whatsoever:
- Foxtons (can help with short term leases)
- You can also look at Gumtree, which is similar to a Craigslist, but use proper precautions when not using an agent.
When using a letting agent, you pay exorbitant fees, but these fees do protect you in case the landlord abandons the home, damage is done to the house out of your control (like the crazy lightning strike that hit our roof), or any other crazy (but relevant) emergency. The deposit you give for the flat is also held by a third party, so the letting agent nor the landlord have your money captive, making sure you don’t get robbed. Just another tidbit from me to you.