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The London rent battle

Chloe discusses the London rent crisis and questions the reality of moving to the capital...


Last year, I moved to Leeds. It was my first 'grown up' move after university, a move where I no longer had student loans and cheap 'bills included' student flats to rely on. My flat was a dream, consisting of parquet floors and a pink (!!) kitchen that I shared with a one housemate. We split bills and rent equally and, while I had to keep a vigilant eye on my budget, at £490 a month things didn't feel too bad. However, I worked remotely and most of my friends moved away to London. As the months rolled on, the capital city started to look more attractive.


I started reading headlines like: "London rent rises by highest in a decade as desperate renters battle over fewer properties." Worrying. In the back of my mind, it was always a dream to move to London in my twenties. But the words "battle" and "dream" aren't exactly compatible - I couldn't help but feel like I was making a reckless decision.


Naive back then, I began by scouting out my options on Rightmove and Zoopla. I thought I could find a deal as good as the one I had in Leeds, albeit a tad more expensive. I quickly realised why the tabloids were comparing the London rental market to a battlefield. Most places were coming up for £1,000 pcm rent, per person, minimum. I get that's a doable price for some people in their mid-twenties, but for me it's out of the question. It's a cruel reality, but getting priced out of renting a property outright in London is standard these days.


Then began the tireless scrolling on SpareRoom. Two words that will chill the bones of anyone looking for a place in London right now. If you're not familiar, SpareRoom is a community-based app where users can advertise (you guessed it) their spare rooms. It's basically like Tinder, but for finding a housemate. You share a few pictures of yourself - maybe one where you're holding a drink and another on a country walk - so you can demonstrate to your new housemates that you're ~balanced~. You write a cringe inducing bio about how you love to socialise but can also respect people's space, you're a clean freak but you're also somehow super relaxed.


In a normal world, an account advertising a property might get a couple of prospective tenants. But in London? SpareRoom is a - there's that word again - battlefield. One user, Georgia Hase, wrote that she contacted "over 200 people" for rooms in London on the app and only managed to secure eight viewings. For a while, SpareRooms was also generally regarded as the budget friendly way to rent in London. There was always the chance you'd find a decent room for a somewhat decent price. Now, the average price for a room in every postcode in London is over £700 on SpareRoom. For the most part, I would see double rooms going for £1.2k plus every time I scrolled, sometimes even single rooms are listed for that price.


The anxiety and stress that comes with trying to find an affordable property in the UK's capital city is hard to shake. Scrolling on SpareRoom and random Facebook groups becomes your new part-time job, one you pick up during a quiet minute at work or in bed at 1 AM.


Though I've found somewhere to live now, I'm still a member of 'gals who rent', a property finding Facebook group with nearly 75K members. Every week, there's a dozen new posts from users struggling to find places in their budget or find a housemate to take them on. In their posts, many describe their situations as 'stuck,' 'hopeless,' even 'desperate.'


The worst part is there's no advice I can offer, no secret website with half price houses or surefire ways to improve your SpareRoom profile. Like most people who’ve found a flat, I just got lucky. The most honest advice I can offer to anyone willing to battle for a place in London is think about whether now is the right time. If it is, try and find housemates through mutual friends or colleagues. Make sure to save first, if you can. And above anything don’t make a ridiculously high offer on a property to price out the other bidders – it’ll only make the current climate worse.


Beyond my personal account of London renting, it's also important to keep in mind that affordable housing is a problem that extends far beyond renters moving to London for the first time. Thanks to rising rent and gentrification, entire families are being priced out of their boroughs. Families who’ve lived in London for generations. If this problem is ever to be addressed, solutions should start with the communities who really need them first.

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