Finding a Flat - Part 1: From East to West

20 September, 2020

I wrote the majority of this way back in March but never published it because it felt "too soon" and I was worried about identifying anyone. Nearly half a year on and I figure that we've probably had enough time pass to share a bit of the good and a splash of the bad experiences we've had in finding a flat. I've had to leave out a few of my favourite parts but I'll let you in on the other 90%. Here goes:

The thought of finding a flat on the other side of the world, with each of us only having experienced flatting ten minutes from our family homes, was a daunting prospect. How could we find a flat before arriving? Where in London should we look? How far should we expect to commute to work? What kind of price range should we expect? How lucky would we get with finding flatmates?

A few months into our time here and we’re by no means experts, but we’ve definitely learnt a fair bit and had our share of interesting experiences. This is not a guide, but rather an unfinished (and ever-so-slightly embellished) chapter story of two twenty-something year old Kiwis and our flatting adventures in London.

Let’s start at the very beginning (...a very good place to start):

📋 Prologue

A quick rundown to set the scene for you: Simon is a software engineer and I am a primary school teacher. Around the middle of 2019, Simon got offered a job working in London. With a flexible start date, he decided to fly over and start work at the beginning of November. I needed to work until the last day of the school year so I flew over to join him in late December. Each of us organised a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa to allow us to live and work in the UK for two years.

💻 Pre-arrival search

Kiwis in London Facebook flat post

Looking for an excuse to get out of marking the mountain of books on my desk, I spent a few too many sunny afternoons daydreaming away to the nostalgic tune of Warwick Avenue with 50 tabs open looking at flats all around London. In reality, I had no idea what I was looking for and in the end, it took a very late hustle from Simon to actually get a flat sorted. Well, when I say 'hustle', I mean a search on the Kiwis in London Facebook page. There you can find a weekly post for Kiwis to advertise their flats for rent or sell themselves as the usual ‘tidy young professional, social but respectful’ potential flatmate.

💪 Simon secured Canary Wharf flat share

After extensive hours **cough, cough** of searching areas of London and CSI background checks into potential flatmates, Simon was sold on the vacant business district of Canary Wharf and the free gym access offered with the advertised flat **again, cough cough**. A virtual tour with the non-stop talking of one of his future flatmates and a check by a friend already living in London convinced him to swoop in and take up the short term accommodation until December 20th.

🛬 Arrival in the Motherland

Simon ventured across the world with nothing but his suitcase, backpack, clothes on his back and a cap that would never get worn cause when is it EVER sunny in London? He made his way to his uncle’s house and proceeded to fall asleep as he waited to meet numerous members of the family clan.

🏢 Canary Wharf Chapter 1

Simon endured 6 weeks of living in the heart of the business district a.k.a. the ghost town of Canary Wharf. Arguably the only 'normal' flatmate willing to ask the absurd question “How was your day?” in the flat, he went about with his day-to-day routine of working, rock climbing and grocery shopping. Resorting to toast and soup for dinner on the odd occasion brought with it much head shaking and the offer of cooking lessons to enable him to cook a ‘proper dinner’.

Frequent calls home kept Simon sane as he dealt with the diametrically opposed duo of the prolific chatterbox and the Marvel-Mad recluse who would even give up watching his favourite scene in a movie to escape social interaction beyond “hello”. Despite this, upon Simon falling sick, the Marvel-Mad Superman came to the rescue, cooking fresh pancakes and mixing up cups of Lemsip. What a nice guy.

The flat itself was in a gated complex, six floors up with a view out over a park. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living/dining room, an interesting ‘L-shaped’ kitchen and sparkling new appliances. The clincher First World Problem with the flat (because there is always one) was that it was too well heated; to the point where you’d go from hypothermic to hyperthermic in a matter of seconds upon entry. One wouldn’t dare be spotted leaving a window ajar or face being pounced on by the watchful eyes of the residing duo who thrived in this sauna temperature. Oh and there was ALWAYS food left out on the counters. ALWAYS.

🌃 Canary Wharf Chapter 2

Come the end of the year and I too got to experience the life of leftovers and dried meat sprawled across kitchen benches and living-on-the-edge with strict window-opening restrictions. The 20 minute power walk to the underground station, made worse by the chilling winds and never-ceasing darkness, found its only reprieve in the accessibility to the silky smooth Belgium choccy milk located conveniently in the Tesco along the walk home.

Out of the blue, one standard Saturday, it was discovered that every good Marvel-Mad introvert has their inner crazy. Say no more than pio, pio

🎄 Almost West Kensington

After arranging a 3-month sublet on December 1st, Simon and I were excited about the prospect of moving into the perfectly-sized, lower ground flat with a dwarf-sized Christmas tree in the fancy pancy area of West Kensington. There was just one got given to someone else.

This was only to be discovered by Simon at the beginning of the New Year via a text replying “Sorry I tried to contact you. But ye.” I was due to start work on Monday 6th of January and had already planned out the first weekly shop and was poised with my copy of Nadia Lim's Vegful in one hand and a handful of kale in the other. Little did we know, this wasn’t the first time something would fall through...

😞 Canary Wharf Chapter 3

So now we had to go crawling back to the duo happily watching a Marvel movie while eating 2-day-old unrefrigerated pizza and ask for an extension on the lease. As long as we promised to never again open our bedroom window to breathe, a rolling week-by-week rent arrangement was agreed upon.

A desperate search on AirBnb to try and find somewhere near our workplaces ensued to no avail so on Monday, the 55 minute commute to work began for me and continued for Simon. Every day was the same routine; wake up at the newly-considered ungodly hour of 6, power walk past the controversial Breakingviews headlines spanning the buildings of Reuters Plaza and into the sparkly grey chasm of the Jubilee tube, Simon to transfer at Green Park and me at Baker Street.

🏘️ Flat hunting for two

After a half-hearted search on SpareRoom, there were two flats that surfaced within the realms of our workplaces. Good start. The first was a room in West Hampstead which needed filling until the end of the lease in mid-March. The flat was on the top two floors of a red brick Victorian terraced house with a huge master bedroom and masses of natural light. Not to mention, it had easy-going (sorry, what was it again…? 'tidy young professional, social but respectful') flatmates also in their mid-twenties. The only weird thing was the small horseshoe-shaped kitchen with a door shutting it off from the hallway and dining room.

The next flat viewing was in Bayswater and although it was also top floor, it looked more run down, was much more tight on space and had fewer windows. The only flatmates were a couple who would sometimes be away in France thus leaving the flat free (hooray) but it seemed like they wouldn’t be the easiest to mesh with. After this grand total of two flat viewings, it was clear that the West Hampstead flat would be a great fit, and even if it wasn’t, it was only for a couple of months.

🏡 Happily at home in Hampstead

With a suburby feel, abundance of natural light, sound of birds and easy commute on the 139 bus, this felt so much more like home. I either walked or ran the 3km home from work and the discovery of the Aldi supermarket in Kilburn made for huge savings in our weekly shopping.

Catching the tube or overground was within minutes walk away and Hampstead Heath was just a stone’s throw away (if only we weren't constantly suffering from mild sickness). The kitchen proved great for cooking with a person either side of the horseshoe, as long as no one tried to enter the room while the fridge was open! Our early dramas of setting off the fire alarm, tripping of the upstairs circuit breaker, blocked sink and almost flooded kitchen, followed by the discovery of the broken microwave proved NOT to be a sign of things to come and all was well.

Not a believer in happily ever after and want to read on?

Check out Finding a Flat - Part 2: Spreadsheets & Decisions

Spreadsheet of flat options