For so many Aussies with travel dreams London has become a rite of passage. You get your visa, book your flights to London and then backpack Europe while living in London for a while sampling everything it has to offer.
Sitting at home I would read Facebook updates and hear stories about friends that had headed to London to live abroad and were living the life. Wild parties in Europe with new friends and the never-ending joke about Fosters always bringing me to a chuckle.
What’s not to love right? So I made the leap and did the same. I travelled Europe and then landed in London ready to find a place to live and join in with all the fun. Only this is where you find out it’s not all fun, you see those fun-loving friends of your’s never informed you of just how hard it can be finding accommodation in London.
Unless you have a friend here to begin with your housing will consist of a hostel or a friends couch. Nothing wrong with that as I love hostels it’s just the small fact that London hostels are some of the worst I’ve ever stayed in. To escape the hostel you begin searching online at places like gumtree and other similar sites trying to track down that share house in the right place and with the right people to live out that dream you built up before leaving home.
The majority of people find a house and go on their way, for the rest London beats them down like it nearly did me and they head for home or a cheaper place like Asia. Maybe it takes a week, could be a month or even longer in my case. I spent 4 months living in a London hostel/pub all while working a full-time job which as you can imagine really made things difficult.
To clue you in on what it was like my living conditions consisted of a kitchen that included a microwave, oven, kettle and toaster all kept company by a handful of mismatched plates and cutlery. A VERY small common area big enough for two fridges that were never cleaned and a small table completed the upstairs area. For this reason the majority of us sat downstairs in the bar so that we could actually move around as the bedrooms were tiny as well.
The bathroom facilities were terrible at best and down right scary at their worst. Leaky showers caused 3 different rooms to have their ceilings collapse. Toilets were constantly blocked and at one point we had no toilets or showers working in the entire building. Oh and did I mention the place was nearly closed down because it was deemed a safety risk? You can see why I prefered to find a house to live in.
OK back on topic. Once you come to terms with searching for houses and sending off the right worded email you then wait to get contacted about when interviews will be taking place. If you hear back then it’s time to front up to your interview with your best pitch praying to the gods. I say this because most likely you are number 40 to have seen that house today and the housemates picked their favourite at number 5 and just saw everybody else to be polite.
I found getting interviewed for a house in London is much like going for a job interview… only a million times worse. You have until they finish showing you around the apartment before their mind is made up. I can see where they are coming from as well, some interviews I went to were seeing 30 people today and then another 30 the following day. It’s all about supply and demand and well there just isn’t enough supply my friends. As a result I spent a lot of time in the hostel bar drinking my frustrations away.
For weeks I would stop off for an interview on my way home from work. Sometimes even getting within 5 minutes from the house before getting a txt to say sorry we have found someone. Other times I’d have the most amazing chat with the people at the house and leave with a great feeling. The house was great, it was in the perfect area and most of all the people seemed really nice. Still an email would come the following day saying sorry but we picked someone else.
I was lucky and had a job waiting for me when I arrived but for people coming to find work and a house you can see how week after week it slowly beats you down as your money runs dry? You need an address to get a bank account but you can’t get one without a house and how do you get paid from work without a bank account?
Eventually after viewing 20-30 houses I got my break and found a nice little flat. Did it offer me everything I wanted? Not really but after so many people saying no you jump on the first offer you get. Now that I have been in it for over 6 months I can say it is actually what I wanted. I have a great housemate and I’m well connected with the rest of London should I have a big night out and need to get a night bus home (curse the tubes for stopping at midnight).
London is a great city to live in but you have to roll with it and some times it rolls in a direction that you really do not want to go. If you have a story on finding accommodation in London that can rival mine I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
I thought I’d have a similar problem but I’m the other way round. I’m from the UK and spent a year in Australia and thought it would be a nightmare to find work and accommodation there. It is so difficult in the UK that surely it couldn’t be so easy in Australia, but it was, so I can see why you hadn’t expected it to be so difficult!
Well done on finally finding a house!
Monica it’s funny you say that. When living in Melbourne I found it near impossible to find housing with a couple of mates. Landing in London I knew things would be difficult but never to the extreme I went through.
Meanwhile other’s found houses within the first week of being here.
Ahhh London house hunting…. I was a beaten one but I’m coming back for round-two soon! Loving such a practical insightful post – you really never do hear about the pain in the toosh it is to find a house in London.
Glad to hear your enjoying your ‘new’ home.
Nicole I’ll believe it when I see you at Chop Chop getting a feed 🙂
See you in Jan 2012 then… Though Dylan has ‘barred’ me from Chop Chop (wanna come to Chop Chop with me? :P)
We were originally hoping to stay in London in a small flat for a few months this summer… then quickly realized that was an awful plan. So we decided on two weeks in a flat share, and that’s still not working out! So dammit, we’re going straight to Scotland and saying to hell with London right now. We’ll come back when we have more time (and hopefully money!) to plan. 🙂
Christy I believe it would be near impossible to find a flat for a short period of time. Money is definitely required and from what I have seen you want to be looking around the £125 a week mark to find something you can call home.
Did things really have to get that bad before that hostel was deemed unsafe? There would have been a huge fuss about it here and more likely than not, legal troubles would follow on its coattails. I’m glad to hear you’re somewhere safe and I hope you don’t have to go through something like that again. Happy travels!
Aleida a place like that just wouldn’t exist back home. Too much red tape and so forth but for some reason they get away with it here. There was only someone come through and check because a complaint was made otherwise nothing would have ever happened.
