From the day I started sixth form up until the moment my uni boxes were packed and my freshers week band was tied around my wrist – I couldn’t wait to do one particular thing – and that was move out. I just wanted the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and not have to tug of war with my parents around what time I was coming home, how I was coming home or where I was allowed to go.
Well, you spend so long wishing and waiting for something, and once it arrives, it never feels as big of a deal as it did once upon a time. The day I moved out at 18, I actually never moved back into my parents’ place for good. Whilst I visit home a lot, often returning back to my place with food, drinks and seasonings from my parents, this whole “being an adult paying bills and living alone in London” thing is something I’ve been up to for a little while now. I’ve lived in four different places since I first left home, and now I’ve moved into my fifth place. Perhaps its because I’m older – but this move felt a lot more serious than the others, and more thought went into getting the final place we ended up settling on…
With all my new knowledge, I thought it’d be helpful to share all of the key things to consider when it comes to looking for your new place. This is all mainly in the context of renting somewhere in London as that is my experience, but it can definitely be made applicable to anywhere and for anyone. Buying is a whole other story and is something that was made possible for me due to a lot of help, support and knowledge from my parents – but that might just be another blog post later down the line!
How to pick an area to live
- Proximity to work – add the cost of travel onto any of your living costs. As we all know – commuting in London is a bitch (and about to get even worse), so good to know this ahead of time such that you don’t get blind sided when you buy that travel card
- Vibe – It sounds trivial, but it’s important. I realised in my last apartment that the general “vibe” of where you’re living matters. Where I lived was extremely corporate, so whilst it was very efficient being able to walk to work, the weekends were extremely dead if staying in that area. Where I lived was essentially built for purpose for people working nearby, but sometimes you just want a bit of character and normality, vs. suited bankers everywhere you look (myself being one of these on the weekdays)
- Cost – I’ve always liked East London as I feel like you get such good value for money. There are so many high quality new builds in the East (Zone 2) with very good transport links into central. I lived right slap bang in Central London for uni (I could literally walk to Covent Garden), however when you’re living right in Zone 1, you are likely to end up living in a very old building if you’re not willing to spend about £400 (per person) per week (that’s a £1.7k renters bill come the end of the month). Your budget matters of course, and as you move further back in zones things tend to get cheaper
- Finally – transport links. Ideally you live near a tube or DLR station (regular trains can be unreliable and infrequent in London)
What are your non-negotiables?
It’s good for you to know what you’re after when looking for a place to live. Sometimes, these are factors that you might only come to know after having lived in a few other places and identifying what you do and don’t like. For example – Levi is really big on views, he loves floor to ceiling windows and living in a place high up where you can sit, look out onto London, and reflect. I am really big on new builds and the area – I like living in new and modern places and I want to be in an area where I feel really safe. Those are our non-negotiables. Then the perks are just that… the perks.
How to negotiate price
In the past 3 apartments I’ve lived, I’ve managed to bargain the price down each time. Granted, it’s usually been quite a marginal change in price – however in my newest flat we had particular leverage as the market is so bad right now due to all the COVID-driven uncertainty. The key thing to note is that the listing price is the final price.
Never listen to estate agents: I really am not a fan of dealing with estate agents, they tend to be really sleazy, they lie a lot and they’ll use whatever trick in the book to lock you down and take their horrendous fees. Luckily, in our current apartment, it’s a direct to landlord relationship – all agents were bypassed. Agents will always tell you that the market is hot and that if you don’t act fast, the property will fly off the market, but this is their job and a classic sales technique. Instead of ever listening to estate agents – you need to do your own research.
Analyse the market: Indeed… a bit of homework is necessary! There are a few easy ways to determine if its a buyer’s market (i.e. you have more leverage), or its a seller’s market (i.e. maybe the estate agents aren’t lying when they say the property is about to fly off the market). Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many properties in the area are on the market?
- …And how long have they been on there?
- Have they had any price changes recently?
The odds start to stack in your favour if the market is particularly over supplied (there were several vacant apartments in the building we ended up in, for example), the ads are collecting cobwebs from being up for so long and you can also check the price change history – around the time we found our place we noticed that prices were getting slashed every other day. Whilst we were being told that everything was picking up now that lockdown measures were being eased, common sense from just looking at the economic uncertainty confirmed that this really wasn’t the case…
Have options: We found it easier to start to negotiate when we had done several viewings, had many different options to choose from and were speaking to many different agents. What I learned is important is being willing to walk away – you simply cannot have any leverage in a negotiation (any negotiation…!) if it’s clear that you won’t put your foot down. We found this hard when we first started looking (we had settled on a not as nice place for a higher price), but we went back to the market after being advised by our parents and got this negotiating thing locked down.
Don’t take the piss: I used to think that in order to negotiate a price down you had to turn up at the viewing hard face and uninterested, but this isn’t really the case. Whilst you don’t need to be jumping for joy, it’s actually good to show that you’re interested and that you’re taking the whole thing seriously. This opens the door for serious negotiations which then need all of the pointers above to lock in something good. Also – do your negotiations over the phone, never by email.
What to look for in a contract
One positive thing about full time work is that its got me better trained in reading really boring documents full of legal speak. For the first time since contracts started to be presented to me, I can say that the one for this current apartment is one I read very carefully. The key things to look out for in my opinion are:
- The expectations of both you and the landlord (i.e. what does the latter have to fix? What are your legal obligations?)
- Extra fees – namely the deposit. In the U.K. 5 weeks is the maximum deposit – so do your calculations! Whilst it may not seem like that big of a deal as you ideally get most if not all back at the end your tenancy, I’ve had some big beef with landlords in the past over regular wear-and-tear incidents. Some of them will try to take the piss when it comes to it – so the less they have to take from you the better
Above all – there’s the question of if it’s right for you to rent, buy, or stay home and save. This is all dependent on your current financial situation and what you forecast your financial situation to be in years to come. I think the key in all cases is to have, at some point, some good savings – either to cushion for a rainy day; invest in traditional assets, your business, yourself; help family; pay down your student loan; buy a house etc. I personally see a lot of value in moving out – there’s really nothing that teaches you independence like it! You’ve just got to be savvy if you choose to do it to make it a smart financial decision.