Over a period of the first three years I had stayed in London, I had lived in three different locations – Russell Square (a student resident), Clapham Junction/Wandsworth and Vauxhall. For each of the first two places I had completed one year of residence, but in the last one it was only 3 months before I started looking for a new flat.
I had a full month to look for a new place so I decided that apart from the technical part of it – doing it in a structured way – I should also enjoy the whole process.
The criteria were simple.
The rent had to be around 100 GBP per month and in exceptional cases up to 140GBP. Bear in mind that a monthly rent is not the weekly rent multiplied by 4. A weekly rent of 100 GBP is around 430 GBP a monthly rent.
The flat had to be in the south-west – an area that would suit me greatly to catch an early morning train to Leatherhead. Potential places – of priority one – would be Clapham Junction, Vauxhall, Victoria, Battersea. Wimbledon could also be a place to stay, but this would get me far away from down town London and I did not want that. Of course, there was the … unheard scenario of living in Leatherhead – or close by – where there was … a wild and thriving night life, but nobody would want to do that. Other – of priority two – locations included places in central London with the precondition that I could easily get to a train station. Such places could be anywhere on the Victoria Line!
I also made up my mind that I would look for a shared flat, because finding a decent studio or a one -bedroom flat with 400-500 pounds in these areas was probably an impossible task.
So the plan was set.
Every second or third day, I would buy the newspaper and look for places that would suit my tastes and fulfil the above criteria. Then I would call and ask for a visit.
For the first 15 days I would take it easily. I would finish work at 16:00, take the train back to London and there I would visit two flats every second day. The visits would have been arranged earlier that day.
It was the first time I was doing such a structured and planned search and I have to say that in some instances I was enjoying it. I would get to meet myriads of different people from all walks of life and ethnicities and seeing so many flats would also create a good view of the quality of flats in London. What is more, such experiences would be a good thing to talk about at the bars later at night with friends. Still, there were some instances that I felt I was being interviewed by a harsh HR representative which from time to time reminded the English movie, “Shallow Grave”.
The first 15 days lapsed and I was left with another 15. I started having flashes in my mind on whether I would make it to find a decent place in time. But soon I would disregard such thoughts – I had 15 more days which sounded enough.
Still, I had to restructure my plan.
For starters, in some instances I would visit three flats on a day.
Then, every day of the week could be a day to visit flats, because initially Mondays or Friday I used to exclude them.
Then, I extended the area of searches. That included the placed on the District Line (Wimbledon, Putney, Fulham until Earls Court, but not further as these were no-touch areas) that would get me to Wimbledon in time to catch the train. I also added Waterloo and some other parts of the District Line towards Hammersmith.
I also increased the weekly budget up to 120GBP with the ceiling set to 160 GBP in exceptional cases.
Finally, I … relaxed a bit my quality criteria and I would “try” places that probably seemed to be occupied by … strange tenants!
The problem of course with all these was that I had to allocate even more time reading the newspaper, finding potential houses, calling and seeing them.
The actual problem, though, was the mental and physical ordeal I had to go through when visiting flats that even on the paper would seem decent places.
A guy told me in Fulham, “it is 5-7 minutes walking from the Tube” and I literary walked 30 minutes. He probably meant “flying”.
In Hammersmith what read like “2 minutes from the river” – which is south of the tube – was 15 minutes north of the tube. Probably they got the bearings slightly wrong!
Once in Earls Court I arrived in the flat just to find a queue starting from inside the flat and finishing somewhere in Kent, with people waiting to check the flat. (I was even informed by the guy that I had three minutes to see the flat. I knew about “speed dating”, but never had heard about … “speed renting”).
What read in the paper “with the ability to visit the bar downstairs” meant that the flat was on top of a noisy bar and that probably when climbing the stairs one had to walk and step over drunk bodies of backpackers!
I visited a place in Barons Court where there was a Chinese guy living that was filthier from my dustbin.
Once I visited a place in Putney Heath talking to a Spanish girl that owned the flat that could barely speak 10 words in English!
The other day I checked a huge house in Old Brompton Road that nobody could verify the number of people that were staying inside – guests included. Probably it was some kind of informal hostel.
Then there was the other place in Parsons Green where I met this German Cook that looked and sounded weird and never actually looked my in his eyes as he was practicing cookery. I was ready to be asked to help with the cake he was creating!
There were myriads of other flats and taking aside the fact that I was looking for a flat and the urge to find one, the whole experience was totally rewarding.
I came out of this process much wiser. I knew how to read ads about flats and actually read between the lines! I got to know much better new areas of London. I met so many different people and was surprised to find out the diversity of characters out there!
