This is our second stint living and working in London, and wow, was it easier this time around to find a place to live. Not so much in that it’s simple to get a place here – on the contrary, unless you’re seeking to rent a single room for yourself (which is achievable using services like Airbnb.com, spareroom.co.uk, easyroommate.com or Gumtree.co.uk), finding a home can be a tricky affair. It was easier for us this time however, because we knew exactly the area we wanted to be in, which is half the battle, given this can be one very big, daunting place for the uninitiated.
For those new to town, “homes” here usually come in the form of a studio (literally one room, possibly with a bed on a mezzanine level), one or two bedroom “flat”, otherwise known as an apartment or unit in other parts of the world. London’s renowned for its small spaces so don’t expect to rent a huge house or apartment which potentially you’ll be used to if coming from somewhere like Australia (unless you’ve already secured a high powered job – good on you if so). Never fear however, because London’s palpable energy makes up for any of these other concessions you may have to make.
When we first arrived in 2010, the only area we were aware of was Notting Hill because, you guessed it, we had seen the movie! We ended up in a studio room in Bayswater (next door to Notting Hill) which, while well situated in terms of transport and convenience amenities, didn’t really do it for me regarding value for money, comfort, nice neighbours and a homely type of feel. It’s also very touristy – not very “English” at all, unless you’re talking tacky Cool Britannia gift stores. When we first arrived we had no idea how to find a flat in London. In fact, everything we looked at seemed overpriced, dingy, dirty and overwhelmingly bad.
Fast forward a year on from the Bayswater experience, and by chance we ended up in a one bedroom basement flat in a gorgeous area of the east called London Fields. Our flat had been newly refurbished and was positioned as the lower section of a beautiful Georgian-period three-level home. This was a private rental that we happened across by chance (good timing) on Gumtree.com one Sunday morning – the location wasn’t even listed! We loved London Fields so much that we truly believe it was fate that lead us there. With a serene park up the road, coffee shops, markets, many cute dogs and nice people around, we’d finally discovered a part of the city we could truly enjoy; it is what I describe as “my authentic London”. London Fields presented an opportunity to settle in to a community, topped off with the conveniences and joys the east end now offers, including fabulous transport links (at that point our nearest stations were Haggerston and London Fields).
How to find a flat in London – top tips (particularly for first-timers)
This time around we knew we wanted to be in the east, which has really developed over the past few years to become the new, “hip” area of town. With fantastic overground and underground transport links, as well as bus routes heading every which way, and hot new bars, restaurants, coffee shops and cool communal areas opening every day, we knew this is where we wanted to be. Ironically, the flat (or one bedroom apartment/unit) we’ve ended up in is part of a relatively new complex we saw being built when we were last here, and we’d eyed it off saying, “we’d love to live there one day”! The application process and waiting period can be a bit stressful though. Patience is required. Here are my top tips on how to find a flat in London:
1. Start looking the moment you get to town – turnover of properties here is swift, and you have to be online and making phone calls every day to secure an appointment for the properties you want to view. There’s not much point in looking before you get here because real estate agents want you on the ground. Flats are snapped up in a jiffy so be on the ball and check your favourite websites every morning and afternoon. Our go-to sites included rightmove.co.uk and gumtree.co.uk (for private rentals and agency – but be mindful of scams, if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
2. Make calls rather than sending emails, in the interest of saving time.
3. Be mindful, real estate fees for those looking to rent may include the agent’s time for showing you around, referencing and administration fees. These are legitimate, BUT only if they’re outlined on a “terms and conditions” agreement. We once had someone try to charge us after showing us around, with no prior warning of a fee, and invoiced via a very dodgy PayPal transaction – I refused to pay and they did not chase me. These costs are part of finding a property here though, and can range from £99 (AU $200) so save your pennies before you arrive.
