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Trouble with flat-hunting in London: advice?
James has been in London for six days. He set up three flat viewings in as much time, but never even got to look at those flats, because, on the mornings of the days in which the viewings were meant to take place, the letting agents always called back and said, sorry, the flat's gone. He has another viewing set up for tomorrow, but I'm afraid the same thing is going to happen. In short, I'm afraid it's going to keep happening. He can only set up viewings after 5:00 PM, as he can't take time out of work to do it. I can't help by setting up viewings earlier in the day and attending them because, well, I'm stuck in Leeds till the end of November (which is when we need to have a flat lined up).

Have any of you ever had to flat-hunt in London?

If you ran into this problem, what did you do to beat it?

ETA: Many thanks to those of you who have given advice. It's been helpful!

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I'm afraid that's how it goes down here. If he does see a flat he likes he has to grab it straight there and then or the next person viewing it 10 minutes later will pay the deposit and it'll be gone. In my experience I've never been able to rent a place that has been already listed and available to view, it's been the case of going to the letting agents and telling them what I'm after and they pull something out of their sleeve, they tend to have a list of properties that aren't quite yet on the market but will be in the next few days/weeks and you can view them before the previous tenant has moved out.

In the cases of these (non)viewings, the present tenants hadn't yet moved out. As for letting agents you'd recommend, names?

Edited at 2010-10-14 06:08 pm (UTC)

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Granted, I've never looked for a flat in London, but... have you checked craigslist or something like that? Do people always go through a listing agent or do they rent on their own sometimes?

Gumtree is a nightmare. Lots of the independently-listed ones in our price-range - in fact, nearly all of them that we attempted to pursue - turned out to be scammers. It looks as if letting agents are really the only way to find a place that's not terribly dodgy.

Having house-hunted in London three times, my advice is this: go to every estate agent in the area you're looking in and register with them to see whatever they have available that they haven't listed on a website yet or that they know will be coming open soon. That's how I found my lovely flat in Ealing after every single one I found online was gone before I even called about them. Your best bet is to find one estate agent that you respond to, personality-wise (because there are a LOT of jerky ones who will try to show you loads of things out of your price range in the hope of getting a better commission), and try to get them to give you a heads up on things coming to market soon.

And pray.

You also have to remember you're moving at the worst possible time - students are still arriving and finding places, so you're in competition for people looking in your price range and general area. :/ Students always look in central London in my experience (and this was confirmed by one estate agent I got really friendly with, who told me that unless you can afford £2000/month you won't find anything decent within Zone 1 to the west - we were in Z3 in Ealing and had an easy, cheap time but I realize that isn't practical for the Tower). My real advice is give up on Bayswater, Kens&Chelsea, Hammersmith, Notting Hill, whatever. Anything in the centre is going to be a nightmare. Look at Elephant & Castle and towards the east because there are a LOT of cheap(er) up-and-coming developments and redevelopments out there. Yeah, it's not the glitzy London life, but it will be easier and more practical to find something away from the centre and you get a MUCH nicer sense of community/small town feeling.

James is staying with a friend of ours in Sydenham. To give you an idea, we consider that a bit too far out. I don't want to sound like an idiot, or naive, but he's been hitting Kensington & environs the hardest; the one he's seeing (hopefully) tomorrow is somewhere in Camden, I think. The one he was supposed to be looking at today was near Gloucester Road tube.

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You have my sympathy - I had to flat-hunt in London a few years ago & found it to be a bit of a frustrating experience. After having the same problem with replying to Gumtree ads only to find that they'd already gone, my friend and I ended up going through letting agents (can't remember which ones we used now, maybe Foxtons and/or Winkworth?) to find our flat.

One thing I would strongly recommend is to be really damn firm when telling them what you do and don't want. For example, when my friend and I were just starting out (& had that wide-eyed look of naivety about us!), we were constantly getting shown things that were WAY over our budget or ex-council flats (in disgusting condition), because the agent was trying to get more money out from us or off-load an awful property. By the end, we got quite dictatorial: we'd march into the agents & be all 'No ex-council flats, and when we say that this is our maximum rent budget then by God, we really mean it! So don't even think about trying anything more than that. Punk.'

Good luck with your search. London's huge, so I'm sure you'll find something nice eventually.

Thanks for the advice.

(And I hope that's true. I'm not used to flat-hunting being like this; I'm used to, you know, being able to get in the door and at last take a look.)

My bro's been house-hunting since August. It's pretty much impossible, except to do things immediately. I'd go with what everyone else has suggested, which is to register with as many agents as possible. And, you really really can't waffle over a place. If you do see somewhere you like, take it there and then. You won't be able to go back for a second look, because it will be gone. We had a really great experience using Stirling Ackroyd, but then, we were buying a place, so I don't know how'd they work out for renting.

