Moving to the UK – Finding a flat
I have been wanting to move to the UK for over a year now and it has finally happened! If someone had asked me 2 years ago if I thought I would be packing my bags for London, I would have said “Uh… no”. But as of this morning, I am sitting in my flat in the Big Smoke enjoying the sounds of the people on the streets below me. So in thinking about how I read expat blogs when I was first even thinking that it might be an option to move I decided I would write about what I’m doing/did to prepare and adjust. Those blogs helped me and maybe mine will help someone else. So here’s the first of the series.
1. Find a flat.
Since my honey doesn’t live in London we needed a place to dwell in this fine city. I came over here in December for 2 weeks with the sole purpose of job interviewing, flat hunting and snuggling with my honey (not in that order). So the flat hunting was exciting and anxious because I had no idea what to expect. I got online at Foxton, Blackkatz and Barnard Marcus. I’ll admit that I looked on Foxton mostly because they have good pictures, floorplans, maps, locations of tubes close. You can sort by area, post code, draw your own map … the possibilities are endless and it makes it easier to daydream about it all when there are visual aids.
I knew all about the size vs. price issue going in as I’ve been visiting London for over a year now and the studios we stay in are tiny. I made a must have list but knew I would have to be open minded, so I narrowed it down to 4 with the last 2 being flexible.
My must have list was:
- Good neighborhood – since honey would be away for business and working late. I wanted to feel like I could walk around on my own and not fear for my life.
Washing machine – I realize that separate washer and dryers aren’t common in the tiny flats in London, but the thought of hauling laundry bags onto the tube (or walking 4 blocks with bags in tow) to do weekly laundry made me angry and I wasn’t even holding a laundry bag! So the washing machine was pretty high on my list and I was aware of the fact that people air dry their clothes or they have a washer/dryer combo machine. So that’s why the dryer wasn’t included here.
Bathtub – this was one of those items I was willing to be a little flexible on but I was holding out hope that I would be able to take a bath in a comfy tub whenever I damn well pleased.
Balcony/patio – I know… I know… it’s a luxury in London. But I’m from Texas, where my single mother has a 2400 sq ft house on 1 acre of land and we have a ton of open space “where the deer and the antelope play” so I thought it would be ideal to have a space that is outside of whatever tiny studio we selected to be able to claim as my own!
Lucky for me I got all 4! The day we went to Ginger and White (which I wrote about HERE) we wandered up Haverstock Hill after and we browsed the estate agent windows. That’s the thing you do here, you browse… multiple agents. I felt like I was a cheater not just sticking with one! In the states you work with A realtor (letting agent). Not here. I set up a few appointments with previously mentioned agents to view flats but when we saw the cute little brochure for our (now) flat in the window of Parkheath at Belsize Park we walked in and made an appointment to see it.
I fell in love.
As an architect you can imagine I’m a bit picky when it comes to the cuteness a flat possesses. So I went to see 7 flats in total between 3 separate agents and still kept coming back to the same one in my daydreams. I basically looked in a few areas of town and of course it depends on how much you want to spend each month. They were Islington, Angel, Hampstead, Camden, Kensington.
Good info to have when looking for a place in London…
- What we call realtors in the US are known as two separate things here. They are called estate agents if you want to buy a property and letting agents if you want to rent or lease a property.
They give you the price of the flat by the week. Why in the world do they do this? You pay the same amount every month, you sign a lease for no less than 6 months usually. I mean I get it if it’s a furnished apartment and you’re just here on Holiday for a bit, but for people who are looking for a home… Why make me do more math than is necessary?
Flats are unfurnished/ partially furnished/ furnished places that you lease for a minimum of 6 months. From what I heard from the agents I spoke with whether or not a flat is furnished doesn’t add or take away from your monthly rent. However, if you’re trying to get the monthly rent down AND you want the owner to furnish the apartment for you, you might not have much leverage.
When looking for a flat, consider looking for a little more than you can afford because prices are negotiable in London (maybe in the rest of the UK? … not sure on that one). I point this out because in Texas the rent is what it is. If the sign says $600 a month, then that’s what you will pay. No option of furnishing either, unless it’s corporate or student housing.
Apartments are furnished places to stay for short term. So when we came to visit London previously we would get an apartment for a week so we could have a little kitchen, towels, sheets, dishes and someone who cleaned up after us.
Letting agents charge an administration fee and a reference fee. In Texas the realtors I’ve used don’t charge anything to find you a place to rent, the landlord pays them to find tenants.
As mentioned earlier, the best way to find a flat it seems is to figure out what part of town you want to live in and walk around the High Street (Main Street). There will always be estate and letting agents with pics of their properties on the storefront for you to browse. Walk in and ask if there is anything available.
By the way, I keep saying Texas because I don’t know how it works in other states… yes we sometimes do things different even though we’re all in the same “country”. I hope this helps someone who is looking to move over here and knowns nothing like I did. I’m not saying I’m an expert, I actually think we got pretty lucky finding a cute flat so fast. This is just simply my experience that I’m sharing with the world wide web.