Help us move to the UK (London/Hatfield, Hertfordshire)
November 14, 2016 1:53 AM   Subscribe

We are currently weighing our options about a possible move to the UK (London/Hatfield, Hertfordshire area) and have some very practical questions. Can you help?

First, where to live?
- We operate under the assumption that living in London proper is not affordable for a family of three. Do correct us if we're wrong.
- What towns/municipalities should we consider near Hatfield, Hertfordshire? We are looking at renting a house or apartment. It should be an easy commute to the RVC Hawkshead campus (job partner) and be in a good school district (2 year old son).
- What are good letting websites?

Then, cost of living:
- What is the cost of living in Hertfordshire?
- What is a realistic rental budget?
- What do you pay for nursery/school?
- Do you opt for private healthcare?

And job prospects for the other partner:
- The ease of finding a job depends hugely on the specific skills, of course. But is it doable with a (quite general) Masters degree or is the job market saturated?

Other things we need to consider/general advice welcome!

Throwaway e-mail:

(Anonymous because at this stage it's still a hypothetical and we haven't told our friends and family yet.)
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't answer a lot of your specific questions, but the main lettings website for most of the UK is Rightmove, which covers both lettings and house sales. There may be local private rental boards that have a few properties not on there, but all the major letting agencies use it and I'd assume 95+% of all rentable properties in a given area will be on there.
posted by terretu at 2:14 AM on November 14, 2016 is a decent site for house rentals. Be aware that in the UK moving into a rental is going to be expensive. 4-6 weeks rent deposit, plus first month's rent, plus credit check fees (maybe tacking on an increased fee if you're from overseas and don't show up on regular credit check network), plus inventory fees, plus other admin fee bollocks. It's a rip off, but some letting agents are better than others.

Nursery: For full time (like 8am-5pm) nursery you're looking at something in the region of £800-£1000 a month depending on the hours and the quality of the nursery. I imagine this varies by location too, that number is based on where I live (one of the more expensive cities outside London).
Once kids are in state education at age 4/5, there are no fees for school.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:21 AM on November 14, 2016

I can't answer your questions about Hertfordshire specifically, but some of the other stuff:

- London: horrendously expensive, yes, but families do live there so it really depends on what your income is and what you're willing to trade. We (2 working parents + toddler) looked into moving there for work a couple of years ago and we'd have juuuuuuust about managed it, although we'd have been living nowhere central and would have been paying a fortune in rent for somewhere very small. So if you really really want to live in London, don't necessarily rule it out, but personally I wouldn't bother unless one of you needs to be there for work.

- Rightmove: the big one is Rightmove. You can set it up with alerts. This is what you could get within 10 miles of RVC Hawkshead. (Warning: some places on Rightmove will be advertising the rent as price per calendar month, and some will be per week (this is a London thing), so watch out for that.)

- Childcare: Nursery is expensive - here is the average cost, although if you're in commuter range of London you'll be paying closer to London prices than rest-of-the-country. Once your child is 3 you will be entitled to some free hours, although the implementation of this is kind of eccentric - not all childcare providers offer it, some will limit it to particular sessions only, some will hike up the price of other hours to make up the shortfall from the government funding - so it's something you'd need to discuss with the nurseries you're interested in to find out how they work it. (We pay £800/month for 4 days/week, in another city.)

- Schools: I don't fully understand how the English school system works, but Rightmove will tell you what school admission areas a particular rental place is in along with the OFSTED ratings for each school and , so that should give you some idea. OFSTED detailed reports are here. Bear in mind it's a pretty rough tool, though.

- Private healthcare - Nobody I know has this, unless it's a particular perk of their job (not super-common but does happen). In those cases it's useful for shortening waiting times for less-urgent or getting elective procedures, but that's about it.
posted by Catseye at 2:24 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hard to answer some of the questions without knowing more specifics! London is expensive but many, many families do do it so don't rule it out (depending on budget, how important it is to live near the city or countryside, etc, how much you enjoy cities.) Try Gumtree for searching rentals as well, and note that the prices on rightmove for rents are often negotiable, so don't necessarily accept that as "the price."

Nursery is ridiculously expensive, but when your child is over 3 they get 15 hours a week free, and school starts fairly young (4) so that makes it a bit cheaper. Also, there are other, good creative ways beyond private nurseries to make childcare cheaper (nanny shares, childminders, etc.), some of which, in my own opinion, are nicer for children than a large nursery.

