FINDING A ROOM IN LONDON

Hundreds of students and young professionals live the same situation: some are looking for a place to move in, some have just found it after a desperate and long search, and wish their renting contract would be renewed. I’ve been looking for a room for two months, and saw a lot of grotesque flats before I’ve found a suitable one.

Picture: Yanivba

The first way to start a research is through the Internet: a lot of websites host adverts of any kind, including flatshares. Easyroommate, Gumtree, Intolondon, Loot, Spareroomare the most popular.

A few words to introduce yourself, some options to define the search by area, kind of room, price range and preferences about housemates, smokers and pets. Apparently, the more specific the advert is written, the better the search will be.

However, there’s a high risk of being contacted by some landlords who offer beautiful flats or studios in very central areas and with low prices. Where is the problem? To see the flat, you need to pay.

I have received at least a dozen emails from different people saying all the same thing, even with the same formula: “Because of negative experiences with tenants in the past, my lawyer and I have decided to carry out a simple test on your financial ability before coming for viewing.”

They want the scanned receipt of a £500 transfer that you should make to a friend or a relative through Western Union. “To allow my lawyer verify its availability, the payment must be confirmed valid before the receiver picks up the money,” they write. At the end of the mail they also add: “Of course, I will refund back to you the cost of the transfer when we meet.”

They shouldn’t be able to get the money without a valid ID card, but it’s better not to take the risk.

Surfing the Internet is not the only way to look for a room. “You can try to ask the estate agencies of the area you’re interested in,” said Cecilia, 24, who has been living in London since September, and added: “I had been looking around for weeks and I’ve eventually found this house from an estate agency. I collected five friends and now we’re sharing it.”

But what if you’re alone?

“I’m sorry, we don’t deal with flatshares, we only rent the whole apartment,” said Mark, estate agent of Chesterton Humberts in Clifton road. “Give me your details and I’ll let you know if I have something available,” said Ann of West 9 Properties in Shirland road – but she had never called back. “You can have a look to the adds outside newsagents shops,” said John, who works at Goldschmidt & Howland in Maida Vale.

Local shop owners allow people to stick adds of any kind to their shop windows. The problem is that often they leave them for months and houses are no longer available.

As there are a lot of requests in this field, some other agencies are specialized in renting only single or double rooms: one of them is called Interlet.

In their website they show pictures of attractive apartments – which are said to be available at the moment – with reasonable prices in almost every area of London.

For example, £130 per week for a “cosy single room, with wooden floors, based in a luxury house share” in Loftus road, Shepherds Bush; £140 per week for a “spacious single room with double bed in a 2 bedrooms flat, located minutes away from Bayswater tube station. The room comes fully furnished and tenants benefit from the use of a fully fitted kitchen, and shower/WC. Ideal for students and young professionals.”

The agency acts introducing prospective tenants to landlords and asks a £99.99 fee to get a “personal and professional service” which allows you to “see as many apartments as needed” for four months.

“Every search is tailored to suit the requirements of the client and we also advise on areas, prices of properties and local facilities,” said Senait Beyenne, agent of the Interlet office in Abingdon Road, Kensington. “We don’t publish everything on the website, our database is much more updated,” she added.

After I explained my requirements, she started to browse through a large ring binder and make calls. I’ve been booked five viewings and none of the flat was even similar to the pictures that were still on the website.

The first two were a studio and a bedsit, which was not what I had asked for, and an appointment was cancelled.  “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m sure you’ll like these two,” Senait apologized.

Single room in Birkbeck road, Holland Park, £135 per week: “The landlady will come and pick you up at the tube station,” added Senait. A stressful Asian woman picked me up with a Mercedes, drove along a residential cosy road and entered an ugly dirty popular house. Placed on the first floor, the small flat had four rooms, a shared bathroom and a kitchen. Unfortunately the building was old and unsafe.

Next and last viewing with the agency, a room in Tavistock Crescent, almost inside the tube station of Westbourne Park. A friendly Indian retired woman opened the door of a smelly basement, which I would have shared with her and another girl for £120 per week. The room was very small, the wardrobe half-full of clothes, and there were bars on the windows. “Thank you, I’m not very sure, I’ll let you know,” I said.

After some other remarkable experiences all around West London, when I was about to give up and move in a smelly flat in Shepherds Bush, among all the adverts that I received in the mailing list of Intolondon, something attracted my attention. I booked a viewing in Kilburn, and I eventually found the room where I’m living now.

It’s a comfortable single room with double bed and sofa in a four bedrooms apartment with shared the bathroom and small kitchen. The girls I’m living with are friendly, and after my long search I know that it’s not that easy. I pay £487.50 per month, bills excluded. Quite expensive, but it was definitely the best I’ve found.

Websites offer the widest database for rooms, being a platform where people with the same purpose can meet together. There’s no guarantee one will find what he needs and there are a lot of frauds to beware of, especially if someone asks for Western Union transactions before showing the apartment.

But it’s good to try. You need time, patience and good luck, if you’re looking for a room in London.

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