And, as suggested, expand to look outside of the centre. The east is becoming more and more popular. I'd say Camberwell and Oval over E&C (just....not a particularly great place to walk around at night), New Cross, Rotherhithe, Tower Hamlets - definitely not the glitz and glamour of the West End and centre, but neat places, and more affordable.

The only other advice is, given the rate things go, look first thing in the morning before leaving for work, and over your lunchbreaks, and, if you can, at any breaks you have during the day, in order to set up appointments that evening. You really do have to look at things as soon as you see them, if you can only make appointments through the web.

I'm assuming most letting agents in London have Saturday hours, too, or at least they had better, because that's the only time he really has. And I can't do anything, obviously, because I'm not physically there.

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I'd just say what other people have said, which is think about east! You can get more for your money and often the market's a bit slower. For instance, if you went out to Stratford, or even as far as Woodford, you get WAY more for your money than you do in zone 1 or 2, and having lived out that way myself I know the market is competitive but not crazy. The central line is fairly reliable and at Stratford, for instance, you can also get the Jubilee line. You can also dare places like Mile End - not as grubby as they used to be. There are some good areas in north London - my bro's had a great year in Finsbury Park, and they actually viewed their flat twice before taking it so clearly there wasn't an insane rush on. (Though that was a flat for 4 people, so they may move slower than 1-2 beds.)

Is there any chance you could go down for a couple of days and make on-the-day appointments?

I'm going down Halloween weekend and the weekend of 12 November, but that's not terribly helpful. I can't spare any more time, given I'm still working full-time in Leeds up through 26 November. I can't spare any weekdays; I've used up all my hols, and I need the money.

It's my 10th Londoniversary coming up, which means it's been 10 years since I first flat-hunted here and at that time it was still done via a paper copy of Loot. I do remember seeing about a dozen flats, including some very strange ones, in one panic-stricken Saturday.

Seconding having a look northwards. I know a couple of people who've had lovely flats in Finsbury Park/Crouch End. Further along the Piccadilly Line (one of the most reliable and the latest running) I can recommend a lovely estate agency for Turnpike Lane/Wood Green/Bounds Green (absolute lifesavers when our house-buying went awry, they found us a gorgeous short-term let with no hassle and no over-charging).

That Bayswater/Notting Hill area really isn't an easy place to flathunt! My skating coach - who can do daytime viewings - spent weeks looking for somewhere there.

Also! I think I totally failed to comment on your original moving-to-London post, but yay! And congratulations to James on the job! *hangs out the welcome bunting*

Knight Frank Lettings

I had similar problems when I moved to London 5 years ago then a friend suggested Knight Frank. I thought they would have been beyond my budget because I've always thought of them as working in the top end of the property market but they did have quite a few flats I could afford. Cut a long story short I got a place in east London with them and stayed there for 2 years before my job took me overseas. When I returned last year I called them again and they are great, so helpful, they don't mess you around, they're upfront and you get a sense they want to find you somewhere you will be happy and they're there to work for you. Incidently, I tried Gumtree a couple of times and there are so many ads on there and the places don't exist, it's basically people in Nigeria or somewhere trying to scam you for your card details!

The first (and hardest) decision is where you want to live. This will depend on where you work and I presume that you will want good connections to Kings Cross and Leeds.

The Sydenham line is now served by the London Overground and it is a relatively easy trip to Whitechapel and then Hammersmith and City to Kings Cross. In 2016 we are due to get direct services to St Pancras.

If Sydenham is too far out, you could try Honor Oak (very pleasant and five minutes up the line) or Brockley.

Once you've decided on the area, register with all the local estate agents and be prepared to jump - most firms understand that you need to house hunt when you move to the area and will let you go during the first few weeks (It's a good indicator of how good a firm they are to work for)

Good luck with the house hunting

I've flat-hunted 3 times in as many years in London, and I was in the position to look during weekdays, but we never took a place right away. The boy would come to the ones I selected and see them over the weekend.

To be honest, I'm surprised by how fast these flats are going. That said, I have been flat-hunting at this time of year before (last year, in fact), with a late November move-in date, and agents didn't seem to get serious until November began. So maybe it's not just the market that's moving fast. In my experience, this isn't unusual. They're more keen on people who can move in as soon as possible. Most landlords want 2 months' notice, but from experience I think there's not much point in looking before the final month before the move. Yes, there has always been that one-month period when we've known we were leaving a place and not known where we were going, but after the first time, I learned that I didn't want to waste my time with agents who weren't keen to take care of me.

I think you will be all right even if you don't find a place this month. We took a flat 2 weeks before we had to move and actually, this gave us an upper hand in the bargaining. Keep in mind that a flat that is still on the market in the middle of November is also in the position of not being let before the holidays and potentially till after the new year as hardly anyone will be looking in December. They will try really hard to make a deal work.

Have you looked at which tube lines or buses you prefer to use for the daily commute? I find that using the Transport for London website to check commuting times from various postcodes can be helpful. If he works at the Tower of London then definitely check out the seriously buzzy East. The South East is linked well to the center, too.

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