Job just outside London - where to live for happy social life?
May 29, 2017 3:03 AM   Subscribe

I'll be moving to the London area soon to start a new job. The job is based in Watford. I'm fairly young (think late 20s to early 30s), and I'd like to get involved with social things, meet interesting people, and (most importantly) meet people I'd like to date. I think most of this stuff would happen in more central parts of London. So I don't know whether it would make more sense to live close to work or somewhere a bit more central (not right in the middle, as I'll be earning 25k).

Close to work would mean I'd have to head into London any time I wanted to do anything, I guess? And I can just imagine being tired after work and just not doing anything, day after day, because it would be expensive and tiring. Whereas if I lived more centrally, I'd have to pay more for rent, air quality would be worse (maybe?), and I'd have to pay to commute to Watford every day - *but* my barrier to *doing things* (presumably happening in the centre) would be lower.

In case it's relevant, I am not interested in clubs or alcohol; I'd be much keener on culture-related groups, or maybe classes, or walking, or dance, or yoga, or film groups...

Secondarily, I'm interested in whether people have any experience / advice on property guardianship, and also on whether people would recommend sharing a flat or not - I enjoy flatmates if I like the people, but I'd rather live alone than with flatmates I didn't like. I also think flatmates could be a good way of getting to meet new people.

Thirdly! No matter what, I expect I'll be doing a lot of travelling between Watford and more central parts of London. Is the Oyster card the cheapest way of doing this? Any tips on lowering travel costs?
posted by tangerine_poppies to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, my suggestion would be to live close to work.

I once had a 2 hour commute, one way, so I could live where I wanted rather than where was convenient for work. At the time, the commute was worth it (I taught English in a village so small it had no bus stop or train station, and living there was just not an option) but even working just three days a week (my school was wonderful and did everything they could to avoid me having to make the trip any more than necessary) wore me out. I would have been a useless lump if I'd had that commute all five days a week.
posted by Tamanna at 3:40 AM on May 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you lived in Watford near one of the rail stations you'd be only about 40 mins from Euston which is very well connected to the rest of London. Many people who live "in London" including in Watford adjacent parts of it like Harrow are actually further away from the centre in terms of time.

I don't know where in Watford you'll be working but if you can live close to both the railway station and work, I think the barrier to doing something after work will be lowered because you won't have a tiring commute to get through first to get home.
posted by atrazine at 4:14 AM on May 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind about London is that it's just so big that it can take ages to get from one part to another anyway, so even if you lived somewhere more central, you might still be going quite some way in order to do stuff. Plus, on $25K, I can't imagine you'll find a place closer in that you can afford, especially if you live without flatmates. So I'd lean toward living near work as well.

I think using contactless pay (your debit/credit card) is now a bit cheaper than the Oyster, though you should check on that. To save money, look into taking buses instead of the Tube. It can take longer but be a lot cheaper, and if you transfer on a bus within an hour, the second one is free. When I'm feeling cash-strapped in London, I often bus it around town.
posted by tiger tiger at 4:17 AM on May 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Watford is only 35 minutes to central London by tube - that's nothing. It sometimes takes longer than that just to get from one side of London to the other.
You might be surprised to find that, aside from cultural stuff like museums and shows, there's really not a lot going on in central London. Lots of areas shut down completely after 8pm on weekdays and have nothing open aside from the odd Pret on weekends (catering to tourists who didn't realise they'd booked an Air BnB in a dead zone). The stuff you're into - yoga and film groups- is going to be happening in the places in and around London where you probably can't afford to live just yet.
I'd say live near your office and take the tube to your yoga class. You don't even need to bother with an Oyster card - just use your contactless debit card, it works the same way once you register it online and you don't need to worry about topping it up.
posted by cilantro at 4:22 AM on May 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Most of the people I know who work in London have ended up living somewhere that's not super close to central London anyway, even if that's where they work - they're in places like Walthamstow, Homerton, Clapton, Canning Town etc. and it seems like they do the majority of their socialising close to where they live rather than close to where they work (yoga classes etc.).

I can't speak for Watford specifically, but I agree that you're probably going to be better off living near work and seeing what the social life is like there. London-where-people-actually-live (as opposed to central) feels more like a series of small towns/high streets, each with its own social centre, which also happen to be connected to a giant city.
posted by terretu at 4:31 AM on May 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Plus, on $25K, I can't imagine you'll find a place closer in that you can afford, especially if you live without flatmates.
Since the OP is in the UK I'd assume that's 25k pounds not dollars.
posted by peacheater at 4:40 AM on May 29, 2017

I live in Walthamstow and work near Westminster - it takes me 45 minutes or so.

People I know here are paying around £700 per month for a single room in a shared house and this seems similar to what a lot of friends are paying in other areas of London. On £25k, I would suggest staying out of London proper...
posted by knapah at 4:42 AM on May 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

"I think using contactless pay (your debit/credit card) is now a bit cheaper than the Oyster, though you should check on that."

It's exactly the same, as they cap fares in the same way as they do on oyster cards - provided you use the same one all the time.
posted by knapah at 4:44 AM on May 29, 2017

Plus, on $25K, I can't imagine you'll find a place closer in that you can afford, especially if you live without flatmates.
Since the OP is in the UK I'd assume that's 25k pounds not dollars.

