Finding a Flat - Part 3: Hunting for a Gem

Quest for the perfect (or at least 'good') flat

18 October, 2020

🌋 Doomsday hits

Less than a week after realising that this whole COVID thing was a pretty big deal, reality was brought a lot closer to home with the double whammy of school closing and hearing the heart-dropping news that T was not going to rent out his Maida Vale flat to us anymore. Having already paid the deposit, sent through ID and references, and planned our current lodger agreement around the move in date, this definitely felt like a blow. Concerned about his new flat falling through and worried about his job security, T had decided that his safest option was to simply stay put.

There goes our Good Place dream.

There goes work as we know it.

❔ Now what?

Many questions were now raised as it appeared that COVID was going to have a huge impact on day-to-day life; Should we just fly home? What if we get stuck in the UK and won’t have the option to fly home later? What if we catch the virus while travelling and spread it to our families? Where would we self-isolate? Would we be able to keep our jobs if we left the UK? Would it be better to be home but jobless? Could we even book a flight to leave in a day? If we stayed, why stay in the centre of London? Could we move out of town to somewhere cheaper? What if school reopened at short notice? And so the list went on...

This was the worst time to be in limbo. We’d made a conscious effort to use up consumables before moving into this temporary lodging and now everywhere we went, the supermarket shelves had been stripped bare. We had barely any food and were down to our last roll of toilet paper.

After visiting every supermarket within walking range at various times throughout the next couple of days, we managed to create our own stockpile to hide under our bed.

Sustenance sorted. Back to our normal day jobs: Flat hunting.

🔁 The cycle begins again

There was a feeling of normality with the recommencement of flat searching. Muscle memory typed 'SpareRoom' and selected ‘West Hampstead -- Living Space -- Non-smoker’ as the browser found itself overwhelmed with a screen of tabs faster than a loo roll aisle could be stripped by a mob of frantic shoppers. Our decision to stay was made with the knowledge that moving home would mean giving up jobs which were currently stable and the possible risk of carrying the virus and passing it onto people back home. Now there was only one thing to do: Bring on the viewings. Again, I've used an initial in the place of any names.

  • Paddington 1 bedroom flat

    Met a friendly guy B who chatted to us about the whole issue of the population’s mental health in the months or even years to come due to this COVID outbreak. The flat was below street level which we weren’t fans of but, being quite long, there were several different spaces that we could break out into if we were stuck at home.

    Verdict: Nothing flashy but could work.

  • Paddington 1 bedroom flat (D part 1)

    Met D (not for the last time) and his wife. It immediately became apparent that D was the talker and his wife, who waited in the car, was the one who actually knew all the facts and figures. As D guessed at the contents of each cupboard in all of the properties to come, it became almost comical. “I’m sure this is extra storage...oops no that’s the boiler.” “This one has a big fridge...ahh no it seems not.” “There might be a dishwasher. Ha. It appears not. Oh well you don’t need one anyway.” “There’s another room in here. Ah silly me, that’s just the cupboard under the stairs.” “The bills are £60 per month.” [1 minute later] “So that makes the bill total around £120-150 per month.” etc etc. He seemed like a pretty nice guy who meant well though.

    So anyway, this place was ground level and had separate doors accessed through the shared hallway for the living room/bedroom area and the kitchen/bathroom area. Pretty weird to have to leave the house to go to the other part. The living room instantly had a lovely homely feel and even had a fold out sofa bed for guests. The bedroom was also nice and looked out onto a little courtyard. The kitchen and bathroom were both new but on the small side and the fridge and storage spaces were limited.

    Verdict: Shortlisted.

  • Regent’s Park studio flat (D part 2)

    D again! A few minutes walk down the road, this was on the third (top) floor and looked out across the wide footpaths towards Regent’s Park. It had a decent kitchen and big fridge, good bathroom and a nice living/bedroom space. But it was a studio flat which meant that there was nowhere to escape or break out to. This was not ideal, especially in the case of both of us working from home for a period of time. I was more keen on this flat than Simon (and vice versa for the previous flat).

    Verdict: Shortlisted.

  • Holcroft Court studio flat

    I hadn’t met anyone so hard to talk to in a long time. Zero chat. Would swipe left on A’s profile. The flat wasn’t bad but the whole lack of chat and selling of the place really put a downer on the viewing. It was quite small and consisted of only two spaces; the bathroom and the kitchen/dining/living/sleeping area. There was pretty loud construction noise on the street but this surprisingly couldn’t be heard from the flat. New kitchen appliances were a perk and the living room felt homely but again, being a studio, it meant that the bed was smooshed into the living room space and there was just a dainty curtain to indicate that it was a bedroom space. A also owned the slightly bigger flat next door which, once finished in a week’s time, would also be available as a one bedroom flat. Could make do, but geez it would be a bit squished long term and we did not want to deal with A as a landlord.

    Verdict: Nope.

  • Marylebone studio flat

    Walked in. Instant no. Way. Too. Small. Hardly any room to walk around and an under-equipped kitchen for doing any decent cooking. Not to mention, it was below street level so wouldn’t get much natural light. The place was clean, tidy and new enough but just no.

