Keeping calm when flat hunting in London 101 🏡

If you are French-speaking, you may have already read my article on how I found a flat-share in London in a few days. After flat-sharing for a few months, the time has come for me to look for my own flat with Samy, ‘a place to call home blah blah blah’, and there we were hunting, again. God knows about my love for estate et al. but to be honest I almost lose it this time. So, to make something good out of something bad, here are my two cents on flat hunting in London. May the force be with you.

searching online

DESCRIBE CLEARLY WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR

To make the most of your time interacting with agents and browsing online for your nest, you need to have a clear idea of what you are looking for!

So for instance, here is what we had in mind after a long discussion.

Criteria: max £1,800 per month, one- or two-bedroom flat around Hackney, Dalston, Bethnal Green and Islington. Furnished would be a plus if nice furnitures (no creepy/cheap Argos-fake-leather sofa please…), would consider an unfurnished flat.

Must-haves: something light and airy, clean (yes it’s not necessarily the case…), modern.

Deal-breakers: carpet, dirty.

Nice-to-have: outdoor space, canal view.

Think about the criteria below:

  • budget

  • number of bed rooms

  • location

  • furnished and/or unfurnished.

Then list:

  • must-haves

  • deal-breakers

  • nice-to-haves.

As I did above, write down a description of what you are looking for and keep it handy (a draft email for instance). This could come handy writing to agents for a visit or asking them for what you are looking for.

SET UP ALERTS ON THE RIGHT WEBSITES & APPS

In unbiased alphabetical order, I would suggest to set up alerts in the following websites & apps.

❤️Gumtree
One finds anything on Gumtree so you may well find a flat there. I say ‘you may’ because I wasn’t impressed by the postings I saw on this website. I don’t find the search engine very good so do yourself a favour, use it once and set up an alert so you don’t have to ever again.

❤️❤️Movebubble
I really like the Movebubble app, it has a nice look, it allows to quickly browse for flats either on a list or directly on a map, you can chat to agent in app and send auto-generated emails based on your search criteria. Problem is… I cannot buy the mission ‘doing it for renters’ coming from an app that offers only agency postings.

❤️❤️Moveflat
If you read my article on flat-sharing, you know how I like Moveflat. Good news: it has a ‘whole houses or flats’ section! It’s not as big as the flat-sharing offering but as the latter there are mainly quality postings so it’s worth a look let’s say once a week as you cannot set up an alert.

❤️❤️❤️ Openrent
My favorite by far! Openrent is paradise if, like us, you want to rent your property from a landlord with an intermediary that doesn’t rip you off and does just what is needed to bring trust to your relationship, which is basically your referencing and protecting your rent and deposit. Problem is some landlords don’t use it fully, ask them to if you can!

❤️ Rightmove
Rightmove is a classic properties listing, 100% agencies. I have nothing to say really about it. Not impressed, job is done and it’s necessary evil I guess. Two nice features vs Zoopla, its main competitor below, are for me: using postcodes in the search engine (it’s more precise I think, e.g.: I would use E2, E8, etc.) and keywords (e.g.: garden, woodfloor, etc.).

❤️ Zoopla
I could copy and paste the two first sentences of the paragraph above. One thing I noticed about Zoopla vs Rightmove is that some small agencies post only on Zoopla, I guess the site is cheaper or something. One inconvenient thought is that sometimes postings are not up to date and, according to an agent, it is something commonly due to a bug in the system.

CALL & VISIT ASAP

As soon as you receive alerts, I recommend to check them out and call to book visits as soon as possible. Depending on what you are looking for and the time of the year, competition can be more or less fierce but still if you don’t want to be disappointed, be quick!

CALM DOWN THE AGENT

You may hear crazy things from agents on the phone like ‘Bring your passport!’, ‘Bring two-week deposit!’, ‘There will be a lot of people visiting!’, etc. Tell them to f*** off… Not that way but nicely. Don’t let them pressure you whatever they say. Stay strong. I did it and it pay at the end, even in summer, which is a crazy time to look for a flat. Once, I was gutted as we were away for the weekend and a beautiful flat with winter garden, balcony and canal view had come up. I asked the agent if he could FaceTime us the visit, he said no and that 8 people were visiting. I was certain it was lost. On Monday, the agent was calling me, leaving voicemails and texting me to visit… We did and didn’t even like the flat.

visiting

CHECK OUT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

Look as if you don’t care, look at everything from head to toe if that makes sense. There are silly things sometimes I miss like: opening the fridge, checking there are curtains in the bedroom.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Use the visit to ask questions: move in date, any flexibility on that, type of contract (break clause), agency fees (if applicable), who will manage the flat afterwards, is a professional cleaning planned, are repairs to be done, etc.

negotiating

SLEEP ON IT

Unless your heart is ponding only thinking about it, sleep on it! If your heart is ponding call a friend to make sure you have another opinion. In the other case, don’t listen to what the agent is saying and take the time to give it a thought and see how you can negotiate a better deal.

LINE UP YOUR POINTS

Here are the typical things you can use to get a better deal:

  • You can move in now!

  • You can go without a break clause for over a year.

  • You’ve seen same cheaper etc. and you’ve put an offer but you would prefer this flat.

SPEAK WEEKLY

I hate it but speaking weekly rent is a much better option when it comes to negotiation since steps are smaller.

IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT THE RENT

There are other things you can negotiate like minor works to be done by the landlord before you move in, agency fees, cleaner. Think about what would help and be creative!

This is it pretty much! Anything of interest I missed? Let me know, I am curious to have your two cents on this difficult topic. God help us all!