4. Have savings! In London you need around six weeks deposit, four weeks rent and additional fees (as mentioned above), and you’ll need to have this on hand (or accessible in a bank account/credit card) to secure the accommodation you want. Also, keep in mind it can take weeks to find a job here, and most people are paid monthly, so potentially you’ll need another month’s rent saved too. Rent here is expensive, but once you’re earning the pound it’s not as bad, and cost of living in London is actually rather inexpensive once you begin to “live like a local”, so keep that in mind at the beginning if your outlays are feeling really large and getting the better of you.
5. The referencing process is rigorous, so be prepared – ensure you have details of personal, rental and employer referees on hand, make sure they know they’re likely to hear from a referencing agent (in our case, it was via email) and ask them nicely if they would mind facilitating a swift turn-around of information. You may need pay-slips and/or personal taxation documentation (if you have been/are working for yourself), and ideally you’ll have (or one of you, if you’re a couple) London-based employer details, to show that income will indeed be coming in, and at what level it will be. The process can be a little stressful, but if you’re prepared with all this information and contacts on hand, you’ll be fine.
6. Be open to meeting the owners (landlord(s)) if they’re interested in meeting you. It’s great for keeping the lines of communication open and easy, and you never know when you might need to call on them.
7. If you need to establish yourself with anything from cutlery to kitchen appliances and linen, head directly for inexpensive options (until you’re earning the pound, at least) like the pound stores (e.g Poundland, everything just a £ (situated on most high streets/within high traffic areas)), argos.co.uk, Primark and Matalan. When I first moved here I bought everything from M&S because I didn’t know any better – talk about watching as your money disappears faster than you can say Superman!
Essentially you need to be organised with information,thorough with following up on all aspects of the process with your agent, make sure you have funds saved and available, referees ready to vouch for you, and details of your past, present and future financial situation on hand.
Also, don’t take it for granted you’ll be approved for the property you hope for – have a few options on the boil until someone makes you a solid offer. You definitely need a plan A, B or C, otherwise you’ll be in that hotel/hostel/staying with friends for a good while.
If you’re unsure as to where in London (or any big city, for that matter) would best suit you, do some research – ask your friends on social media for advice, or drop a line to bloggers and expats on the ground in the city – most are happy to share what they’ve learned and we’ve all been in the same boat. Don’t just choose an area because you’ve seen it on TV or because a friend recommends it – it might not feel or be right for you, or it could be miles from where you’re meant to be working. If in doubt, and if possible, consider signing a six month lease so that if for any reason where you first end up isn’t ideal, you can move on. In summary, read, ask questions, and discover a life you love here in old Blighty!
Do you have a question, or perhaps additional advice to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
I realise I’m a little slow off the mark, compared with a lot of people who have no end of law of attraction stories. I’ve just discovered the ‘Law of Attraction’, via an amazing book (bible?) lent to me, Ask and it is Givenby Esther and Jerry Hicks.
Evidently it’s all similar or the same principle as The Secret which was huge a few years back. Indeed the law of attraction stories in there were inspired by Ask and it is Given (you’ll need to listen to some interviews with the Hicks’ to find out more).
I’m learning in Ask and it is given that if we’re guided by how we ‘feel’, that we have the best chance of following our true paths. There are many, many inspiring law of attraction stories out there (and now, on this blog, like here and here).
When we feel great, as in, we feel/know things are right, then ultimately we’re doing the right thing and are very ‘connected’ with our source energy.
Law of attraction stories: the feeling of ‘home’ or belonging
Tonight, walking through my old London neighbourhood, London Fields and quaint Broadway Market (pictured below).
I remembered how every day here I felt happy. From the moment the flat ‘found us’ by chance, the energy in the neighbourhood felt right. It was the law of attraction. It’s a law of attraction love story!
I loved walking in that gate every day, loved the little flat, adored the park, markets, shops, dogs in pubs…
Every moment felt right, and leaving felt so wrong, to the point where I know I wasn’t meant to leave (at that time, anyway). Life was ‘right’.
