Arrived to work in London? First find a bed

Thousands of graduates are descending on the capital to start their first jobs. Gareth Lloyd on the pitfalls of room-hunting
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The Independent Online
Although you might not know it, you may soon be one of thousands flocking to live in London. As many as one in every three graduates is now heading to the capital in search of their first jobs. For most, it's the start of new and exciting times but many find that property hunting in London is a very different proposition to finding accommodation around provincial universities. A frightening statistic is that one in 10 of all young people in hostels for the homeless are graduates. Here is some sound advice on making that first move to London.

Whether or not you have a job lined up you are going to need somewhere to stay when you first arrive. For many, such as Sue Cotton, a chartered accountant, this will probably mean sleeping at a friend's place for a week or so.

"I got a list of friends and friends-of- friends together and spent more than a month on a tour of sofas around London. In each place I was careful not to outstay my welcome and to do my fair share of housework. The benefits were that I was able to live rent-free, take my time looking for the right job and then get a place quite close to work," says Sue

The alternative prospect is either a hostel (not for the homeless) or a cheap hotel. As the quality and prices of these varies greatly, it pays to shop around and book ahead if you can. Have a look at the classified ads at the back of TNT magazine (it's free outside most central London Tube stations) and the Rough Guide to London (published by Rough Guide for pounds 9.99). You should expect to pay around pounds 10-pounds 25 per night for a bed in a hostel full of Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans and from pounds 15 for a single room in a hotel.

Friends can also be one of the most effective ways of finding somewhere permanent to stay. Make sure you put the word out to everybody you know who lives or works in London that you are looking for somewhere. Apart from that, classified ads are perhaps the most popular way of buying, selling and renting property in London. Take time to look at local newspapers to get a flavour of what living in a particular area might be like. For a single room in shared accommodation expect to pay upwards of about pounds 45 per week, for a double add around 50 per cent more.

The Evening Standard, London's evening paper, can be a useful place to start. However, most people find what they are looking for in Loot, a paper devoted to classified ads that comes out every few days. Types of accommodation are listed by area and price. Siobhan Akram, a graduate who has used Loot three times in the past three years, says: "When you're looking for a place bear in mind that a few thousand other people have the same idea. Get on the phone and arrange a viewing as soon as possible. Be ready to hand over a deposit as well as a month's rent in advance. But remember to make sure you don't hand over any money without getting a signed receipt."

Loot can also be useful for finding house mates if you already have a property in mind (tel: 0171 328 1771 to place an ad). All you'll pay is the price of the call. However, as Peter Howarth says "always vet your prospective tenants very carefully".

"When I first met Mike and Paula I really liked them. They were from my home town of Manchester, so we naturally had a lot in common. Mike even went to the same school as me. However, things started to go seriously wrong from the day they moved in. They constantly argued and lived like pigs, but the final straw was catching Mike cleaning his suede shoes with my toothbrush," says Peter.

Another possibility is to enlist the help of the numerous letting agencies around London. There are none that cover the whole of the capital (in the graduate price range anyway), so the trick is to choose an area and find out which agencies cover it. It is important to note that while it isn't against the law for them to charge a registration fee if they want to, you may well find somewhere just as decent without paying one. House hunting is rarely a pleasurable experience. Expect to get sore feet and to end up thoroughly cheesed off. Perhaps the best advice is not to lose heart. The right place always comes along... eventually.

WHAT TO REMEMBER

Don't even think about sleeping rough to save money, even in summer.It's dangerous, it will not help your appearance at interviews and it's the start of that slippery slope.

Consider begging, borrowing, or even hiring a mobile phone. Being able to telephone about that dream place while you're standing right outside the newsagents might just make all the difference.

A car will make viewing properties much easier on your time and feet (as long as you know your way around the A-Z relatively well).

If the landlord shows you round, try to get a chance to talk to the tenants in private to find out what he's really like. For example, is he a tyrant, and how promptly does he fix things?

Check all contracts carefully. If in any doubt contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Shac (tel: 0171 404 6929) or a solicitor for advice.

If you're job hunting try not to commit yourself to a long-term contract. London's a big place and journeys can not only be long but expensive. Try to calculate your travel time to work.

Most people will want references, so get some together before you start looking. By the same token, if you're sub-letting it's one way of vetting out unsuitable tenants.

Find out if any bills are included in the rent, eg council tax, water rates, gas etc. Allow for the ones that aren't in your budget.

The Professional Flatshare Agency (tel: 0171 589 5491) will help with expert advice on finding the best location, property and personalities to share with.

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