sunnuntai 3. maaliskuuta 2013

Living in London (how to find a flat).

Hello peeps!

It seems that I haven't got time to do anything these days. I graduated from AOFM, had to move, went through three job interviews, got a job and now I'm working and trying to get by with really small salary.

It all began in Janurary during AOFM when I realized that I couldn't keep living in the shared flat in Acton anymore. I don't want to go into too much detail, but lets just say that the situation got ugly, the agency took care of it, but I didn't feel safe living in that flat anymore so I moved out.
I terminated my contract with the agency and was back at the same B&B where I stayed when I first moved to London. I'm still fighting to get my deposit back.

I had to find a new place, but I got invited to a job interview. I was running like a madman up and down Oxford st. trying to find the proper outfit and accessories the agency had requested. The interview was in 3 stages (mon,wed and fri) and after my last interview on friday, I was booked to work with NARS (and now I have worked with Chanel as well).
The interview was extremely hard, I had to buy a nice suit (jacket and skirt) and the sorts, plus I had to cut my hair because the guy there hated it. It was rather clear that the agency was very strict about appearance and poise. And all this time I was flat hunting.

Now I'll introduce some pointers to how to find the perfect flat for you in London. I must warn you that incase there are few things you look from a room and an area, finding the perfect place may turn into a nightmare.

Finding a flat in London.

Basically it all comes down to these key points:
1. Area.
2. The state of the house.
3. Connections to your workplace.
4. Your budget.

1. Firstly you need to decide where you want to live. If you are not into tough, run-down, immigrant populated areas I'd stay clear of East London all together. Canary Wharf is very trendy right now because of its booming economics and work opportunities, but that's pretty much it about East London. I took a bus across East London from Holborn for I was trying to get to the Finnish Church and E.L was definately not the place where I wanted to live. In Metro there is always news about shootings, and stabbings and murders, which mostly occur in East London. I'm not saying that the rest of London is any good, but incase you are coming to live in London for the first time, you might want to avoid areas that have high crime rate. Also if you are looking to live among Caucasians or Brits, East London is not the place for you. 
My first Flat (well room) was in West London, in Acton. A nice place to live, I felt safe there and tube and bus connections were rather good. I should probably point out now that if you are coming to London and want to live among Brits, you have to go way out of Central London. Most Brits live in the Home Counties of London, such as Surrey, Slough and the sorts. I live in Southgate and for the first time since I moved to London, I can hear proper British English in the stores.
In short, Central London is populated by immigrants of various backgrounds, and each area is a reflection of the most popular ethnic group living there. For me it was a bit of a shock to find out that there were no Brits living in Central London (atleast not in the areas that I could afford).
Before you come here I would suggest that you do a throughout check on each area you are interested in. I checked Acton, Vauxhall, Canary Wharf, Hammersmith, Turnpike Lane, Fulham, King's Cross and Shepherd's Bush before I settled in Acton and later in Southgate.

2. Area is really important, but equally important is to check the state of the house. You won't believe the rooms and houses I saw whilst looking for a flat. I came to realize that I had been living in a dream world in Helsinki where everything is nice and clean and safe. In London, things are the exact opposite of nice and clean. I was very fortunate to finally found this flat in Southgate. The angel of a landlady has been keeping her house nice and tidy. This place is literally a palace now that I have seen what else is out there (but seriously this is very very nice house). Couple of things you need to check before you sign a contract:
* Check if the room has bed bugs (look for black spots/stains on the bed frame and on the mattress)! Seriously people, I hear that the whole of Ealing is suffering from bed bugs. Infact, it is not unusual for 'hotels' in London to suffer from bed bug infestations and if you stay in place like that, there is a big chance that you bring the bugs back home with you. For even if you call pest control and they poison the room, there is 99% chance that the bugs have just moved to another room and will emerge after 3 weeks. We do not have bed bugs in Finland, I had never even seen a bed bug before nor could even imagine having them live with me. For me it was a great shock when I realized that in London bed bugs are almost part of the house hold. The house that I live in now reflects the state it is in, clean, strong, renovated every few years and the landlady makes sure that all the tenants keep their rooms in pristine condition. In short, check that the room is pristine clean.
* Ask about the other tenants and if you can, try to get information of their living habbits. You don't want to move in with someone who cooks extremely spicy food in the kitchen if you are allergic. Ask how everything works and if there has been any big renovations or repairs done recently, or if the landlady/landlord/agency is looking to renovate soon. How are the locks and has the house or the neighbourhood been subject to robbery. Then of course you need to find out about the bills and what is included in the rent. Check that the bathroom has everything you require and that there is enough hot water for everyday use. If the house has carpets (yuck!) ask if they are cleaned regularly. Basically when you see the outside of the house, you can pretty much predict what it's going to look like inside. You can judge a book by its covers. 
And don't rush! If the agency/landlady/landlord is asking you to pay a holding fee or another unsual fee (fee that is not a deposit) forget that place! What the agency or landlord should be asking, is a deposit and 1 month's rent in advance. I fell in to Red Move's 'holding fee' trap and now I'm fighting for my deposit. Agencies also ask you to pay extra to draw a contract for you plus when you leave the agency, you'll be asked to pay a check-out fee. After my Acton disaster, I never want to deal with a flat agency again! Personally I like private landlord's better because you have more room to negotiate.

