A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of dealing with London real estate. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: I would not wish this hell on my worst enemy. Between the bait and switch act and the pressure to make a rushed decision, I can now say we are settled into our new routines in our basement flat in Ealing.
I’m looking around my 550 square feet flat, and it occurs to me that I need to focus on the positives more than the negatives. We are very close to bus stops, tube stations, the gym, grocery stores, and restaurants. We have more choices in cultural cuisine than we could have ever imagined and are in walking distance to parks as well as traffic.
Traffic. Yes, copious traffic. Right outside our window is a bus stop, which is non-stop. We are also extremely close to the police station, and it seems that crime never sleeps. I guess the negatives have crept in. The sound pollution is off the chain. When I spoke to the previous tenants of the flat we were now living in, they said the sound was not noticeable. They must have been getting a kickback or commission to flip the flat. (And that’s another thing, why was I seeing the flat with the tenants still inside? The girl had wet hair from the shower and the guy looked surprised to see us there.)
While roaming around with the tenants in their separate rooms studying and cooking, I felt very awkward and rushed by the letting agent. I stepped into the humid bathroom realizing, again, that the girl had just bathed, and saw said bath. It did not register at the time that there was no standing space. I was just thrilled it wasn’t a phone booth, but hindsight tells me I would rather have a phone booth than have a sitting bath.
Yes, the shower head was mounted on the wall instead of draped against the porcelain tub, but because said shower head is underneath the front steps to the house, we can not stand fully upright. Again, I did not notice this when I had the pence-tour because I was being whisked through the space.
I came back out to the bedroom where the girl was sitting on the mattress studying. Was she placed there to not give me the chance to try out the mattress? Conspiracy says, yes, because our first moment on the bed was full of regret. The springs are broken and the smell is musty and old. Noted: try out the bed if you’re asking for a furnished flat. Again, that was learned after we signed on the dotted line.
Not equipped with these observations ahead of time, I asked the guy why he was leaving the property. He very casually said it was because he and the girl had split up. He was saying this to me as he was fixing her hot tea. How odd. I tried to let the moment pass as I decided that I did like the place for its location and price only.
Our place is certainly not big, but we didn’t come to London to fill our space with things. We moved to travel and stock up on life experiences. This basement flat in noisy Ealing is certainly going to be one of those life experiences I hope to look back on and laugh.
For those moving to London, I found something interesting. It is typical to negotiate rent prices. How novel. I was able to save a little extra cash each month by driving a hard bargain. In the corporate complexes in the U.S., negotiation is forbidden. They can afford to leave the flat empty an extra month, when landlords here cannot let a month go by without someone paying their expensive mortgage.
Once you make your offer, before it can be formally accepted, the landlord interviews you. We arranged to meet Mr. Yusef at a Starbucks one afternoon and had a pleasant conversation that immediately told me he favored the husband rather than the wife doing the leg work. Not wanting to cause trouble, I accepted my role as the “little woman,” and sure enough. We were accepted after he ended the conversation with “So, may I go?” Rather abrupt, but sure. Don’t let us hold you back.
The next step was to meet our new landlord. We met him in Starbucks one afternoon and had a pleasant conversation where he vetted us out. He seemed to like us enough to give us the go-ahead.
A few days later, we signed the documents and were given keys. Now with the tenants out, the first thing I got was the intense smell of mildew and dankness when I opened the door. It was so overwhelming, I almost asked if I had the right place. Then, if that wasn’t enough, I saw it: the shower. It was a tub, yes. That part of my memory was correct. But now with time to really look, I saw that this is the year of sitting showers.
I nearly burst into tears. How could I have overlooked something so simple?
The rest of the apartment was also appallingly filthy, so I asked if it would be professionally cleaned. Apparently, if we had it professionally cleaned by the landlord before we moved in, then we would be responsible for having it professionally cleaned when we left. We had to leave the apartment in the same state that we moved into it. I guess I can use my tears as cleaning fluid. Pardon me as I strap on my yellow gloves.
Jeff was less than thrilled with my pick of a flat now that he saw the full glory of Santorini House. I decided, right then and there that I would never sign paperwork without a second opinion from him.
The mildew smell was mainly coming from the bedroom and bathroom. Since our flat is under street level, humidity is a problem. The previous tenants also were rather careful with the heat bill, so they did a disservice not heating the apartment and drying out some of the moisture coming from the sit-down shower.
But hey–there are always these types of stories as newlyweds. “Remember that first place we stayed…” We can only go up from here, but also it motivates us to travel and also go to the gym! The gym has lovely standing showers, so I have gone everyday, and Jeff goes as often as he can.
The last marvel we have to figure out are economy 7 radiators. While the conservation of energy is lovely and saves on cost, it took me several days and a call to the landlord to understand that you cannot heat your home when you want to. You have to anticipate the next day’s temperature and charge the hot bricks overnight to let out the energy throughout the next day. And if you think you’ll still have heat at the end of the day after a full night of high charge, you are wrong.
Things we have bought that we would not have thought to need: a dehumidifier, a humidity/temperature gauge, and a space heater.
This will be the year of sitting showers, being amateur weathermen, and hitting up the gym.