Finding a Flat - Part 5: Is this the One?

It's about time we settled down...

27 October, 2020

Is this flat searching getting ridiculous yet? (or was it ridiculous three articles ago?). I bet you’re wondering why we’ve kept at this nomadic lifestyle for so long. I can assure you that this wasn’t ever the plan. Our rough plan had been to find a place for a few months to see the lie of the land and then find a place for the next 20 or so months.

So we know that didn’t happen but what I can tell you now is that we’ve finally signed a twelve-month lease for a flat with the intent to stay put until we return home to NZ.

It’s about time.

Move in is on November 1st - five days away. If we’ve learnt anything over the last year though, it’s not to count your chickens before they hatch so we’ll be holding our breaths until we get handed the keys and actually set foot inside with our steadily expanding bags of acquisitions. We’ll need more than an Uber XL this time, but one trip in a van should do us just fine.

What place finally got the tick? Did our flat family stay intact? Let’s jump back and see how we got here:

🌄 Early stages

Simon and I didn’t really pull our weight early on in this round of flat hunting. In fact, I think we did as much as reply “👍” to a group chat message from R and J about a flat viewing. Given that we’d been able to find flats in two-week time frames, this timespan of over two months was a year in our eyes - it seemed like we had all the time in the world!

So we lived it up and enjoyed our summer road trip oblivious to the challenges ahead...while R and J dug into the laborious task of flat hunting.

Well, it was a nice road trip.

🎯 The search picks up

Around mid-September, we finally took the hint and jumped onto the flat search bandwagon. J’s friend H was desperate to move out of home so we had to bump up our search to look for flats for the five of us. Simon and I had just found a two-bed flat in the same Camden apartment that we loved but unfortunately that no longer fit our requirements...I’m still pining over it though. ❤️

As masses of flats popped through on the group chat, it was clear that we’d all have to compromise to find our happy middle; Simon and I kept finding places we liked from NW1 westward, whilst R and J kept pinging through flats from N1 eastward.

Finding somewhere in the middle basically narrowed our search down to...King’s Cross and...yep...basically just there.

The flat needed to be decent-sized as Simon, R, J and H would all be working from home. So even though we only needed three bedrooms, we needed at least four spaces for desks which meant that we really had to look for four to five bedroom flats with decent living spaces - a bit of a step up from one-bed flats.

R aptly named what we were looking for as the “unicorn flat” - our perfect flat that magically met everyone’s wants and needs. But did this “unicorn flat” even exist?


🔧 A spanner in the works

If finding a flat that we all liked wasn’t hard enough, a huge spanner in the works came with the discovery of the HMO licence requirement. Basically this meant that if we wanted to have five of us living somewhere, the property owner needed to have applied and paid for this licence and as we found out, a large proportion of property owners did not have it.

This now became the opening question to the letting agent with each new property we found. Some great properties had to be ruled out instantly which made the whole process ten times more frustrating. All of a sudden, it seemed like time was ticking on us to get a wriggle on.

🏘️ A round of viewings

Here we go:

  • Islington 4 bedroom flat

    Starting with the positives: It had a courtyard space, decent-sized kitchen and a separate living room. The negatives: It was pretty filthy and old-fashioned. The outdoor area was run down, it had creaky floors, old bathrooms and two of the bedrooms were literally shoeboxes - dibs not being stuck in one of them. The letting agent tried to pressure us into making an offer by saying that the group who viewed just before us had put in an offer. We didn’t bite and were pretty unconvinced at there being any truth behind the statement.

    Group verdict: Nope.

  • Angel 5 bedroom flat

    This flat had more promise. It was advertised as a four-bed flat but had three good-sized bedrooms (one was ginormous) as well as two tiny bedrooms that could make do as studies. It was split across four levels so we’d have the ground floor with kitchen/living space and then a floor each with bedrooms. There were a couple of bathrooms and an ensuite too so there wouldn’t be any fights in that corner.