    Verdict: Do I really have to say it again? No.

  • Regent’s Park 1 bedroom flat (D part 3)

    Expecting to meet yet another agent, walking along the same street a day later felt like deja vu, but strangely specifically, a moment from a video game where you walk up to an NPC (Non Player Character).

    Imagine this: Spyro (Simon) trotting along the wide paved street, puffing smoke out of his nose, with his trusty sidekick Sparx the dragonfly (me) flying along behind trying to keep up whilst collecting gems along the way. Slowly angling towards the NPC, Spyro and I came to a halt, orientated ourselves to face the character (D) front on and hit the circle button to interact. He sprang to life “Oh hello. You look familiar...Spyro! Still hunting for a gem? Follow me along this secret passageway for the place you are looking for!” ...or something like that.

    Okay, so this place was similarly furnished to the studio flat in the same block but had a separate living area to bedroom. It wasn’t big but could work. D upturned the bed looking for extra storage which surprise surprise wasn’t there, and then proceeded to break the blinds. The poor NHS worker currently occupying the flat was just trying to eat her dinner in peace and instead must’ve felt like the Gestapo had come around to raid the house.

    Verdict: No arrest. Sorry, I meant - we’d shortlist it and politely occupy it if it ended up being the most desirable territory.

  • Regent’s Park studio flat (D part 4)

    After Sparx (that’s me), posed “You don’t happen to have any other gems in this area do you?”, we were led up to a studio flat almost identical to the one we saw the day before, just on the second rather than third floor.

    Verdict: Not the one.

    Parting ways with D the NPC after he awkwardly glitched and walked past his wife on the street corner (you needed to be there 😂), Spyro and Sparx still had a feeling that their quest was not over yet.

  • Highbury 1 bedroom flat

    Seemed like a fit! A lovely one bedroom flat which was normally AirBnb’d out. It had a beautifully furnished living/dining area, good bathroom and cute kitchen. Although it was tight on space in the bedroom, we were sure we could make do.

  • Verdict: Let’s go for it (and quickly)

🐣 Don't count your chickens

We were pretty keen on the place so I quickly texted the landlord, S, to say that we’d be keen to accept her pre-viewing price offer. There was another couple looking immediately afterwards so it was important that we got in first as S had said she would go with whoever she heard back from first. Message sent! Nice work team. We were excited about the prospect of finally having a place and treated ourselves to some bakery items from the local Lidl.

But then how does someone’s word hold up when there’s money on the line?

Apparently it doesn’t mean anything.

As quickly as we were flooded with optimism, we had the plug pulled on us and were again left empty handed. That evening, we received a message back from S saying that the couple that viewed after us offered £200 more per month and could move in immediately so she was going with them. Already at the top end of our budget and two weeks away from the end of our short term lodging agreement, there wasn’t even anything we could offer. Feeling salty, we weren’t really in the mood for S’s offer of viewing her studio flat just down the road from where we’d already bused to that morning so we didn’t bother on take two there.

🌟 Striking gold

And so the search continued (but thankfully not for long)…

  • Edgeware Road 1 bedroom flat

    Not terrible but the carpet looked a bit old and there wasn’t a lot of space.

    Verdict: Ruled out.

  • Camden 1 bedroom flat

    Stepped in and it looked...


    Verdict: Easiest yes ever.

  • Paddington studio flat - Viewing cancelled

  • Highbury studio flat - Viewing cancelled

  • West Hampstead 1 bedroom flat via video call

    Verdict: Nah not keen.

  • Numerous SpareRoom messages unreplied to with offers to view...

⏳ The waiting game

After saying yes to the Camden flat, we were understandably hesitant about celebrating the end of the flat hunt. A contract was sent through with a few clauses that didn’t seem relevant and some we wanted clarification on so we sent back amendments. No reply.

Next came the announcement from Boris that lockdown would be tightened. This meant that you weren’t allowed to leave the house for anything other than grocery shopping, 1 hour of exercise or essential work. Well, sh- sugar.

Hearts pounding, we immediately emailed the agent again about the flat. No reply. I was sure we’d been duped. If nail biting was my coping mechanism, my fingers would’ve been stripped to the bone. A painfully long two days later, Simon exchanged a brief call with the agent who conveyed a very unreassuring message of “It’s going ahead”. Thursday wasn’t much better; just a hasty text stating “alg”. We were due to move in the next day.

🧳 Move in day

With bags fully packed, yet no contract signed or down-payment, we ventured on the bus to Camden.

Posing with shopping bags and backpacks of canned food to provide justification of travelling during lockdown, this was a deceptively nerve-racking trip.

An almost empty bus occupied by a few people wearing masks made for a quiet trip around Regent’s Park, with time to imagine all sorts of potential scenarios; being jilted at the altar and showing up to nothing being recurring concerns.

So did the perfect flat become home? Read on in Finding a Flat - Part 4: Lockdown & Lady Luck