The Graduate: Alice Pelton on housing
Since moving to London 4 years ago, trying to find a house to live in has to be the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. London, to many people, has endless faults – the trains, the antisocial people, how expensive it is, and all those other things people endlessly moan on about but I loyally refuse to acknowledge.
However, on housing, London, you’ve let me down. Searching for a house here is an absolutely thankless and frankly exhausting experience and I never, ever, want to go through it ever again. Put simply, looking for a house to live in is like giving birth. The pain is horrific at the time and the minute it starts you wish you’d never began to look in the first place, but when you eventually find a house (or push the baby out) it takes you 9 to 12 months to forget what an absolute bore it was, and so you move out of that house and decide that it’s a great idea to start looking for somewhere else to live all over again (or have another child.)
It all starts with Halls of Residence. Ahh halls. What luxury. You never have to worry about turning lights off, taking too many baths, or heating your limbs at night. Essentially, you are ejected from the womb of your parents’ home and put into an incubator, with bright warm lights and a constant supply of food – just not through a tube in your nose (these baby metaphors are working great.) If you’re a student reading this who lives in halls, don’t complain. Trust me, the annoying postgrad who makes curry at 3am, and the lifts breaking is nothing. Just you wait.
Wait until it’s the summer after your first year and you have to look for a house. Firstly you have the problem of deciding who to live with. Boys? Girls? People you actually like? People you have to like because everyone else in your social group likes them? This may be stressful and you don’t want to get stuck with the ‘boring lot’, but once you’ve decided who to live with, you’ll realise that it was the easy part.
The hard part is when you then spend 8 hours ringing up every single estate agent in London and they give you one of the following three answers:
Option 1) ‘Kev’ from an estate agent with an ominous title: ‘120 pound a week each! Hahaa..you’re ‘avin a laugh love! I aint seen a house for rent that cheap since…well…NEVER!’
Option 2) ‘Stacey’ from somewhere else, in her thick Croydon accent: ‘Yeah, okay, well, let me just take your details and we’ll be in touch babe.’ Estate agents never get in touch. Ever.
Option 3) ‘Haziff’ who you found on Gumtree: ‘Ah ok I meet you outside Oval tube in 20 minute yes? I have many property that interest you. Many property.’ Haziff has a bedsit in Stockwell, that’s what Haziff has.
When looking for a house you learn that unlike what normally happens in life (when you pay people for a service and get the service in return) estate agents don’t apply to this rule. Oh no. Don’t be under the impression that they actually want to find you a house. What!? Do you mean to imply that the word ‘agent’ in their job title accurately describes their role?
When you ring up estate agents you’d be forgiven for thinking that from birth your mother told you that you pay estate agents to find them houses that you can live in. They’re rude, totally unreliable, completely untrustworthy, late, bad at answering their phone, awful with paperwork, and worse, they all drive horrible cars that stink of fags or are bright yellow portable advertisements.
My worst story had to be when I was looking for a house to live in going into my third year at university. I’d been away in America all summer and left my two previous housemates to start looking for a place to live just before I returned. They emailed me whilst I was still out there, overjoyed that they’d managed to find a 3 bed in Kennington for a very good rate. Move in date was the 25th of September, bit close to the start of term, but not a problem. Holding deposit was put down and we were waiting to fill in paperwork. Everything was fine.
That was until I rang up the estate agents, 2 weeks before move in. ‘Ah, yes, just to let you know that there might be a slight delay as the current tenants are just finalising their move out date.’ We weren’t worried at that stage. When we were worried was 5 days before move in, when the delay wasn’t really a delay it was just a massive lack of information. I remember this horrific feeling of helplessness, as I spent hours trying to get through to ‘Dave’ or ‘Michelle’ who would tell me that the current tenant of the house worked on the Eurostar and thus was only contactable at ‘certain times’.
I was fed an extraordinary amount of BS for 3 weeks. In hindsight I should’ve cottoned on sooner. They convinced us the move-in was still on, and that the current tenants were just taking their time to get their stuff together. So my flatmates and I spent the first 4 weeks of our term sleeping on friends floors, sofas, mattresses, living out of one bag each, walking to uni every day to spend the day in the library/computer room. We slept like crap, felt like crap, and, in all seriousness, I couldn’t work/think/go out. It was an awful start to what was meant to be our ‘last ever’ freshers week, and the ‘fun’ weeks of term in our last year.
Eventually I’d had enough and simply walked round to our ‘new’ house, knocked on the door, and asked the tenants if they ever felt like leaving. They looked utterly astonished and said they’d told our estate agents weeks ago that they weren’t actually going to move out.
Even writing this, makes my blood boil and my body so enraged with fury, that I find it difficult. Seriously, this is what trying to find a place to live in London does to you.
So we spent another 3 weeks on floors and mattresses, spending horrific amounts on sandwiches and buying food on the go. We eventually found a cheap unfurnished house a bit further south and moved in, simply relieved to remember what it was like to have a thing called a ‘bedroom’ again.
This house was cheap, but we pretty quickly realised that the reason why it was so cheap was because it was essentially a glorified tent. No wait, actually a tent would’ve been warmer. Literally, we endured one of the coldest winters on record in this place, waking up to see our own breath in the morning. I have never had to wear gloves to write an essay, or buy a 20 tog duvet before, or run from the shower room to my fan-heat filled room, and I never want to ever again. Baltic didn’t do this place justice.
What I’m trying to tell to you is the key to finding a house is absolute perseverance. If you think something’s up, ask straight up, and even go round to the house or estate agents office. Leave no rock unturned. Don’t be niave enough to think that ‘Dave’ actually cares about your plight and your sudden homelessness.