Moving to London? 10 Top Tips for Finding Accommodation

Looking for a place to live in London could be one of the most challenging tasks you'll face. We've put together some fantastic tips to help guide you and hopefully save you from being a victim of an all too common accommodation scam.

Before you launch headfirst into these tips, let me just say this, out of all the challenges you'll take on when moving to London, finding accommodation will probably be the hardest. Not because the physical task of looking at flats or rooms is particularly difficult, (exhausting yes) but it can take significant time to find something. Reason being because you will have a list of criteria you will want to satisfy (budget, area, zone, etc) and the person renting may also have one too. So, it can take some time for these to all line up. Being desperate to find somewhere is when you can fall foul of the scammers. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for over ten years, I’ve listened to so many heartbreaking stories.

Also, you may have never had to find your own accommodation before, if you’ve been living at home or have recently graduated university then this will be a very daunting experience.

The one thing YOU MUST NOT DO is rush into this. This is where things turn ugly quickly and all those hard-earned funds could disappear to some unscrupulous scam artist. And before you question why you are moving to this scary City, London is no different to any other city, there are dodgy people who prey on the unsuspecting! You just need to be prepared first.

1) Approach finding accommodation in London in stages

I personally think that anyone trying to arrange long-term accommodation before they get here is flat-out crazy! Not least because this is when you are more likely to be the victim of a scam but more so because how on earth can you make such a decision without yet knowing where you will be working and how much you are going to be earning? Of course, anyone who has been to London before and has a job lined up could be excused here, though it’s unlikely they would be reading an article like this!

If the mere idea of trying to find a place to stay in a country or city you've never even been to, fills you with trepidation and fear...then another option to consider, (which is understandably very popular) is to consider a job which comes with accommodation.

My advice is to approach this in two or three stages;

  • Stage One - you could arrange a hostel for a week, we have a few membership packages that include a few nights and our system gives you the opportunity to add this on at a later stage too. We’ll place you with other BritBounders who have recently arrived (if you opt for this) and it can be a great, sociable way to first arrive in the city. It could also be an easy stop-gap whilst you are waiting for your short-term flatshare to come available if you have pre-booked this.
  • Stage Two (or one!) - you could consider taking a short-term flatshare a sublet or a slightly longer Air BnB stay, ideally 1-3 months. This means you can arrive here knowing you have somewhere for the duration of your feet-finding phase, whilst you get to know the city and find a job. If you'd prefer not to going straight into this without knowing the areas of the city, then you could always stay in a hostel for one or two weeks whilst you research the location options available. One thing to consider is that if you are looking to arrange a short-term flatshare before you leave, and you pay some or all of it before you leave then this means you can carry on working to top up your funds. So I think this can be a great idea, as long as you can wholly trust the person or company you are paying!
  • Stage Three - once you’ve started working, you know how much your take home salary is after tax and you have an idea of where you’d like to live, then you can start to look at your longer term options. By this stage you might have a few others who you’ve met that would like to look for a place with you. You’re going to have a much better idea now of how much you can afford and be in a stronger position to look make a decision about your long term accommodation choice.

2) Consider London a collection of small towns rather than one big city

If you were to say, I am going to look for accommodation in London, I would say that is kind of like saying I am going to look for accommodation in Australia. I mean where would you begin? It is such a big place and going from one region to another could take hours! London of course is tiny compared to Australia but the principle applies.

London is made up of lots of smaller villages and towns that over time have merged closer together. When the Underground was built it really did link each area up and just looking at the Tube Map will help you to learn the names of all the different areas. Just remember that not all places have an Underground Tube Station so don't rule out a place because it does not exist on the Tube Map!

The more sensible approach is to focus on key areas that you like and look for accommodation in that location. This way you can be more efficient with your time and look at several properties in the space of a few hours, rather than darting back and fore around the city and only fitting in a couple. The more places you look at the faster you will find somewhere, fact!

If you arrange for a couple of months in short-term accommodation, then use this time to visit different parts of London. Get to know the different London postcodes so you can rule out the places you don’t want to live and focus on the ones you do. We are slowly writing an overview of the different areas of London to live, so have a read through these. Though there is no substitute for visiting a place in person.

