London is the most expensive city in the world and finding cheap livable accommodations seems like a daunting task. When we landed from two weeks in Ireland, we were swamped with the logistics of getting settled. Most of us had been living out of a suitcase and we were all ready to unpack, take a hot shower and not have to think about getting on another bus or plane for a good while. We camped out at the Royal National Hotel right on Russell Square in central London while we apartment hunted. Syracuse University has a list of several reputable landlords so we made the calls, toured places, navigated the city to find apartments, and figure out rent cost, amenities, internet, commute time etc. There are so many things to think about so here’s a little quick tip list to make apartment hunting in London easier once you have a starting list of landlords.
1. Neighborhood: London has many ethnic areas where different groups tend to live. Grab a map and quarter up the city based on what multicultural areas you want to explore. We chose to look at the middle eastern neighborhood (for the amazing food and location– it’s only four tube stops from the heart of London–or a 35 minute walk). If you are completely new to London this is a good starting point to get an idea of the feel of each neighborhood and what areas might suit you.
2. Grocery Store: Make sure the apartment you settle for has a good grocery store nearby. It is a total pain to get through the tube turnstiles with a zillion gallons of milk and loaves of bread on your back. Stores to look out for are Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Waitrose (all of which do a store-version of basically every non-produce product and can save you lots of £££).
3. Internet: Our apartment didn’t have internet so our landlord agreed to get it for us and charge us at a monthly rate. The downside to that is that most British companies charge an expensive installation fee and it take 8-10 business days to get. London has various hotspots all over the city so if you are lucky to land an apartment in one of them you can buy a user name and password and logon wirelessly. The other option is to be charged by megabyte but I’d only recommend this if you just check email and use internet sparingly.
4. Parks: Joining a gym in London is expensive (sometimes 50-100£ a month) so see if you can find a flat near any of the cities parks. We live a block from Hyde Park which is the biggest park in central London. It is well lit, always busy and great for running, walking, biking and staying in shape.
5. Pubs: Ask the landlord if there is a good pub nearby or if the neighborhood has a good nightlife. If he says yes then the neighborhood most likely won’t be as quiet during the night. But the upside is the constant busyness means it’s probably safer. The London police chief came to do a safety seminar and said in most cases busy is better.
6. Commute: Can you walk places? Do you have to take the tube? If you do have to take the tube can you get a direct line to central London or do you have to change? I timed the walk from our apartment to Faraday House (Syracuse U) and it took 35-40 minutes on a straight shot up Oxford Street (the main, high end shopping street in London). On the tube from my door to the school door it can take anywhere from 11 minutes to 25 minutes depending on trains and rush hour.
7. Bank: Is there somewhere safe to make cash withdrawals near your place? Double check that so you don’t have to walk around with large sums of cash on you. Also, if you can physically walk into a bank and use the ATM inside it is much safer than standing outside. Right now there is a new ATM crime going on in Britain: you’re standing at an ATM, someone comes up to you, taps you on the shoulder, says you dropped a ten pound note, you look down, they hit cancel and grab your card and run away. Underneath the key pad on the ATM they put a cell phone on top of a wooden block that records PINs all day on the little camera so they now have your card, PIN and access to the $$ in your account, according to the chief of police.
8. Roommates: It’s easier to find housing for more people and for even numbers. 6 and 7 people apartments are everywhere. 4-person apartments are tougher to find and typically more expensive. Avoid Craigslist for roommates and instead hit up ULU (London’s big university) for people who might be looking for roommates.
9. Rent/Money: In London, most landlords charge rent per week so expect to pay anywhere from 100-300 per week (unless you are very rich). It’s okay to bargain down–our landlord wanted 150££ per week from each of us but we asked 135££ and he was ok with that. By saving ourselves 15 pounds a week that’s nearly 30 dollars per week so almost 120 per month. Also be willing to put down a deposit on a place you really like because even though you say you are interested, the person who puts money down first will get it. Words aren’t good enough here so if you are racing to get a place ahead of someone else, get the cash. Most landlords ask a deposit equal to one month’s rent as well as one month advance rent so we ended up paying upwards of £1200 (over 2,000 dollars) up front. London is SO expensive!
I would definitely recommend living in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. I live in the Middle Eastern quarter and it’s the first time I’ve really been a minority since I lived in Italy. The food is fantastic and it’s quite a different experience then, say, living in British suburbia. Plus it’s still technically considered central London so I’m 20 minutes from any pub, restaurant or club. I live with four other girls and we have a large living room, three bedrooms, two full baths and 1/2 bath, a reasonable kitchen and a washer.