From the moment that my husband and I stepped off the airplane in London, we set out to search for our new apartment. He had set up appointments for apartment viewings ahead of time, and after dropping our baggage off at corporate housing we were off on a whirlwind tour of neighborhoods in a city that neither of us had been to in over a decade. Looking back, here is a list of tips that I wish I had known when we set out on our apartment hunting journey.
Hit the ground running.
While the internet is an easy way to search for housing on your own time, the internet is not always the most up to date way to find a rental flat in London. To get the best selection, you have to hit the ground running and set about looking at every real estate office window to see what they have to offer. These real estate windows can be found in every neighborhood, so the best thing to do is select the neighborhood that you want to live in first and then focus on the broker offices that are in the heart of those neighborhoods. Talk to the brokers inside, and they will show you as many of their offerings as they can in your price range with no obligation. If you choose the internet route first head to Zoopla — it is the UK equivalent to the U.S. site Zillow.
Everything seems so affordable.
Here is where sticker shock happens to those unfamiliar with London rental practices. The prices quoted are per week, so multiply everything times four and you may need to rethink that four-bedroom penthouse overlooking the Thames. However, Zoopla lists prices both per month and per week.
Furnished or Non-Furnished?
90% of the apartments that I looked at were furnished, which in most cases detracted from the apartment itself. There are apartments that come unfurnished, and often times it is negotiable in the lease to remove furniture. Sometimes the apartment was decorated by the landlord and in that case, you must approach change delicately so as not to offend.
Using an agent.
London is a big city and unfortunately, it is almost a necessity to rent an apartment through an agency. Most landlords list with an agency, and that is the agent that you end up using. So instead of selecting an agent, you actually select the apartment and end up with whatever agent is representing the property. There are large national agencies such as Foxtons, Sterling Ackroyd, etc, and then each neighborhood has agencies that are localized to that region. The smaller local agencies seem to have the best customer service reputation and often the best listings in the neighborhood.
It may be a waiting game.
You may have to wait for your dream apartment. Often the apartments that are immediately available have sat on the market for a while and there is a reason that they are ready immediately. I found this to be the case as I was sifting through the apartment inventory — the apartment that we fell in love with had just come on the market and wasn't available for 6 weeks.
Put in an offer.
Placing an offer on a flat feels very similar to putting in an offer to purchase a home in the U.S. There is a great deal that can be negotiated, including rental price, pets, and removal of furniture. Of course, if you are bidding against others, you might not want to negotiate for too much, and you may end up having to pay more than the asking price.
Ready, Set, Move.
Now that you are ready to move, you can start packing and get a bundle of supplies from Boxes 2 Move for a reasonable price. If you have furnishings to dispose of or give away the Craigslist equivalent in the UK is Gumtree. If you are moving yourself with a limited amount of furniture, Zipcar is now in London and rents vans by the hour.
(Image: Claire Bock)