    One of the current tenants talked frankly about some of the problems with the flat and *nudge nudge* suggested that some issues around heating, light fittings and the kitchen be addressed before signing anything. The place was also in desperate need of a professional clean; it was evident there’d been one too many parties held in this flat.

    After requesting that these issues were seen to, a not-so-friendly response from the letting agent showed that he would not be particularly easy to deal with.

    Group verdict: We might have dodged a bullet on that one.

  • St Katharine’s & Wapping 4 bedroom flat

    Were greeted by a lovely agent and led through a secure gated entrance. When we stepped into the flat, we were surprised to be greeted by the smell of curry and a man who was neither a tenant nor the owner. Apparently he was there doing work around the house but making the most of the kitchen after a day of work. Huh. Okay then.

    This flat had four bathrooms...holey moley! The kitchen was spacious and the bedrooms were decent sizes. There was a small living room with a study next door that could be used as work spaces. The light fixtures upstairs had either been taken out or weren’t connected up so we had to use our phones as torches like we were on a school camp. The glaring problem was that there was water damage we could see on the ceiling in the kitchen and we weren’t convinced that it was all good now. We also weren’t fans of the local area - the peace and quiet was nice but there’s a difference between quiet and a ZERO vibe, dead atmosphere. Simon and I hadn’t been fans of the Canary Wharf vibe and this was giving us clear flashbacks.

    Group verdict: Sadly, no.

💭 Plan A, B, C or D?

Contemplating our options on our way home, we basically whittled it down to four:

A). Continue looking in the current zones for a 3-5 bed flat

B). Expand our search area

C). Split into two groups (S+K), (J, R, H)

D). Ask for an extension on this current flat (but only for 3 months)

In discussing our options, we realised that we really were looking for different things with this next flat and the “unicorn flat” might just take too long to find. R was under a bit more time pressure as he would be heading back to NZ for a month so needed to have any flatting business sorted before he left. The easiest option seemed to be ‘C’ as it would be a lot easier to find one and two bedroom flats. We did inquire about extending the lease on our current flat for a short period of time (but this came back as a ‘no’ the next day).

“Unicorn flat” basically ruled out, we all began the search for smaller flats.


🏁 The final round of flat viewings

Recommencing our same old search for a one bedroom flat began as it always did: with posting an advertisement on SpareRoom. This time around, I received 88 messages over the next few weeks. Simon didn’t post an ad, so I won by default this time anyway.

Okay, for the final time I promise (but not pinky promise), here come the viewings:

  • West Hampstead 1 bedroom flat

    Could see ourselves living there. Nice kitchen and living space with a desk but lacked natural light and was in desperate need of a clean. Lovely quiet street although it just seemed too far west. It’s exactly the kind of place that we’d been looking for on previous rounds of flat hunting but after living out east, it felt like we were just too far away.

    Verdict: Could do better.

  • Kilburn 1 bedroom flat (ground floor)

    The first of three flats we viewed in the building. Nice high ceilings (although I’ll admit that they’re not a feature of houses that add any appeal to me), big bedroom with a bay window and lots of storage, and access to a shared garden out the back. There had been some serious water damage in the bedroom so it was looking in a right state when we viewed it.

    Verdict: Nope, let’s check out the next one.

  • Kilburn 1 bedroom flat (first floor)

    Ooh I like this one! I realised how much I missed having the plush feeling of carpet under my feet - all the flats we’ve lived in have had wooden floors. The kitchen was all modern and had a nice view out over the garden. The living room and bedroom were cosy but nicely furnished and the bathroom looked all good.

    Verdict: Maybe.

  • Kilburn 1 bedroom flat (top floor)

    Ooh me likey even more! Before we entered, we already knew that it was above our budget but we definitely had to see it since we were there. This one was back to wooden floors but had a stunning open plan kitchen and adequate living room space. The bathroom was modern and the bedroom had an abundance of natural light and a desk.

    Verdict: Would be nice but we should be firm on our budget...

    Even though we liked these two Kilburn flats, we couldn’t bring ourselves to sign up for a year of living there. We realised that we’d moved on from the area. It was on the other side of town to where R, J and H had successfully found a flat and just didn’t get us excited about living in London.