The energy was flowing and I was meant to be there in that place at that time; perhaps in another life, I’d be there for longer.
Given these kinds of situations then, how do you get that feeling back?
How do you make another situation ‘right’?
Not that I’m unhappy with my lot (on the contrary, I realise I’m one of the lucky ones), but curious – anyone got any insights?
What are YOUR law of attraction stories? Let me know in the comments.
PS you might be able to tell from the newer posts in this blog – my law of attraction story ended up pretty great, because a few years later I’m back living just two train stations away from Broadway Market.
After all that it appears it may already be over. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m writing this on my last morning in the UK. I never thought that on my way towards Canada (my ultimate travel destination) I’d feel despondent; I feel a bit like a broken-hearted girlfriend not ready to let it all go. Moving to England had its challenges and certainly it took us a good six months to settle in. Overcoming it all is part of the ultimate achievement though; in April we found a ‘home’ in a chic London Fields neighbourhood, settled in, the weather was sweet and I fell a little in love with London.
Apparently all good things must come to an end and although I’m grateful to finally get to travel to Canada again, I am sad to think it might a long while before I return to my ‘mother-land’ (which originally I had joked about, but I literally just discovered the sentiment to be true in a cool twist of history this week). Here is a land where I’ve fitted in, where the shopping is great, the people fun, surroundings energetic, buildings like The Tower of London are old and amazing and history of The Tudors and co. are everywhere in a contemporary setting, media and travel opportunities abound, and the pub culture is something that I actually enjoy…
Isn’t it ironic when you feel more at home somewhere else than ‘home’. Sounds like a song.
In preparation for this day, I’d compiled a list of my favourite things about England, specifically London. So, in celebration of the good times (which more often than not were at Bar Soho with our mates Nicole and Iain, Janice and Craig or the Fairbairn’s) I give you:
The things I love most about living here (ongoing list compiled 2010/2011):
1.It’s so cool (weather-wise) that I can wear my hair out (and grow it)! A simple pleasure but one that is difficult to enjoy in Queensland’s humidity.
2.Being able to wear hats, scarves and boots (special mention to Accessorize, and the accessories at Camden Markets)!
3.Darren Hayes and Gillian Anderson live here – awesome!
4.Seeing dogs bemused by squirrels in the park haha. And on that note, Squirrels score their own mention – I love ‘em. Have you ever noticed how they seem to play in pairs? So cute.
6.My truly, genuinely nice bunch of Sparkle girls.
7. London Fields, Middleton Road, The Pub on the Park, Broadway Market.
8.Dog people – everywhere!
9. Having the opportunity to meet inspiring writers, journalists, and people from all walks in general who are just really good (and accomplished) at what they do.
10.That people say ‘Bless You’: from others outside the UK it sounds a little out of place (except for my mum, she’s cute and has always said this); but many people say ‘Bless You’ affectionately here. I think it’s sweet, and quite ‘English’ in my experience.
And an honorary mention to Tesco, Saisburys, Waitrose, Boots and Superdrug – I miss you already.
It’s with a lump in my throat that I bid farewell to my ‘other’ home, all gloomy weather and grey skies that you generally may be. I hope to see you again sooner than anticipated. In the meantime who knows where we’ll end up? I only hope that the wishes we made upon superstitious monuments in various parts of Europe come true: that we continue to live happy, healthy, inspirational and adventurous lives. But shortly – time for a maple syrup fix! x
I’m presently sitting under a sky threatening to pour with rain (probably no different from 300 years ago); there’s some kind of Reggae music playing loudly over the bar’s sound system, Wimbledon screening live on the surrounding TVs and the simultaneous sounds of coffee and beers being expertly served.
A couple of minutes walk up the road on Hackney‘s high street, people are going about their Friday afternoon business: shopping for the weekend, rounding up their day’s work and preparing to head to the closest pub for a traditional Friday afternoon pint (again, I imagine this is no different to 300 years ago, where apparently there was something like 21 pubs along the main streets in this precinct… it must have been just like Shoreditch High Street today)!
