Living abroad: how to find a place to live in London

Probably one of the most difficult places to find an apartment or any place to live is London. When I found out I was moving to London for my work I heard the scary stories from all sides: finding something is nearly impossible, and once you find something you pay the jackpot. I am definitely not the expert on finding a place to live in London, but I can share my experiences in my search for a place to live.

How to find a place

In my experience the most successful method to find a place to live anywhere is to use your connection; put a post on Facebook to see if anybody in your connection circle knows something (that is actually how I found my current place to live in Stockholm). Unfortunately I was less successful in London with this approach and I was forced to use the standard websites. If it is an urban legend or not, but it is said that rooms are on average available for just 4 hours, so quick responses are essential. As I quickly realized finding a place in London requires you to be present in London, as all flats require you to visit.

So, once you found yourself in London (book a hostel first) and you got yourself a UK sim card the easiest way is to subscribe to the following websites:

  • IntoLondon: a highly used website with continuous new listings. You can select based on price and preferred area. It is advisable to slightly pay for a few days full access to have immediate the phone number available to arrange a viewing.
  • Spareroom: a similar website as Intolondon, and claims that a new place is listed every three minutes.
  • Gumtree: a generic market place website where a variety of items are offered. In my experience this website is slightly more receptive for scams than the previous two (as soon as a reply follows with a story of a person being abroad and keys will be send you know you are being scammed)

All these adds usually advertise an e-mail address and phone number. In these cases always just call, as e-mail usually doesn’t yield any result. When finding a place abroad online I always do a check; just google the e-mail address, phone number, name, or even the reply to see if you get any hits. When finding a place in Sweden I think I received at least 10 scam e-mails!

Another slightly more old-fashioned way is to go down to your desired area and look around at local stores. These stores usually have a board where people can post advertisement for rooms. I started out like this, and actually provides you with usually cheaper options than one of the websites above.

Price and Location

So, you know which websites to use. But which areas to live in and how much money should you expect to pay? These two are of course going hand in hand. Since London is huge (obviously!) and transport throughout the city is not quick it makes sense to check which side of London your university/job/whatever is to avoid extreme long treks throughout the city. The popular areas in the city centre are of course also the most expensive areas to live. In these areas paying 1000 pounds a month for a room in a shared house are considered to be good deals…..

IMG_9024
St. Pauls cathedral

If your wallet doesn’t stretch that far it is worthwhile looking around in other areas slightly further from the ultimate city centre. In general, if you are living close to a tube station you are able to get around easy anyway. I found myself in the end in an area called West Hampstead. West Hampstead is known as a relative quiet neighborhood. But it had a high street with shops, cute restaurants, gastro pubs, and most important, a tube station on the Jubilee line. For me this was the perfect place to live with relative affordable prices (600 pounds for a room in a shared house, or around 750 pounds for a tiny 1 person studio).

All in all it can be said that in order to find a place to live in London it is key be there once you start looking. I looked for three weeks from home without success. Once I was in London on a Saturday morning it took me 4 visits (starting with a coffin basically, and ending with my little studio) and about 20 calls to find a place to live, which I found that same Saturday evening. So finding a place in London is very doable; you need to be prepared to pay and be prepared to spend a day on the phone.

Good luck!

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