Finding Somewhere to Live in London

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The girl stands at the door; her knee high boots covering black stockings, a green sweater hanging loose over a pencil skirt.  I notice grubby carpets and wallpaper peeling but I let it slide, desperate to find somewhere to live in London.  Somewhere to finally unpack.

We climb three flights of stairs, every room with its door closed.  I can hear the faint sounds of a television downstairs and I wonder if I’ll get to meet any of the housemates.

Here it is, she says, opening the door to a bedroom in a converted attic.

I let me eyes fall over the angled ceiling of the roof, instantly liking it.  I note the double bed, the wardrobe, the carpet, the skylights.  It’s perfect for me.

We discuss rent and moving in dates but I don’t commit.  Not yet.  Not until I’ve seen the rest of the house.

We pass by a clean and spacious bathroom in the hall but still no housemates, and arrive back in the hall I’d been in less than 10 minutes ago.

I’ll show you the lounge, the girl says, leading me in the direction of the faint television sound I’d hear before.

My heart immediately drops.

Walls with holes in, carpet that probably used to be cream but now resembles a colour closer to brown, two disheveled sofas squeezed into the smallest room in the house, the original lounge obviously having been turned into a bedroom.

In the kitchen I find the table piled with rubbish, junk covering most of the floor space. Bin bags full to the brim, a old stereo up-turned in a purple bucket.  A brown-haired girl sits on the counter eating pineapple chunks straight from the tin.

I cannot live here.

I put the room-search on hold and fly to Seattle to meet some of my new co-workers 3 days later knowing that when I arrive back in London I still have to find somewhere to live.

My colleagues ask me what I’ll be packing for the trip and I realise that I have no choice but to take the entire contents of the suitcase I’ve been living out of in friend’s spare rooms with me to The States.

packing mess

And then, remember what I said about trusting the Universe?

I open my laptop one crisp Seattle morning, the remnants of a coffee and croissant still visible on the desk around me, and open Facebook.  There’s a message from my friend Tom – we’d worked in a pub together while we were both at university in Leeds.

Four days later I’m back in London, waiting for Tom outside a pub near London Bridge station.  It’s freezing, and the smell of mulled wine drifts out onto the street as people open and close the doors.

The pub is warm inside, and cosy, and we make for the stairs and find a table on which to hatch our plan.

The plan’s pretty simple really; Tom’s moving out of his place in a couple of weeks, I need somewhere to live right now.  Why live with a bunch of strangers when I could get a 2-bed place with someone I know?

Two drinks down and it’s settled.  We start our flat-hunt on our phones during the third wine and I leave in a haze of happiness, finally reassured that everything’s going to work out.

Tom goes to see two flats without me, in Stoke Newington.  If we don’t like the ones we see tonight, he says, we’ll organise a viewing for you.

We find ourselves in Finsbury Park, a place I’ve passed so many times on the train down to London from my parent’s but never actually been.

The first flat is a write-off.

A steep set of stairs to a dark basement, a lounge turned into a master bedroom, a bathroom with a glass door, a second bedroom, the tiniest bedroom I’ve ever seen, slap bang next to the kitchen.

The fact that it’s got a garden almost makes up for it – outside space is a premium in London – but then I imagine sleeping in that room next to the kitchen, the bathroom pipes gurgling and groaning overhead.

We tell the agent we’ll let him know and rush to our next viewing.

lounge

It’s a first floor flat in a converted Victorian end-of-terrace.  A high ceiling in the lounge, sash windows, two similar-sized bedrooms, laminate floors.  The kitchen would probably be better described as a walk-in-closet but it would do, wouldn’t it?

We push our luck a bit in the nearest pub afterwards, negotiating with the landlord, but by the time we’ve finished our drinks and we’re walking back to the tube station we’ve got ourselves a deal.

I feel that knot in my stomach loosen.

There are forms to sign and deposits to pay and that small matter of waiting for the bank to give us references so we don’t move in straight away.  I drag my suitcase across London, from Leyton in the East to Wimbledon in the South West and then, when the references still haven’t come through a week later, I pack up again and travel back to my parent’s house where I work from home and hit refresh on my emails every few minutes, hoping for some good news.

The view from my window

The view from my window

A few days later we finally move in.  London gets colder, Christmas comes and goes.  I see in the New Year with people I’ve only known  for a few weeks but it feels good.  It feels good to be settled.

Our little Victorian terrace is never going to be as warm as a purpose built  flat.  And it’s a little noisy and kind of compact and it still needs some travel photos on the walls.

But it’s home.

London is home.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I just moved into my new flat in London a week and a half ago – it took me about a month of looking! I definitely underestimated how much time it would take me, but I’ve found a nice place with a cool flatmate, close to work…the only problem is her friend is backpacking South America for 4 months, so I’ll be back on the hunt in a couple months!

    Ah the compromises that must be made to live in London…

    Great post, loved the detail :)
    Alyssa recently posted..5 Places to See the London Skyline – For Free!My Profile

    • says

      SO many compromises made when you want to live in London – it’s a nightmare, but somehow worth it at the same time :) I’m glad you’ve got somewhere for now Alyssa and best of luck for finding something when you need to again in a couple of months.

  2. says

    Oh dear. I don’t even know where to start. I’ve heard that househunting is a nightmare, and to be frank, it’s not something I really want to try again.

    It sounds like we got reallllly lucky. Jumped at the chance for a super quiet top floor flat that fit the bill. Sure it’s further out than I ever wanted and it’s not on a tube line but it’s spacious and “affordable” (not cheap, there’s no such thing as cheap) by London standards… AND I never have to fight over the trash.

    Glad you found a home!
    Roma recently posted..Eastern Euro road trip – Day 4 – Zagreb to PécsMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks so much! Yeah there’s a lot of compromise that comes with finding somewhere to live in London I think. You just have to go with your instinct and jump on something as soon as you like it, otherwise it’ll get snapped up by someone else. I’m glad you found something too :)

    • says

      It’s just a flat, and it’s not that beautiful, but it’s home for now :) Yeah London’s the plan at the moment with lots and lots of visits to Europe in the pipeline. I have a full-time job here now which I’m really enjoying and can’t wait to travel to places a bit closer to home, which I’ve never done before.

  3. says

    Yay! I’m so happy you were able to find a place :) I don’t know much about the London house market… but I know it can be very difficult to find an adequate (not even ‘NICE’) place.

    I’m also glad you were able to find a place with someone you know, rather than living with strangers… sometimes it really does make all the difference in the world. And from your description of the first place… the common areas sounded just as bad as a bad rental house for college kids.

    Hopefully one of these days I’ll make it over to London :P
    Melissa – The Mellyboo Project recently posted..Learn From my Mistake: I got MalariaMy Profile

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