Schools are really hard to gauge from afar; you really have to visit and ask around. They are in London often intensely local -- a desirable state school can have a "catchment" area of less than .2 of a mile (and sometimes less) so you have to live REALLY close. Ofsted (a government agency) evaluates schools, so I would check out some online (taking Ofsted's evaluations with a grain of salt -- what's important to you may not be important to Ofsted.) Secondary school I think is harder to do well in the city, but that's a long way away for you.

Jobs -- too hard to say! I would take a look at the Guardian jobs page to get an idea. In my experience, salaries in London are not quite as high as you would expect given the cost of living, unfortunately -- but that may not be true at all in your sector.

I also don't know anyone with private healthcare. The NHS is flawed, but still does a really good I think.

Feel free to memail me!
posted by heavenknows at 2:53 AM on November 14, 2016

Oh, another point on nursery costs in the UK: Lots of employers offer childcare vouchers, which come out of your salary but go direct from your employer to the childcare provider pre-tax, so save you money. Here's how they work.
posted by Catseye at 2:53 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

One factor that influences house prices is access to rail transport. Hatfield is on one of the Cambridge-London rail lines. That could be a good thing as it expands your pool of available jobs; on the other hand housing prices at cities on that rail line are higher as a result.

Some other cost of living numbers that may help:
Food - we budget £250-300/month for two people (we don't go out of our way to be extravagant, but don't do as much bargain hunting as we could, either).

Gas + Electricity - can vary widely. We managed £40/month average in a well-insulated three-bedroom terraced house. Currently paying £125 per month for a less well insulated two-bedroom flat (with an AGA, which bumps up the cost).

Other utilities - Broadband + line rental will probably be less than £30/month. Sim-only mobile phone should run you around £15 or so, depending on usage.

Car - if you choose to run a car, expect insurance to run around £600/year (maybe more depending on your age) until you can establish a driving history. You don't mention where you are coming from - if it's from North America, expect cars to be more expensive but more fuel efficient than what you're used to.

I moved from the US to the UK about four years ago - please feel free to memail me.
posted by penguinicity at 3:53 AM on November 14, 2016

if it's from North America, expect cars to be more expensive but more fuel efficient than what you're used to.

And predominantly manual (stick) transmission.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:57 AM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Broadband + line rental will probably be less than £30/month.

You might get it down a bit by shopping around but the basic package from BT is around £40 currently. You may also likely get stung for an initial connection fee. BT's is £130 but apparently they waive it when you sign up with their calls & broadband package. If anything goes wrong with your service they will do everything they can to take you for another £130 for an engineer's visit.

Gas + Electricity: The average UK household pays about £1200pa. You will have a provider already when you rent a place. Consider checking a site like uswitch or compare the market to find a cheaper option. They are obliged to shift you over in 28 days and this could save you a few hundred pounds a year.
posted by biffa at 5:19 AM on November 14, 2016

Although now a Californian, I'm a North Londoner born and bred, but who commuted to Hertfordshire (Herts) during college and later for work.

Healthcare and education (from age 5 at least) are both free and good quality, although it's one of those things where the place you live affects the standard of what is offered, and smart people shop around for the good doctor, the good hospital, the good primary school, even though they are all free.

It might be nice to live close to work in Herts. You can still get a train into London to have fun at the weekends. There are some nice villages, and various little towns of varying levels of beauty, many like the one in the Simon Pegg movie The World's End.

In North London you'll be getting less space for your rent money, e.g. a flat not a house, in a higher stress, higher crime area (but not necessarily unsafe), and facing more of a commute to work. But it's London though, so there are compensations.

The commute from North London to Herts is actually not too bad by car. I drove it for a year when I lived in North London and worked at BBC Elstree and because it is a counter-commute, the traffic was manageable. I must say though, that every time I go back to the UK the traffic has got worse, so confirm current conditions. Gasoline is much more expensive there than here, as are all car-related costs, and in most parts of London you have to pay for a yearly residents parking permit just to park on the street where you live.

There are also multiple ways of getting from North London to some bits of Herts by train/tube depending on exactly where to and from (Overground, Tube, Mainline rail, Thameslink, etc).
For example there is a direct train from Highbury and Islington (in N. London) to Hatfield, although most Londoners have no idea that entire line exists.

