I’m writing this posts from my large and bright bedroom overlooking a beautiful park south west of London. I’ve been living here for 1.5 years – which I’m quite sure is the longest I have stayed in the same flat (and neighborhood) for the past 7 years. Everything I bought and created to turn this place into my new home is now slowly being wrapped up again, ready to start a new beginning in yet another flat (and neighborhood) in London.
In the 2.5 years I’ve lived in the city, I’ve already lived in 3 (and soon 4) flats. I’ve gone from living in a studio close to Notting Hill (West London) during my first month in the city, to surrounding myself with top hipsters in Hoxton area (North East London) to finally settling for a bit longer in laid-back Clapham (South West). While always stressful and mostly frustrating, moving around in London has been a good thing – every move has taught me a valuable lesson:
Lesson 1: If you don’t like crowds, avoid famous neighbourhoods
I’ve learned that Notting Hill, though beautiful, is too crowded for me – and thanks to this and working close to Oxford Circus, I realised that I actually have a problem with crowds, specially when they involve a majority of tourists (even after having developed the power of precognition).
Famous neighbourhoods such as Notting Hill also tend to have quite a heavy price markup on their flats. You’re paying for being close to Portobello Road – the heart and essence of Notting Hill (the neighbourhood and the movie).
Lesson 2: Don’t follow a trend – find your own style
I moved to Hoxton because I was told so. All I knew at that time is that I didn’t want to live somewhere crowded. I was going to move in with one of my best friends, who continuously mentioned places like Old Street, Hoxton and Angel. I followed along – after all, I was the newbie.
Although the area was great for being next to the Regents Canal and some of the coolest underground bars in the city, I felt like an outsider among so much trendiness. I love to go for to the area for a dinner or drinks, but couldn’t imagine calling it home.
Lesson 3: If you find an area you like and can afford, stay
This sounds like common sense, but it wasn’t immediately what crossed my mind. One of the reasons I am moving once again is because, ever since my career change into something more creative than finance, my flat takes away more than 60% of my monthly income. Taking into account my monthly travel card and other living essentials, and I have been ending each month with an empty account. I had nothing left for savings. And even worse – there was nothing left for travel either.
I desperately looked for flatshares in the same postcode (postcodes are king in the UK), but all I could find was either flat shares with 5 or more people or rooms in the same price range I am currently paying. I started to lose hope and opened myself to other areas. I went to Putney Bridge, Parsons Green and even had a look around Richmond. I was devastated – not because I thought these places were wrong, but because I was sad to leave a neighbourhood I loved.
With so many changes and so much uncertainty in my life, I wanted to hold onto the one thing I could possibly keep constant.
I eventually found a room in a flat share closeby. A different postcode *sigh*, but a pretty, modern and more affordable flat nonetheless – only a 5 minute walk away from the park I currently overlook from my bedroom. I couldn’t be happier!
Finding a Neighbourhood (or Borough)
- London’s Crime Map – This map shows in colour code which areas have had high / average / low crime (you can even see the trend of different types of crime in each area.
- London Commuting Times Map – This one shows you the commuting time you can expect to central London. This obviously depends widely on where in central London you’re commuting to, but it’s a good start.
- London’s Tube Map – An all times essential. To avoid long and tedious commutes, make sure to check the transportation links that best connect you to work / school. Some tube lines are more reliable and faster than others!
- A Guide to London’s 33 Boroughs – This map shows all 33 boroughs. When clicking on one, a short descriprion appears, as well as links to its attractions, restaurants, shops, etc.
Whenever possible, I highly recommend to visit the neighbourhood you’re looking at during the day as well as night. Imagine yourself building a routine – do you have a supermarket? a gym? what are the people like?
Finding a flat or flatshare in London
- For flatshares: Spareroom and Gumtree. Spareroom also offers the possibility to buddy up (find other people looking for a room in a shared apartment).
- For flats / apartment rentals: Rightmove or Zoopla.
Note that most of the flats listed are managed by a letting agent – so be aware that a number of fees will apply. Agency fees vary greatly among agents and could include (among others): inventory check fee, credit check fee, contract amendment fee and management fee.
Rental prices are usually shown as GBP per week (pw) while being paid per month (pcm). To calculate the monthly equivalent, you only have to multiply this amount by 52 (weeks) and divide it by 12 (months). Voilà!
Other bills to consider
- Heating – Victorian houses, although beautiful and romantic, are usually very badly isolated so your heating bills will probably be higher than in a new development.
- Council Tax – This is a monthly tax based on the size of your flat and its borough. Wandsworth is the borough with the lowest council tax, while Richmond Upon Thames has one of the highest ones. You can check this borough comparison map from Natwest to get a general idea of the yearly costs.
- Internet / Phone – Before choosing a broadband, I recommend to check Uswitch to compare all the current offers and check which broadband has the best reach in your postcode.
- TV License – It is obligatory to pay for a TV license (don’t worry about finding out when and how – they usually send you a letter within days of your move to a new flat!). The license is not only needed for TV, but also required if you have a computer and an internet connection. Pretty much everyone is liable.