After two years and moving three times (so far) in London, I think I’ve shed my naive and gullible reading of flat (or apartment) advertisements on UK-based sites. London is the most amazing city I’ve lived in so far, but it’s not as glamorous as advertised. There are some absolutely gorgeous places to live in here, but they’re usually either really far out or most definitely really expensive.
Who could forget that depressing list of islands that are less expensive than flats in London? Or the @RentingNightmares Twitter account that collected horror stories from Londoners? I have a couple of those myself, but none as bad as the ones already listed, thankfully! Or, perhaps, the tiny studio flat in King’s Cross that went viral because of how awful-looking yet expensive it was (and yet was still successfully let within 17 hours of being advertised).
Flat hunting in London is one of the most awful, torturous things inflicted upon those living in the city and anyone who tells you otherwise is plain lying or had someone else do it for them. It’s a form of tax you have to pay in order to enjoy the London life.
Instead of me giving you a list of things to do or some general advice on what to look for when flat hunting, I thought it would be better to provide a random glossary of sorts that deciphers the sometimes cryptic, sometimes plain wrong terminology used in flat advertisements in London.
1 – “Good-sized” room: Basically means it fits a bed and some kind of closet and will allow you to exist AND breathe while in the room. However, your definition of “good-sized” may need to be altered, as this may vary from barely fitting a single-bed and a chest of drawers, to something the size of a small dorm room. I find those to be the most honest of the bunch, if you could use the word honest for these ads. Thing to note is that the size of a “good-sized” room will differ greatly on the location of said room in the city. The farther out and less central it is, the more likely you are to have a bit more space for the same amount of money you’d pay in another area.
2 – “Cosy”: If you have no more than a suitcase of clothes and other small items and don’t need to spend too much time in your room, or perhaps not see much sunlight, then this is the room for you.
3 – “Massive”: Unless they’re referring to their egos, you end up with something closer to this…
Or sometimes they’ll break out the thesaurus and use words like “Spacious”. If only they’d break out the dictionary first.
4 – “10-15” minutes from the tube: A lot of the time, this is indeed true if you’re a fast walker, but I’ve encountered a few ads that try to do a bit of trickery, because it’s either a 15 minute walk to the nearest bus stop that can take you to the nearest tube, or it’s just plain longer than a 15 minute walk.
5 – “Friendly” roommates (or whatever adjective du jour they want to use): Unlike most stereotypes, the people of London are actually friendly. HOWEVER, due to it being such a big and busy city, it does get stressful and forces people to just focus on themselves and the few people around them and so they get a tad bit careless when it comes to dealing with others. It also means that being the metropolitan that it is, it attracts a lot of “interesting” types of people. I encourage you to read the story I linked to at the beginning of this post from RentingNightmares, as that will give a good enough warning for you to actually MEET the people you’re going to live with before you sign anything. I have made this mistake twice now, and I can tell you that I did not have it easy. I was forced to move out of the second place I lived in due to a difficult housemate, so it’s always good to get to know who you’re going to live with. It’s not easy living with someone, let alone a virtual stranger that you’ll have to share a living space with.
6 – “Friendly landlord”: In my experience, it has meant that the landlord will unexpectedly show up in the house/flat uninvited and unannounced or invite themselves to your dinner with friends. It’s okay if they’re friendly, but that’s a bit of an intrusion. I’ve also seen “friendly” landlords be ones that either rarely fix anything because they’re being “nice” and letting you do your own thing, or so “friendly” that they just drag their feet because “you are friends and wouldn’t get upset about it”. It can also mean that they’ll allow their tenants to do almost anything, like letting your housemate’s girlfriend/brother/parents/all of the above move in with him/her, adding to the number of people in the house, without asking anyone if it’s okay. This goes back to getting to know your housemates and making sure you all respect each other’s space. But boy, landlords can definitely make your living situation hell.
7 – “Central”: This does in fact mean that it will be central, usually in Zone 1 or 2; however, it’s also code for “you will pay dearly” and most likely not for much space. See Exhibit D, below.
8- “Chic” or “modern”: Usually means the interior has been installed sometime in the past decade or two, which is quite good for a city as old as London. I’ve lived in houses that were *much* older than that.
9 – And then, of course, there are the ones that flat out deceive you about what the actual place is like. Like this guy that messaged me about a house with “4 rooms and 4 bathrooms”, which I assumed meant each room had it’s own bathroom, right? Well, not really (see exchange below).
When I replied and told him I wasn’t interested because his ad was misleading, he actually called me from a private number (even though my number wasn’t publicly listed…I still have no idea how he did that) and tried to convince me over the phone that it was the right decision for me then got angry and started yelling at me when I told him again that his ad was misleading and it was not suitable for me. Case in point: if it sounds too good to be true, it most definitely is.
Considering all of this, I’ve been downright lucky so far with my living situation. It’s not ideal, but it’s not as uncomfortable as it could be and is for many others. Counting my blessings!
I think what this has all shown me is that living in London requires a bit of standards adjustment and a lot of perspective.
And that, is my brief and general glossary of terms for London flat hunting. Have you come across ones not listed that you’d like to share? If so, please do!