Supermarket food can be much cheaper than here (e.g. fresh baked bread, canned Italian tomatoes) but perhaps Brexit will mess that up. Restaurant food is more expensive. You do not need cable TV, but you have to pay an annual TV license fee (although it's cheap). Electronics like TVs cost more. Theater is much cheaper than Broadway. Air travel to other parts of Europe is cheap AF. Cell service is cheap.
posted by w0mbat at 11:01 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might want to get hold of a copy of Commuterland. It lists towns and villages along the various train lines into London and will help you narrow your search a little.

The house prices will be out of date now but, as others have said, Rightmove is your friend. You can build yourself custom maps of your preferred area and just receive alerts on that (very helpful for school catchment areas).
posted by dogsbody at 12:47 PM on November 14, 2016

I don't know where you're moving from, but being English and comparing my experience of renting with the AskMe questions from renters in the US, you will be surprised how callous English letting agents are. Not only are they double-dipping you and your landlord for fees, but they'll force you to sign a new tenancy every 6 months or a year (with £100 or more in fees every time). Here's your rights. You will need to fight for them, in my experience.
posted by ambrosen at 1:43 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Commuter Guide to Hertfordshire might be helpful. Prices (house, train ticket) are a few years out of date, but towns that were cheaper in... I'd guess about 2009, looking at the season ticket prices quoted... will still be cheaper today.

Hatfield is on two railway lines into London - a fast one into King's Cross and a slow one into Moorgate - and also on two northbound lines, one to Kings Lynn via Cambridge and the other to Peterborough. Generally speaking, moving closer to London means paying more for housing, but there are some local hot spots... for instance, Hatfield also has a direct bus link west to St Albans, an ancient but unfortunately very expensive town on the next train line over (which runs from Brighton via London St Pancras to Bedford).

RVC Hawkshead looks to me to be some way south of Hatfield, closer to Brookmans Park railway station; I believe that's on the Moorgate line. No trains from stations north of Welwyn will stop there, if memory serves.

I can give you an idea of costs. I was renting a three-bedroom house in Knebworth, a village three stops north, till a year ago. I was paying a little over £1000 a month in rent for a 700 sq ft unfurnished end-terraced 1920s farm cottage with dodgy heating but glorious farmland views. That was cheap for the area, probably because of the state of the house (structurally sound but in dire need of renovation); when I moved out, the landlord did it up and put the price up by about £300 a month. Energy costs averaged £100 a month (much higher in the winter, low in the summer), council tax (paid here by the occupier not the owner) was a little over £100 a month, contents insurance maybe £20, water maybe £35, landline and broadband £35, mobile phone £10 with Giffgaff. TV licence is something like £13 a month. My season ticket into London was about £3000 a year; season ticket prices go up every year but the amount they can go up by is capped by the government.

When looking at towns, the "New Towns" - Hatfield, Stevenage, Harlow - are a bit soulless (seas of housing estates), though each was built around an existing village, all of which are quite characterful. The "Garden Cities" (Letchworth, Welwyn) have held up better, in my opinion, with attractive and architecturally coherent town centres. The villages are generally nice, if you like villages (I do, I just can't think of much to say about them). The older towns - e.g. Hertford, St Albans, Hitchin, Baldock, Royston, Cambridge - have plenty of history and atmosphere, but commensurately higher housing costs, especially St Albans and Cambridge. Unless money is no object, and assuming driving to the RVC is acceptable, I would probably look at Hitchin, Letchworth, Hertford and Welwyn, and keep an eye out for anything appealing in the villages nearby. Do visit the area before committing to a particular house, though, if you possibly can; the different towns really do have very different atmospheres.

Finally, I can't comment on school districts, but Rightmove has a school checker on individual property listings, which tells you the Ofsted rating, size, admission policy and popularity (was it oversubscribed last year?) of the nearest schools to the property.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:10 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I forgot to touch on the work question. Critically important: you don't mention where you would be moving from; does the other partner definitely have the right to work in the UK?

Even with that information, though, I'm afraid "can I get a job with a Master's?" is too vague to be answerable. I mean... yes? Why, people with no degree at all can find work! But finding work that you want to do, that furthers your career, that offers a manageable commute, that has working hours compatible with your childcare needs, that pays what you need it to... well, that might be more of an ask, and without some specifics, we can't really help.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:59 PM on November 15, 2016

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