Moving to London - help me navigate the rental market!
January 21, 2014 10:07 AM   Subscribe

In just over a month, I will be moving to London to take up a new job. I'm a bit overwhelmed by the rental market so need some advice on locations, costs, and anything I have probably overlooked.

I will be moving with my partner (temporarily withdrawn from academic study due to ill health, so not earning) and we would ideally prefer to not have to flat share with others. My salary will be just under £30,000pa and I will be working near Victoria Street.

Here are my main questions:

1) If we want to rent a one bedroom flat (not a studio flat), where should we be looking to get the best value for money while not being too far out from the centre? So far, I've been looking at East and North East London, but we're open to anywhere more or less - as long as travelling into work remains relatively hassle-free.

2) What level of monthly rent do estate agents consider affordable on a £30k salary? Will they consider renting to someone when rent is 45% of your monthly post-tax salary? Or alternatively, what would someone on this kind of salary be expecting to pay in London?

3) Are there better sites to look at than rightmove, zoopla, and gumtree?

4) What general advice have you got for a new renter in London? What am I missing?

I know the market moves fast, so thoughts on how we should plan our househunting to get somewhere acceptable without too much trouble would be appreciated.

If you want to tell me anything privately, just drop a note in the thread, and I'll memail you with my normal account.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The london rents map is a good way of estimating the basic rent in an area - although I would use the "upper quartile" figures for what you should expect to pay, as the data is not bang up to date.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 10:45 AM on January 21, 2014

3) select one beds and flats, it isn't just a site for flatshares. Sign up for an account and pay for the 'early bird' notifications.

4) It's tough. I'd say be prepared to spend at least two weeks full-time finding something suitable. If you can get to the city for a couple of days in each of those two weeks you need a stack of places (5 or 6) lined up to visit each day. Only when you are in these places do you get a real idea of what they really are. Try to haggle if you can, in my experience it can be beneficial. Don't worry about the unfashionable areas, most everywhere is connected north of the river and you could save some cash. Get a six-month break clause inserted into your rental contract. Nightmare landlords are skilled at not looking like nightmare landlords until after you have signed the contract! Memail me if you want to.
posted by 0 answers at 11:19 AM on January 21, 2014

Your're in luck. Victoria St is dead easy to get to and well served by Victoria train and tube station and buses, as well as Westminster and Waterloo at the other end of the street.

A reasonable London commute is under half an hour, which still takes you some distance out potentially. An acceptable one is under 45 minutes. Many people will commute for an hour. TfL's journey planner is your friend here.

East and North East will be more expensive than South and South East. As a rule in London if you live somewhere that means a 10+ min walk to the tube or train line it will, other things being equal, be cheaper than an equivalent place.

Your salary works out at £1,935 per month. 45% is £200 per month. This is just about within range, yes, for your salary but pushing it.

However, these costs look high to me given that you're supporting two people. London is expensive. Assuming you rented @ £200 per month, you would still need to pay:

Council tax, electricity, gas, water (sometimes this is included in your rent), TV licence, phone, broadband, mobile phone, oyster card, contents insurance. By my reckoning, at the lowest end that's about £4-£5k annually or £400-£450 or so per month. It can be as high as £6.5k annually/£550 per month easily.

Food is expensive. If you're doing well, you'll get your supermarket shop down to £50 per week/£220/month, but that is being very parsimonious.

You don't want to share, which is fair enough. Should you change your mind it will save you a fair bit.

Top tips:

- Live on/near a good bus route that takes you to a tube or potentially all the way to Victoria.
- Live in an ex-council (local authority) flat to get more bang for the buck. There are some one bedroom ones about. They are ugly as sin on the outside, but well proportioned inside. You can spot them in listings because agents never show photos of the outside. You can tell blocks where lots of the flats are ex, rather than current, council by looking at the front doors of the flats.
- If you live in Wandsworth or Westminster boroughs your council tax will be half that of other boroughs. One to think about in your calculations. At any rate, check council tax rates for the property you want to live in.
- Estate agents are generally lying, shiny suited idiots. The property aggregators and listings sites you've mentioned are the right ones. Try selecting a couple of areas, going there, and looking at local agents and in the windows of newsagents.
- Better still, network. All my cheap rents came via people I knew or personal classified ads. Ask around at your future workplace.
- This is a network map for Victoria Station. Cost wise, your sweet spot is outlying London (Zones 3-6). Unlovely but perfectly acceptable places like Mitcham, West Norwood, Tulse Hill, Sutton.

Memail me if I can be of help. Good luck.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:56 AM on January 21, 2014

In north-east London Walthamstow is an up-and-coming area, to the point where it's almost (not quite there yet) becoming hipsterish. There's a buoyant rental market and lots of interesting properties. It's on the Victoria Line and also has Overground links to central London.
posted by essexjan at 1:56 PM on January 21, 2014

One thing to consider is how you think you will handle the commute - not just the time it takes, but the conditions. Peak hour tubes are sheer hell, and the Victoria line from Finsbury Park on (inbound) is seriously fucking awful. I did an hour and a bit through central London each way for two years (Victoria and Central lines, and a bus) and it did my nut in, frankly. I find it far preferable to pay a bit more in rent and live closer to work to not have to deal with that, for my sanity. That said, I think essexjan's suggestion of Walthamstow is a good one, because you will be getting on the Victoria line before the shitstorm and will be able to get a seat more often than not.