  • Angel 1 bedroom flat

    On the main road which I wasn’t a fan of to begin with. Was modern and nice enough inside but really didn’t inspire us. And there was only a half-sized fridge.

    Verdict: Boring and not cheap so nope.

  • Angel 1 bedroom flat

    I instantly felt happier being a couple of streets back from the main road with more of a suburby feel. There was a small balcony and modern kitchen and bathroom yet, it was another place that left me feeling a bit blah.

    Verdict: We could do better.

  • Camden 1 bedroom flat

    Upon first glance, we didn’t really think much of it. Seemed a bit darker than in the pictures and needed a bit of a tidy up. There was also a sheet covering the window in the bedroom so clearly some blinds were out of order. As we spent more time in the flat though, the idea of living there started to grow on me. It had a separate living area with a kitchen down the hallway. The toilet was separate from the shower and the double bedroom looked out over the back garden. There was definitely space for a desk for Simon and if we rearranged the furniture, I was sure there’d be room for a desk for me too.

    The rent had been reduced to get someone in so it was decently priced and the move in date could be any time from October 18th to the end of the month. Best of was just a stone's throw away from both an Aldi and a Lidl. Helloooo cheap groceries. (Proximity to an Aldi has been our #1 factor in selecting a flat since we discovered it in February. I’m not even joking). The flat was also close to Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Poundland, the tube and bus stops. Shall I go on? Regent’s park and King's Cross were both just a short cycle away. That sounds like London to me.

    Verdict: Can you guess yet?

  • Kentish Town 1 bedroom flat

    Becoming increasingly sold on the Camden flat, the bar was getting higher and higher for this one. Counting the metres away from the Aldi as we cycled into Kentish Town, I think I underappreciated the lovely wide streets and nice atmosphere of the area.

    The flat? I mean, it was gorgeous. I had high hopes for it after scrolling through the pictures online. The place was immaculately furnished and it would be a dream to cook in the kitchen (I’ve noted the benchtop colour and pattern in case I ever get to design my own kitchen). The bathroom was something else; it was a complete contrast to the rest of the house with dark walls, strip lighting and exotic furnishings. Very over-the-top but it did give the place character. The price was at our upper range but that wasn’t the biggest downfall here; we wouldn’t be allowed to bring bikes inside the house because they might scratch the walls. Are you for real? We were told we’d have to lock any bikes across the road in the bushes of a random car park. How about, no. Also, when we mentioned putting a desk in, the owner was clearly tossed into turmoil at even the thought of having to move his grand sofa half a metre to the side. Dare I even mention that I too wanted space for a desk? If this precious nature wasn’t enough of a deterrent, the nail in the coffin came when he said that he would collect rent once per month in cash, which we also figured meant a flat inspection EVERY MONTH. Dodgy and intrusive.

    Verdict: We’re out.

Well, have you cracked the code Sherlock?

We went with the Camden 1 bedroom flat.

😶‍🌫️ Now what happens?

Like I said, move in is in five days and if you don’t see an article headline on your news feed flashing ‘Finding a Flat - Part 6: We got it all wrong’, then you can safely assume that we made a half-decent call on this flat.

Almost a year after Simon arrived in London and we’ve finally signed a year-long lease. Crazy that at the end of this lease, it’ll be time to leave the country and return home!

As much as it’s been a hassle, I think know we’ve both learned a great deal throughout this whole flat-finding process. We’ve met some great and erm...interesting people along the way and have grown a lot ourselves. Having done 40 viewings and investigated hundreds of flats online, we have a much better idea of what is out there.

I’m sure there’s a whole lot more that we’ll learn in this new flat - say - hang on...

How do you set up gas? 🔥

What about water? 💧

Which internet provider is the cheapest and most reliable? 🌐

We haven't done this on our own yet.


I suppose we'd better get onto those asap or we'll be living in the Dark Ages paying London rent! Who knew living involved so much life admin? 🙈🙉🙊