3) Familiarise yourself with all the related costs for accommodation

How much does it cost to live in London? It’s possibly one of the most Googled questions for anyone moving here and definitely one that we are e-mailed daily. What most people are asking us, is how much does it cost to rent a room or a property. Yet this accounts for only part of the moving in cost. You won’t be able to get too accurate an amount here because there are so many variables but you can familiarise yourself with all the costs that you might have when you finally choose somewhere to live.

The following is what we’ve come up with but it’s not exhaustive so there could be more surprises ahead!

  • Advance Rent - everywhere will ask you to pay your rent in advance, this is generally four weeks rent.
  • Deposit - everywhere will ask you to pay a months security bond or deposit, this is usually equivalent to four weeks rent.
  • Furnishings - nearly all London rentals will come furnished, so you don’t need to worry about a bed, bedside table or wardrobes. What you might not have and need are things like cushions, a desk, mirror. Just things you are used to that your room does not have.
  • Bed Linen - it is likely there will be bed linen (duvet, pillow) but I personally would always recommend getting your own sheets and covers, if you can afford it get the whole lot. With places like Primark here, the outlay is very minimal. I wouldn’t take your stuff from home, it’s too bulky and not necessary when it’s so cheap to buy here.
  • Kitchen utensils - if you love cooking then it come sometimes be a bit heart breaking to see the mimimum amount of pans and cooking equipment provided in a flatshare. If you’re an avid baker or cook then you’ll be out sourcing your own bits and bobs pretty quickly!
  • TV Licence - the UK has some funny regulations and one that surprises so many is the fact that if you watch TV, even on your laptop then you will need a TV licence. Apparently there are vans with equipment to detect anyone watching without a licence. I am yet to be convinced of this but it is a legal requirement so read up on this and check you are not going to be fined by our Government spies!

4) Manage your expectations - our houses are OLD!

Like with every aspect of moving here, you must do your best to avoid feeling unprepared for what lies ahead. If you don’t manage your expectations in the area of accommodation then I guarantee you will have a melt down! Just because your Nan’s biscuit tin portrays an olde English cottage with a red post box and a telephone booth outside, this is not what you will have in London!

  • Most of our houses are old! So the average age of a property in London will be 100 years, a lot of the housing is 19thCentury, so built in the 1800’s. Or early 1900’s. When you’re looking at the budget (cheap) end of the market this can mean they are creaky, sometimes damp, mouldy in places and looking like they need a lot of TLC!
  • Excessive swings in temperature - because most of our houses are built with brick, they can be cold in the winter and stifling hot in the summer (yes it does get hot here!). All our houses have radiators and if you are heading here from a tropical or generally hot climate you might find living with radiators (heating) an odd concept! Equally, because extremely hot weather is generally rare, though our summers have been getting hotter, not many places have A/C - this is a luxury!
  • Budget means budget - if you have been living at home with Mum and Dad then you are going to find a substantial drop in standards from their home to your budget accommodation. So prepare yourself! Imagine the barest and most basic of rooms and that way, anything more will be a pleasant surprise, and relief!
  • Cleaning - again, if you are moving from Mum and Dads to the UK then you are going to have quite a wake up call when you realise that you need to clean your own things. There is no faster way to piss off your flat mates than to be the one who constantly leaves the place in amess and who never bothers to wash up! Responsibility is coming your way!

5) Understand some of the legalities around renting

Whether you have rented a flat before or whether this is your first time, I would really urge you to have some idea of what is and is not allowed by the landlords. Know your rights!

In an effort to combat some of the many issues surrounding renting in the UK, the Government has published a comprensive guide to help tenants understand their rights. It is definitely worth reading through as it will help protect you from choosing a landlord who is not complying with the new regulations.

The full guide can be accessed here - How to Rent

Some of the key areas you should read about in this document are:

  • Understand what the Deposit Scheme is about
  • Know what responsibilities your landlord has
  • Fees - be aware of what you can and cannot be charged for