Does your partner have any income at all? Are they on ESA?

The last couple of places I've rented have been the first places I've looked at, and in each case I was the first person to view the property after it came onto the market. So be prepared to apply when you view - you will probably not need to have all of your documentation with you then and there but you will need access to funds for a holding deposit until you can make a formal application.

I've found that landlords are usually willing to negotiate on the price if you offer a long lease, but I would probably wait until you have a better understanding of London before considering that, just in case you end up hating where you're living. It's something to keep in mind for the future anyway.
posted by goo at 4:11 PM on January 21, 2014

Correction up thread. 45% of Anon's salary is £200/week, not per month.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:24 PM on January 21, 2014

Some general advice: in my experience, you can get better deals if you look for a flat close to an outer station, rather than a flat that's a longer walk from an inner station.

I know that's not the easiest statement in the world to understand, so let me give you an example.

It looks like the closest station to your work is Victoria. A trip to Victoria will take you 15 minutes from the St. John's Wood tube station, or 20 minutes from the Kilburn station. As a result, you'll pay more to rent a flat in St. John's Wood than you will in Kilburn. That makes sense, right? Flats closer to the center ought to cost more.

But. You don't live in the tube stop. You live in a flat. And it takes you time to walk from your flat to the tube.

So, if a flat is a 10-minute walk from the St. John's Wood Tube, it will take you 25 minutes total to get to Victoria (10 minutes walking + 15 minutes tube). If a flat is a 5-minute walk from Kilburn tube, it will ALSO take you 25 minutes (5 minutes walking + 20 minutes tube). You'll spend more time on the tube, but less time walking, and it all equals out.

Yet the Kilburn flat will be available at much a much cheaper price.

Obviously there are other factors to consider (safety, poshness, local shops, general quality of the flats, etc) But as a general principle, if you can't afford flats near a given tube stop, try looking a few stops farther out, and just focus on flats that are very short walks to the tube. Often, you will end up with a lower rent for the same commuting time.

Alternatively, look at the other extreme-- places that have NO tube access but good bus connections. These, too, are often undervalued.

I second MuffinMan's advice to use the TfL journeyplanner. I've found it is generally very good at giving accurate estimates of total travel time between two locations. You may want to adjust the default walking speed, though. It assumes an "Average" speed which I think is the average speed for all pedestrians in London. If you are a young, healthy, brisk walker, you may want to set it to "fast." If your partner's ill-health affects their walking speed, they may want to set it to "slow."

Of course, before you actually commit to a place, you should do a test run of your actual commute during the actual time you would be commuting, just to make sure there are no surprises.
posted by yankeefog at 2:34 AM on January 22, 2014

(Oh, and just to be clear, I'm not suggesting Kilburn or St. John's Wood as specific places for you to consider -- just using them as random examples of commuting time vs. price.)
posted by yankeefog at 2:36 AM on January 22, 2014

You could try to start with your workplace and how you'll get there. Mapumental combines commute data with publicly available rental ads. It'll show you on a map how far you can go on public transport in a certain amount of time, and then cross-references that with available rental properties in those areas.

Moving out to zone 3-4 can mean rent savings, but transport costs more so check your spend. Travelling from zone 3 to zone 1 (Like Dollis Hill, north of Kilburn, to Victoria) is a £3.20 single. 10 x a week, 4 x a month, and that's another £128 to cover. A monthly zone 1-3 travelcard is currently £136.80, so you'd need to make a few non-commute/weekend trips to actually make a savings there. Buses are cheaper, but slower. Cycling is doable (I'm on my 3rd year of cycle commuting in London), but there is a set-up cost and a safety-comfort issue.

If you want to get a feel for what the rougher elements in the neighbourhood get up to, has a postcode crime map searchable by month and offense type. If the commute means you/your partner must walk home after a night shift, you might want to choose routes accordingly.

Estate agents have no reason to treat you well, because there are dozens of people trying to get every available property. London's property market is grossly distorted. High demand + limited supply = crazy-competitive market. You won't just compete with other people on £30k, you're competing with everyone who wants to live within 15 miles of your workplace, and some of them are making ridiculous cityboy wages. Any large agency will probably also charge you reference/paperwork fees (£150-350, in my experience), still require you to do most of the form-filling online, and even after that will need reminding to move the process along.

If you can find a way to deal directly with a landlord (an individual rather than a management company), you stand a much better chance of getting decent treatment.

One strategy that worked for me was to scan new listings Sunday night and first thing Mon and Tues morning. Then schedule any viewings as soon as possible for as early in the week as you can manage. Tues, Wed and Thurs evening seemed to be a sweet spot for me. Saturday and Sunday are likely to be open-house viewings, and you'll be up against possibly hundreds of other viewers.*

Once you see one that works, tell the agent you're interested and will be in touch first thing the next morning about it. Actually get your email/message ready and sent that night, so that you're ready to move on it as soon as they get into their office.