That was a typo on my part. OP, my point still stands. £25K is unlikely to get you a place on your own in central London.
posted by tiger tiger at 4:53 AM on May 29, 2017

I'm not sure where you're moving from (maybe Edinburgh?) but I get the sense that the stress and expense of living in London is going to be new to you. I would urge you so emphatically to start with a 3-month flat share in Watford (for which you are already going to be paying £650-ish per month) just to find your feet. You can make decisions from there once you're conversant in rent prices and the reality of trains. Watford to London is only 20 minutes but the return ticket looks like it is £14.90 (I must be wrong; that's insane.)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:12 AM on May 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

A weekly pass from St Albans City to London St. Pancras, with no Tube journeys factored in, costs in the region of £99. With Tube journeys it will cost more.

The good news is it won't take very long (well not for the train journey itself); about 20 mins. each way. (If no Tube journeys.)

How far of a walk is your office from St. Albans City station?

A £25K salary will net you about £1600-£1700 a month. After paying £500 for the cheapest/most basic train commute you will have £1100-£1200 left. It's theoretically possible to get a room in a shared house in Kings Cross for £650 a month. That would leave you, best case, £550 to live on. Plus council tax and bills about £75, that's £475 left for all your other living expenses.

Can you manage on that for food, clothing, other groceries/miscellaneous expenses, and social life? If so, you might as well live in London and commute to Watford.
posted by tel3path at 5:34 AM on May 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

And looking at it from a Tube/Oyster card point of view, assuming you'd be travelling at peak hours, if you went from Watford Junction to London zone 1 you'd be paying £86.10 per week for contactless-only payment, according to this table from TfL.

Watford High Street is in zone 8 so that would bust your weekly ticket cost down to £77.30. So your best-case travel cost could be £387 a month, depending on how far of a walk your workplace is to which station.

That would leave you £588 for all monthly expenses other than rent, commuting, council tax and bills. That looks a lot more optimistic, even though it's still a very modest amount.

But, be warned that fares or other expenses can jump up a lot higher and faster than you expect. After just about a year of starting my first job, my travelcard price increased by 75%. There is some government intervention in these things nowadays, but you can't count on it. Malign chance can hit you in the pocket at any moment, so do leave yourself some wiggle room.
posted by tel3path at 5:57 AM on May 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

My sister did a property guardianship in London and hated it. She got all moved in and a month later, they made her switch floors because the building owner wanted access to the first floor. The second spot she ended up in was infested with rats, had construction workers in and out all day, and was generally unpleasant. She left to move in with her boyfriend and 3 others in a two bedroom flat, because that was preferable to continuing to live there! I'd avoid property guardianship if you value stability at all.
posted by girlalex at 7:25 AM on May 29, 2017

tangerine_poppies, I was you! Lived and worked in Herts for a few years in my late 20s, on a similar salary, and basically: what DarlingBri and atrazine said. Flatshares aren't as grotty as the London ones can be, there's more going on locally than you might realise, and it was great not to have to run the gauntlet of a long commute.
posted by Flora Poste at 7:54 AM on May 29, 2017

On property guardianship, the reports of mismanagement and outright illegality that have been circulating for years continue to be a problem. (If you ever want the inside scoop on anything going on in housing, Nearly Legal, which is run by the inestimable Giles Peaker of Anthony Gold Solicitors is the place to try first; you will see that checking the blog's tag for property guardians yields worrying results.)
posted by howfar at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2017

If looking for somewhere to live long-term in Watford, you might want to bear the proposed changes to train routes in mind.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:21 AM on May 29, 2017

Also - Watford is kind of a "meh" place, but so are most of the other Metropolitan Line suburbs (I live in Harrow, so know whereof I speak). One possible exception is Pinner, which is a pretty place with sort of a village feel. The downsides are that rents are likely to be higher than in Watford, and, although it is on the Watford branch of the Met Line, "fast" trains do not stop there.

You'd have to go out to Finchley Road (zone 3) to find an area with a true "London" feel - an easy commute to Watford, but I think you'd struggle to find a comfortable flat there on £25K.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

So Watford isn't really London, to be honest. It's near London if you look at a map but it might as well be on the moon when it comes to a social life.

If your job is a vocation and the center of your whole life and you expect to find your People amongst your colleagues, then by all means live near Watford. You'll be able to find yoga and everything up there, no doubt about it. You'll day trip into London occasionally but probably not every night; and anyway you won't be able to get home easily from London-proper after about 10pm because you'll be at the mercy of things like the Overground, which keeps odd hours. But that'll be fine because Watford will be your centre.

If your job is just a means to an end, though, and you've taken it because London; then I would strongly advise living as close to Zone 3 or ideally 2 as possible. Yes your daily commute will probably suck - but TBH I live and work in Zone 2 but it still takes me an hour each way everyday. That is well within normal for London. What is will mean is that your evenings and your weekends will be so much nicer because you'll be able to find people to hang out with and great yoga classes and cool restaurants and won't have to leave every event at 9:15pm in order to get the last train.

On £25k though you will have to share with strangers. Sorry. It's a rite of passage in London and it's not weird at any age. Don't expect these people to be your friends though - either you won't want to socialise with them or vice versa. It's not university. Make plans to get you out of the house and interacting with people who do want to make new friends. Expect to be at least ten minutes' walk to a tube station and pay between £600 and £800 per month for two to three flatmates.

Don't be a property guardian. That is a not a stable life.

Finally, just use your contactless card on the tube. No registration needed (though you can) - just tap and go. And stand on the right of the escalators.
posted by citands at 11:47 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking for great neighborhood near Portland, OR...   |   See bigger photos on my Tumblr dashboard? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.