My depressing flat search

26 January 2015

“It’s only £1,000 a month, in a great area, mate. A real bargain.”

And so, early on Saturday, began the latest episode in the seemingly never-ending saga of trying to find somewhere to live.

Damp seeping through the walls, the stale smell of cigarette smoke from the overflowing ashtray in the living room, and frankly obscene agent fees for a grotty ground-floor flat – this is what a bargain looks like in London’s rental market in 2015.

Having moved out of my childhood home in South Wales 12 years ago and rented ever since, you’d think I’d be used to the excruciating, anger-inducing and soul-destroying exercise of trying to find somewhere to live you wouldn’t be ashamed to show your parents.

But no, I am sitting here at my desk today a broken man. This weekend, I have seen things that cannot be unseen – a never-ending series of dumps, damp and dilapidated properties that are all, apparently, a “real bargain”.

Schemes like Help to Buy are designed to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder and buy their own place but what about people like me – and virtually all my peers – who are starting out in their careers and have no realistic prospect of owning their own home in London and are stuck in a somewhat depressing cycle of jumping from one rental to the next every 12 months?

If you ask me, I think most of us are resigned to never owning our own place and are (just about) fine with that, but what I do resent is being asked to pay eye-watering amounts to agents on top of the standard first month’s rent and deposit.

Here are some of the figures I was quoted on the weekend – for a two-bedroom property in Walthamstow it would have cost me and my girlfriend a £1,300 deposit, £350 on top in fees, plus £100 each to have our references checked. So we’re talking about shelling out £2,000 before we get anywhere near moving in!

Due to our exasperation, we gave up on visiting a second flat in the Walthamstow area on the principle that I didn’t want to pay an estate agent a £138 ‘check-in fee’ as well as one month’s rent (£960), six weeks’ rent (£1,140), a £70 credit check and not forgetting of course the agency fee (£180) as well. Again – this would have cost us a painful £2,500 to simply get to the stage to move in.

The bargain flat I previously mentioned? £600 deposit, one month’s rent (£1,000) plus references. A fair bit cheaper than the other properties, but considering you couldn’t pay me to live there, let alone rent it, it wasn’t exactly a viable option.

The other striking thing about this weekend was how the agents dealt with us. It might be an indication of how much demand there is in London but we certainly didn’t experience any ‘hard-selling’.

At one property the agent didn’t even turn up and each and everyone that did seemed to have the attitude that if we didn’t take it, there’d be some other mug who would.

I’m not sure where this all leaves us. When you consider homeownership is at a 25-year low in the UK, and it is hugely unlikely that controversial European-style rent controls, which have been mooted, will be introduced, the prospects for major change in the market seems small. But surely there must be a better way of helping a huge swathe of the population who do rely on rental properties for somewhere to live in London?

As for my girlfriend and I, we’re holding out for a deal with a private landlord to avoid all fees in the hope of actually finding a real ‘real bargain’.