TL;DNR - (1) Check your commute, (2) look for places early in the week, (3) avoid agents if possible, and expect to pay £150-350 in fees if you don't.

Good luck, anon.

*Yes, really. I've been to viewings in London in late 2013 where agents booked people in for 30 minute viewings between 10 AM and 5 PM, and ushered in in groups of 8-12 to view a 2-bed ex-council flat.
posted by Tara-dactyl at 3:43 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everyone's covered it pretty well. You can find Victoria on the tube map, ref D4. Note this map doesn't accurately reflect aboveground London. Victoria's a good hub - Circle, District and Victoria lines all cut through it. Don't discount the buses, either.

London isn't cheap and on your budget you're looking at something smallish and I suspect outside Zone 1-2. You might want to reconsider the studio or flatshare as a compromise. South on the Victoria line start looking at Pimlico and Brixton, north Islington. On the Circle / District north Bayswater / Queensway, east maybe Aldgate.

London's really a collection of small villages and you won't need to step outside your suburb day-to-day if you do it right.

Sites are -‎‎

Ballpark I believe agents get nervous above 1/3 your income, so yeah around 200pw is your target zone. I work with a different budget so can't really help you there. Likely unless you compromise you'll quickly find you have to shift further out than the suburbs I listed above - Walthamstow sounds about right.

Agents are sharks. Substantial upfront fees for everything. Compare agents on this before you sign anything - often two or more will represent the same property. Rents (and sometimes fees) are negotiable. How negotiable depends on how much interest there is in the property.

One year lease is standard. Many places come furnished. You might have to pay extra for the six-month break clause.

I suggest doing your research online, meeting a few agents and viewing a few places in person before jumping in with both feet. Once you feel like you've got a handle on things, if you find a place you like, be aggressive. Bid well - a good agent will give you an indication where the real market is (as opposed to the asking price), so don't try and be too cute - push for an answer same day, pay your deposit on acceptance and take the place off-market asap. If you don't do this someone else will. You may have an advantage in that you can move in straightaway rather than give notice - if your place is available now, you've got a much better shot. Make sure the agent knows this.

Once you move in, there's a stack of things to think about - inventory, water, gas, electricity etc. Too much to go into. Google for more info, but it's better to be on top of this from the get-go.

Good luck!
posted by bookie at 10:32 AM on January 22, 2014

We are in Crystal Palace, which is Zone 3. The trains run from there through a whole bunch of other places right into Victoria, and it takes about 22mins to get there. It may be worth checking the train network as well as the tube, and consider taking a bus (any tube/train pass will cover buses all over the network regardless of zones) to Zone 2 or wherever to save a little on travel. Brixton has quick links to Victoria, but gentrification has kicked in, and that's put prices up (we were interested in there and then found we couldn't afford.) We also considered the nearness of parks, libraries and a big supermarket to make life easier. I personally don't like changing tube lines during rush hour, so this was a consideration too.

I would highly recommend web-based 'estate agents' such as Rentify or LettingsPlus. Reason being that you are dealing with private landlords, but with the protection of an agency (Rentify are ARLA members). We looked at a few places before we took our flat. Many agencies messed us around with regard to times, wanted us to look round at the same time as other people, were unprofessional in their communication (if I was sending such poorly-constructed messages in my job I'd be expecting a telling off) and charged hefty fees - £250 'admin fee' is common for a rental flat, some charge extra for credit checks and even renewing a lease. Some agencies ask for a 'holding deposit' of two weeks' rent, but I have heard of people failing the credit check and being told that that money was nonrefundable. One agency ad I saw for a studio asked for three months' payslips, two months' advance rent and a two month deposit. A couple of friends I know, who earn £37k between them, were asked by an agency to provide a guarantor. They will push for whatever they can because they know that a large number of people have no choice. It's frustrating, and it tends to make one feel like a naughty child trying to please the grown-ups.

Yes, really. I've been to viewings in London in late 2013 where agents booked people in for 30 minute viewings between 10 AM and 5 PM, and ushered in in groups of 8-12 to view a 2-bed ex-council flat. - I can well believe this and it was one of the things my OH put his foot down on before we started. We tried to see as many properties as we could in one day, to give us lots of choice and save time. I checked the lettings sites twice daily and spent my lunch hour phoning and e-mailing. I was a) very keen to get out of my previous place b) very anxious about the whole thing, but things do move really fast so I treated it as a part-time job with the aim of making the whole thing as quick as possible.

We went through a private landlady we found on Rentify. No fees, references were just a case of us both giving our employer details, no quarterly inspections to make us feel like kids who need to keep our rooms tidy. If we had a big problem, it would be a case of communicating directly to get it fixed rather than going through a third party. Six weeks' deposit seems to be fairly standard in our experience, so you'll need to have that handy to secure a place you like. And council tax really varies from borough to borough - sometimes by as much as half the price - so it's worth checking this too when working out a budget.
posted by mippy at 8:56 AM on January 24, 2014

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