‘We get two million visitors every month. That’s 379 (and a half) Royal Albert Halls full of potential flatmates waiting to meet you,’ the SpareRoom.co.uk website reads.
As if I needed more reasons to believe that flat hunting was a sad, one-woman pantomime being performed to crowds of strangers. Strangers who weren’t ‘waiting’ to meet me, but forced to.
Forced to because their current flatmate is moving in with their partner of three months, or returning home to Leeds because they can’t pull a pint to save their life. Or pay their rent.
Flat hunting is a spectacle. It’s loaded with rejection, unkempt living spaces, and panic over whether the all-male flat you’re walking into is a trap. Let’s re-brand here and give flat hunting the name it deserves: funting.
Believe it or not, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. In May, I did the antipodean thing and moved from Australia with a Tier-5 visa and bag full of dreams/seasonally inappropriate clothes. I stayed with my brother and his wife, which meant I could take my time finding the right flat. It also meant I saw a range of flats, from semi-habitable to rat cellar.
If it’s your first time looking for a flat in London, allow me to guide you.
Demystify the listings
Many SpareRoom users are trained in the art of the creative sell. It’s a skill that isn’t learned from a tertiary degree, but one forged out of sheer millennial desperation. If you’ve witnessed a bloke embellish his height on a dating app, you’ll know what I mean.
A glossary of SpareRoom terms:
- ‘Great transport links’: the nearest station is a 25-minute walk. In the Spare Room world, if it’s ‘5 minutes’ to the station, you double it.
- ‘Up-and-coming area’: the flat has been broken into twice… this year.
- ‘Light-filled’, bright’ and ‘airy’: expect an hour of sun at midday through the slim window used to fumigate the loo.
I found that 95% of London listings on SpareRoom were described as ‘bright’. This is because of two reasons.
The youths adore a good selfie window to perch by. It helps blast out early facial signs of liver failure caused by five consecutive nights of cheap shots. It’s the only way we can create original material to use in other personal marketing ventures (like Hinge).
Brightness is also conducive to growing houseplants, which brings me to my next point. Some renters know how to style interior spaces and edit pictures.
Train yourself to detect pixel fraud with the eye of a tween looking for a suspiciously-cinched waist in a Kardashian mirror selfie. Learn to distinguish whether the room is habitable or whether you’re dazzled by the 50-odd plants filling the space.
Dress up or down
Dressing for a meeting with your future flatmates is tricky. You don’t want to look so fly that one of them will be tempted to sh*t where they sleep and end up liking you, nor do you want them to believe you’d be romantic competition.
Appear non-threatening, but not slovenly. You don’t want them thinking you’ll be a slob in their three-bedroom-no-living-room haven.
Embrace the magical mystery tour
You’ve finished sweating over your crumb-filled laptop, you’re done with reading the word ‘houseshare’ so many times that it mutates to ‘horseshare’ in your mind. You’re hitting those streets.
Use funting as an opportunity to learn about your new city. Whether it’s by discovering the areas you’d never like to return to, or finding local gems through the recommendations of potential housemates who want you to believe that by spending £900 a month, you’re getting the lifestyle deal of the century.
Observe London life at all levels. During my weeks of searching, I had the fortune of spotting a beautiful woman on a second pity date with a Tinder match and a rat slashing open a garbage bag. Breathe it in, newbie.
Find the selling point
After a month of searching, you might think you’ve found the flat. It’s not the residence that you like, but what it represents. Perhaps it’s close to a supermarket that stocks 12 different kinds of kombucha. Does the dampness of your bedroom really matter if there’s a nearby health food shop with ‘bio-enzyme’ products and a basement-level ‘healing centre’?
You’ve secured a flat. Congratulations! Perhaps it wasn’t your first choice or your tenth, but it’s the first flat where the flatmates couldn’t find anyone more interesting to take the room.
You might not be able to walk more than half a step from your bed to the door, but all you have to do is crawl onto your mattress, shift into the fetal position and chant ‘location, location, location’ as your eyes roll back into the head that’s already numb from all the welcome drinks you enjoyed (alone) last night.
Onto the next
You’ve put up with the flat for a few weeks, or even months. Your friends and family back home are concerned about you. Hang in there fella.
I lasted one month in my first London flat. My flatmate clogged the shower drains with hair so thick I had to sign up to free gym trials every week just to bathe. But what about the selling point? Sadly, not even the nearby 24-hour bagel shops or hip vintage markets could prevent my imminent departure.
Fortunately, the next flat was a winner. It was in an area with green spaces and a park-facing view that meant I could breathe in the autumn air while watching people punish themselves in an early morning military bootcamp sesh. Sure, the building had a minor rodent issue, but hey, it’s not London without a fistful of mice.
If you’re still struggling to find your flat, remember that your first one is just a starter marriage. Like the union of Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson, Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields and perhaps even your divorced parents, number one might not be it, but the second (or third, or fourth) could be forever.
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