Hackney, the borough in which London Fields belongs, was the largest parish in the county of Middlesex. Being so very close to the City of London, the ‘suburb’ as we would deem it in Australia, had been a favourite residence of wealthy Londoners for several hundred years. Hackney was known for its healthy air and pure spring waters, and apparently became increasingly attractive following the Great Plague of London in 1665, because comparatively, with only 132 deaths, the region had not been extensively affected. The following year of course, was the Great Fire in London, which was further cause for residents to seek alternative locations to live. The area where we reside today was attractive to wealthy ‘locals’ who wished to be close to the Court, entertainment and the financial centre of the Kingdom; but because there was so much space available, these residents could also enjoy the benefits of ‘country living’ – I definitely wouldn’t deem the area ‘country’ today – imagine that!
Hackney was declared in 1756 to “excel all other villages in the Kingdom in the ‘opulence’ of its inhabitants” (trust us to like it here then, although we are only a couple of hundred years too late)!
I’ve just seen a dog that very closely resembles an Australian Kelpie, jumping around on top of a pile of grass and dirt that the council has obviously recently cleaned up. He proudly produces a large stick to his owner, then proceeds to dig for other inevitable hidden treasures. It seems appropriate though, that this dog should be here playing amongst the others (all small ‘toy’ dogs by comparison), because as I study an old map of the area, I notice that there are many references to its farming past: Sheep Lane, Mutton Lane, Lamb Lane (now Forest Road) and the popular Cat & Mutton pub (in the 1800s known as Shoulder of Mutton and Cat) on a diagonal corner from where I’m located at this very moment. The Cat & Mutton is positioned on the corner of Broadway Market (as it was eventually Christened in 1937), the area that will be buzzing with its lively Saturday market tomorrow (as it is every weekend), and that was evidently developed to its present state in around 1860. Until the 1860s (when apparently much of the area was finally built-up), the whole precinct was in fact pastureland. It would have been a bit like Cairns when I was growing up. Again, imagine that!
At the moment (as I wait patiently for the crowd at the bar to fall back so I can order another beverage) I gaze out upon the famous old trees of what is now known as London Fields (park). These trees are over 100 years old (and actually quite similar to those lining Ruthven and Margaret Streets in Toowoomba (Queensland) outside the Grammar School – somehow I always knew those trees reminded me of England, although I’d never been here…). I can imagine the cricket games that were played (the first recorded here was actually in 1802 when a team of ’11 gentlemen’ from Clapton played a local team of ’11 gentlemen’ for a wager of 500 guineas); and military training that occurred (first for fear of French invasions, then German…).
What those trees must have seen. And what they’ve survived! I was saddened to read the date, September 21, 1940, when the area was heavily bombed – Richmond Road and Eleanor Road received direct hits.
Surprisingly, given its prosperous past and thriving development booms, the ‘east’ fell into misfortune around the turn of century (during the Industrial Revolution), and the situation continued to worsen following the two world wars, and then a string of government decisions and funding cuts that negatively affected the surrounding areas. Prior to moving to London even I was prejudiced against the area, claiming “I don’t want to go east”. Again, I learn my lesson to not judge before I’ve experienced! Turns out the ‘East’ is undergoing a renaissance – a reformation, if you will. With the opening of the brand new London Overground line but one year ago, the area has transformed overnight from being under serviced and lacking transport and convenience amenities, to being super-trendy, popular with young and old alike (although there is an extremely contemporary crowd that floats around London Fields each weekend… you know, like us ;-) ; there are new apartment developments surrounding every stop along this convenient and extensive modern London train line (including Haggerston, Hoxton, Dalston and Hackney), and once again the gorgeous Georgian period homes that we’re so enamoured of are reflecting their former glory, as the area resurrects into what we anticipate will one day, once again, be one of the areas to reside in London.
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