Still, the greatest gain was all the above into one. I managed to get London much more into my skin. I managed to get introduced to this beautiful city through some kind of crash course and get to know the hidden treasures that this city has to offer to those who search for them.
The days passed, but the stress kept rising. I was in the last week and still had not found anything so I started thinking of Plan Bs and Cs. Plan B would be to find an even more expensive place for a few months. Plan C would be to would stay with friends for a few days!
The last week was in its closing and it was Friday before the Sunday that I would need to empty the flat!
Then Saturday arrived.
Sunday had to be dedicated in moving my belongings to the new flat, so Saturday was the last chance I had.
I woke up at 07.00, had a quick breakfast consisting of two cups of black coffee and looked once more in the newspaper, making a new search adding into my list even more expensive locations. I added the whole of Kensington area, where rents were up to 600-800 GBP per month, but under the circumstances I could even do with those!
I circled 8 remaining flats, and at around 10, as even on that day I did not want to wake them up, I started calling the designated phone numbers. Out of those 5 landlords agreed to visit them. So, I made a small plan and set off from Vauxhall for the final day of this – tiring I have to confess – endeavour. I had to face my fate.
I checked two places in South Kensington, one in Earls Court and two in High Street Kensington.
They all looked nice and whoever would offer me his flat, I would take it gladly. The last two places were very close to each other. One was in Kensington Church Street and the other was just of this street – on Campden Grove. The last place was a really nice one and two other tenants were staying along with the land lord.
I still remember, as he was the last one to talk to, asking him when he would make up his mind and him saying probably the next day. I asked him politely if it would be possible to decide on that day and he said, “Ok..let’s talk around 8.00”.
Still, many others had made similar promises!
I said goodbye and i decided to walk for a while in the area. I have to say I really liked it. It was a very central area, but at the same time very human and quiet. I remembered I had visited the area two years ago when looking for a King’s College department. I walked in the small streets, had a sandwich from a supermarket and walked to the East, just to find out that the area was just a stones throw from Hyde Park. I took a coffee and sat on the south-west side of the park trying to wash away from my mind thoughts about finding flat.
I imagined myself walking and running in the area. I imagined myself rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, but I also imagined myself walking peacefully around the park and enjoying the summer sun. I remembered during my MSc degree the small walks I used to take in the Park, when the weather would permit it! I remembered the other time I had taken the bus from Wandsworth to get to Notting Hill to see friends, passing through Kensington and how much I had liked the area. I think I could just picture myself living in the area!
I decided I had done what anyone could do and that without being able to do something more, it was time to move to Plan B or C! Then I made my way back home. It was around 4.00 and I started packing my stuff. At 6 I made a small break, inhaled some dangerous… gases into my lungs and then continued with packing. Then I continued with the gas-inhaling process again and I prepared myself for the last battle. Thoughts were coming and going about all possible scenarios. Will somebody accept me? Who will it be? Can I move tomorrow or will I need to wait for a month? And when I move how will it be? If nobody accepts what shall I do?
At 7.00 I took action!
I had five calls to make.
So I call the first. And I get a rejection.
The second one was also a rejection. “Sorry mate – I have given the flat to somebody else!”
The third one did not answer. I called after 5 minutes and then after another 5 minutes but there was no answer. (It was an informal way of saying No – I thought!)
I was just steps in stepping into un-chartered waters! I could officially be a … London homeless guy!
I called the forth one. His name was Steve – from Campden Grove. I introduced myself and I quickly got into the point.
“Have you made up your mind?
He said “No..i am afraid I have not, but can I call you back in 20 minutes?”
I thought that was yet another informal way of saying No and skipping the awkward part of actually speaking to somebody and refusing him his flat!
So I decided to wait.
These 20 minutes I travelled to hell and back. These 20 minutes lasted an eternity!
Surprisingly enough, after 25 minutes the phone rung.
“Hello. This is Steve. Well, I ‘ve given it some thought and I guess you can move in!”
I hesitated for a moment as I could not believe what I was listening to! 30 days of searching for a decent flat and I had to wait on the last hours to get accepted into one?
Still, after the first joy of the great news, I had a pressing question to ask.
“When can I move? Is it possible … erm … tomorrow so that I don’t have to make the move on a weekday as I work?” – as if I had the ample time to do that on the coming weekdays!
“Yes, sure. Do move in tomorrow” he said!
Such words were music to my ears – were church bells ringing!
I put down my mobile phone, closed my eyes and sighted with joy and relaxation as if a huge burden and weight was lifted of my heart.
That marked the start of a great five years – with an intermediate gap – in High Street Kensington, probably the best period of my life!
I was ready for it!