I don't want to live in a shoebox: Playing London's perilous property game

How can finding somewhere decent to live be so difficult?

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The Independent Online

Hiiiii, Laura here from Bloodleech Lettings. I have a property that would be PERFECT for you. RIGHT up your street, so to speak. It's newly renovated, close to transport, double bedrooms and all mod cons. Give me a call back, this WILL go VERY quickly.

Flat-hunting is hard work, even more so as prices continue to boom. Chequebooks in hand, punters elbow each other out of the way as they enquire sweetly about council tax bands and storage space. You try to remember details of each mediocre flat as you trudge from viewing to viewing, which by lunchtime will inevitably have melded into one dreary dwelling. But, most importantly, you quickly have to learn a whole new language.

We're all canny enough to know by now that “cosy” means small, “charming” means falling down, and “rustic” means a barn. But what I wasn't prepared for was that newly renovated = building site, close to transport = two buses a day and that “double bedrooms” will always be counted as double if one can shoehorn a bed in. I won't bat an eyelid when the day finally arrives that I see a bed wedged at a 60-degree angle into a ‘double’.

I haven’t seen the worst of them though, and I’m certainly not alone. Currently there are eight million people privately renting in the UK, and this figure looks set to rise thanks to tougher mortgage constraints and skyrocketing property prices.

There has been much uproar about the bed-in-the-kitchen offering near King’s Cross in London that appeared on RightMove advertised for £170 a week. And there was some interest, so imagine how crushed spirits must be to get to that point. (Although maybe they all saw the opportunities for breakfast in bed?)

I may not be in shoebox territory just yet, but I am reaching breaking point. At one viewing, after enquiring about the floral tributes next door: “Yes, they're pretty, aren't they?” “Was someone murdered there?” “Um... I'll have to check...” On seeing a filthy flat: “Will it be cleaned before it's let?” Um, well I guess you could stipulate that within your offer“. Staring in disbelief at a kicked-in front door: ”Yeah, it's a really nice area.“

Of course, there are other perils to flat hunting. The “two-bedroom” that lacks a sitting room. Because the second bedroom’s in it. The mysterious odours from the chip shop/curry house/pet crematorium downstairs. The potentially noisy neighbours. The potentially dull neighbours who think you’re noisy. The many many tiny, terrifying, dark, dank bathrooms.

In the words of Ms Doolittle: all I want is a room somewhere. Anywhere. Well, in Zone 2, preferably. With nothing growing on the bathroom walls. In my price range, of course. Furnished. On a tube line. Ooh, a dishwasher would be nice? Or a balcony? A Waitrose around the corner would be handy (a Sainsbury’s would do). And a lovely twinkly little "local", of course, with a roaring fire and a kindly landlord accustomed to my Irish drinking-up times.

I shouldn’t moan, really, because I actually have found a lovely flat. A Victorian conversion, hardwood floors, brand-new marble bathroom. Quiet street with the added bonus of having a Sainsbury’s on the corner with its bakery pumping out fresh bread scents practically as far as my window. (That may actually be the best bit).

And it’s within my price range - well, my upwardly-revised one, oof. Yes, I really like this flat. Now I have the agonising wait to see whether it likes me back.

You see, this is the catch. Estate agents put a lot of energy into wooing you. So much that you sometimes can’t help but turn into a sullen, paranoid shrew, wrinkling your nose at every creaky door and sneering at every fudged answer.

You’ve been like a bad date, twirling your hair and chewing gum while they earnestly tried to explain how the storage heaters worked. And now… now it might be too late.

You anxiously turn on the charm as you realise that you have competition. You stop ignoring the phone calls. In fact, you start calling and leaving panicky, too-bright messages telling them how keen you are. You just want one more chance to prove what a great tenant you can really be….

So, elbows sharpened, smile sunny and a desperate look in my eyes, I’m about to make an offer. Wish me luck. And if all else fails, I’ll console myself with the fact that in my new kitchen-flat, I’ll be able to reach the kettle without leaving the bed. Pass the Pop-Tarts.