Great article Chris, I think you summed up very well the complex and difficult process to find accomodation in London. When I arrived back in 2008 it took me a month to find something decent. And I arrived to the exact same conclusion, you can’t find something perfect. You have to make a compromise with the location, the size of the room, the flatmates, the distance to the bus/tube, etc… Then even if you find something you want, it’s always up to the flatmates and/or landlord to pick you among all the people interested. Can be very frustrating…
I’m glad it wasn’t just me then Alex. I was intending to only stay in London for 12 months and then go north but the fear of having to find accommodation again has made me decide to stay put and just travel around up north instead.
I ran into this situation of finding a place to live in San Francisco. (Only I had to do it before I got there). It was exhausting, as the ‘interview process’ is the thing in big cities here too. So happy you found a place to that you like to call home 🙂
Argh Laura I can’t imagine doing that before you even get there as it’s hard enough when you are there.
Great article, Chris. It’s nice to see some information about what the realities are for starting a new life in London. People need to know what they’re getting themselves into. On the bright side, having gone through all this, you’re probably prepared for anything now. 🙂
Gray I don’t think my entire 2 months travelling around Europe was as hard as finding a place to live in London.
I hate looking for houses/apartments!! Like Laura said, it’s the same in the states in the bigger cities. The worst are open houses where you and 40 other people are in the house at the same time all trying to impress the tenants. Very uncomfortable. You’re right – there’s simply not enough supply!
My friend lives in DC & she had someone bring her a bottle of wine when she was showing her apartment. It almost worked…. until another girl showed up and they found out they had mutual friends. I guess bribing isn’t off limits!
Four months! That’s a long time to be living in a hostel like that. I’ve always wanted to do the UK working holiday thing, but lately the pull of living in Asia has been much stronger…will be interested to hear more about your experiences.
Megan i’m saving Asia till later. To get my working holiday visa I needed to go now or I’d be too old to apply later. Kicking myself for not having travelled earlier in life.
I remember when you were going through this — it seemed to go on forever!!
Like Abby, I remember when you were going through this! It sounds like a nightmare! About 7 years ago, I thought I wanted to rent a place in DC. I went through a ton of those interviews. It’s like a grown-up popularity contest. I’m so glad you were finally able to get someplace more stable than that hostel! 🙂
not all hostels are horrible like that one silly 😉 however the Piccadilly Backpackers is probably even worse than that one that you had to stay in yuck yuck yuck and you forgot to mention your commute but that is no fault to this apt thats in a great location its the job thats in the wrong spot.
when will i see this awesome flat any? hmmmmmmm?
Damn! I dont want to hear this! Lol. Not looking forward to interviews :-s In Australia I own my own house, and haven’t done a rental interview (or sharehouse interview) in over 3 years.
Dude I remember it being difficult to find a not-booked-up hostel when I was there years ago… finding a flat must be a nightmare. Glad it all worked out for you 🙂
I was pretty lucky that I knew some Kiwi mates in London so and paid them 5 pounds a night until I found a flat. Gumtree used to have people advertise for “dossers” where you couchsurf for a fiver, dunno if that’s still common.
Anyway, lived in Shepherd’s Bush for 3 months, then Tooting for 3 months – finally settling down in Brixton with some awesome peeps. It’s tough to find a great flat but just need to hang in there.
TIP: people on the Couchsurfing forum often advertise for flatmates that way too!
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Uhoh. Guess this is what I’ll be looking forward to in a couple of months then :S
This post is awesome. A girlfriend and I are heading over next month to give it a shot. I already have the job sorted out (which is very lucky) but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the house hunt is going to go smoothly! Even if it doesn’t I’m sure it’s going to be a laugh!!!
All the best
Hey – This website has been so helpful! Can’t thank you enough!! Was just wondering if you have any advise for the best areas to look for accommodation in London? After reading this I’m quite concerned about finding accommodation at all. Do you think there is anyway I can sort something before arriving? I am doing the same thing you did, travelling for around Europe for 7-8 weeks, then I want to look for a full time job and accommodation in London. I will be on my own and don’t know a lot of people in the UK so I’m a little worried about being homeless and alone! haha any advise would help… Thank you!!
Hi Kylie, some people on the likes of gumtree will take interviews of people who are yet to arrive but not always I’m afraid. Best to just start looking before you go.
I arrived in the UK knowing nobody so I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just keep an eye on adverts coming up and be as quick to apply as you can. As for where to live it depends but anywhere in the Clapham, Fulham, Hammersmith areas and in between should find you a place. You can also look north of the city as well but I’m not sure on those areas as I never lived in that part.
Ideally somewhere in zone’s 1 – 3 is normally a great spot close to the city but bargains can be had for further out of the city as well. It comes down to what you want to be close to.
I am looking at heading over early next year and will be looking for a flat for just my partner and I. Any tips or good websites to look at? Your site is really helpful, but doesn’t seem to have any info for couples, etc.
Hi Frank, as I travelled solo I’ve no experience looking for accommodation as a couple. I do know however that it can be harder to find a place as a couple due to most share houses already being quite busy with 2-3 other people already. You are best to just review the gumtree offerings and see what offerings allow couples and go from there or look at rending your own place between the 2 of you.
iv been reading all your articles as i am leaving in 5 months to back pack and then settle somewhere in london. finding a home in melbourne was a challange so im no stranger to a tough hunt for a place to stay. are there anymore tips you can give? all of your blogs have been a huge help for me. 🙂
Hi Menna, good luck on the trip I’m sure you are going to love your time abroad. As for other tips you can try sites like spareroom.co.uk for other options to find a place to live. Between it and gumtree they seem to be the most popular options.
Otherwise if you know somebody or a friend of a friend see if you can sleep on their couch for a bit till you find your own place. Its far nicer than having to spend weeks in a hostel.