3. In a way, location is everything in London. Distances are long and you may end up spending a lot of time just travelling to work/school. When I came here I wasn't sure which ticket to buy. If you buy bus-tram travel card you are only allowed to access those, but if you buy regular travel card you can travel on tube, bus, tram etc as much as you want, but within the zones you have selected. The bus travel card is much cheaper than the tube travel card, however it takes forever to travel by bus. I lived in Acton, and my school was in Soho. It took me 1h20min by bus to get to Piccadilly, by tube it took 20min. Busses make a lot of stops and are often stuck in traffic. Bus routes are also very long, so you end up going a long detour before reaching your destination. Zones 1-3 bus travel card is £19, tube travel card is £35, and both are PER WEEK. The public transportation in London is very expensive. I don't think I have come across more expensive transportation fees elsewhere. It is ridiculously expensive. Maybe this is another way for England to separate the poor from the rich because clearly only rich people can afford to take the tube (and me, well atleast for another 2 weeks). There is also Pay-and-Go option where you load money on your Oyster card and pay only when you travel. However if you need to use public transportation a lot, I suggest you get the weekly travel card. Now that I live in zone 4, I pay £43 per week for my travel card. The further you go from C.L, the more expensive travelling is. The tube is very handy, but I'm never looking forwards to rush hour on the tube. I rather work until 8pm just to avoid the 6pm rush hour xD

4. You can't get a fancy place in London that is cheap, tidy and in a good area. And that is a fact. The lower your budget, more chances are, you are going to wind up in a horrendous flat in horrendous neighbourhood. Or it's a nice place in good area, but it's so far from work/school that you end up spending a fortune and a lot of time getting there each day. My first flat cost £110 per week and it included all bills. The flat naturally reflected that price. It was a very small room in a attic-like flat on the top floor of the building. The staircase was narrow and getting into the flat was difficult. There was five of us sharing one kitchen, one fridge-freezer and one bathroom-toilet. There was no room to dry our laundry really and two people liked to smoke in the bathroom.
My current flat in Southgate costs £160 per week, but here I have a very large room for myself. I share a bathroom-toilet with two other people. We have a big kitchen and there is room for everyone in the fridge-freezer. We have a washing machine and a dryer and plenty of space to dry clothes in the living room too.
One of my peers in AOFM had a studio flat for herself in Notting Hill. She had a terrace and wooden floors, but she didn't have heating or warm water for two weeks (in January). And she paid close to £2000 per month. So even if you get a fancy studio or room for yourself, I have learned that in London there is bound to be a downside too. But not here =) I love this flat and my landlady is awesome! Well the only downside....I can't exercise in my room, the landlady forbids that, but she lets me exercise in the living room though.

If you are interested to learn more about living in London or are keen to ask me something don't be afraid to comment. I'll try to answer the best I can. I have lived here for 2 months now, so I'm not an expert, but I can give you a little insight on what it's like for a foreigner to live in London. I tried to keep the guidance part short for those who are looking for pointers and not stories.

I'll do a follow up on what it's like to work in London.

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!


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