Blog Post

Finding somewhere to live in London – what it’s really like

Our research explores the unique challenges of finding somewhere to live in London. But what’s it really like? Members of the Centre for London team share their personal experiences.

What was it like finding somewhere to live in London?

Katie: Put simply – a nightmare. After four months, 43 flat viewings, bids on about 19 properties and paying 7 holding deposits we have now finally found a flat and are incredibly excited to move in.

Ines: In 2021, me and my parents had to move out of the flat we were living in. It took us 3 months and we saw over 20 flats until we could rent another flat – we had to run from place to place too in the evening because we could only do viewings after work. It was, very frankly, exhausting.

Jon: In the few years I’ve been renting in London, it’s only got worse! It takes months of searching, upwards of 20 viewings each time, and entering into bidding wars with other tenants for properties

I’m very lucky to have grown up in London and to have a fall-back if things fell through, but I can’t imagine how stressful it must be if you don’t have that as an option.

Klara: Incredibly stressful and time consuming. The only way we were able to secure a place was by offering 2 months of rent ahead of time. By doing so we knowingly contributed to the unfair bidding war, but it felt like we had no other option.

What was the biggest problem you faced during the search process?

Aiste: As I was looking to move out from a family home after deciding to part ways with a partner and having a little one (3-years-old at the time), the biggest problem was the amount of time it took me until I found a property. I was searching and booking viewings for over 4 months until finally receiving a positive response. While we still had somewhere to live – I was so ready to move on and start over on a fresh page.

Ines: My biggest problem with finding places to live in London will always be the costs. As a single, young woman it feels almost impossible to rent a flat – realtors or landlords won’t even consider me without raising the deposit cost to almost double of what was listed before I said my age.

Jon: The sheer competition is always the most difficult thing – it’s often felt like you’d need to be looking for flats as a full-time job to find somewhere workable.

Also very large deposits, including months of rent in advance, are a massive issue – especially given you usually haven’t got your deposit back from your current flat by the time you’re paying it for your next flat, it assumes you have a lot of liquid cash lying around.

Katie: Bidding. By far the biggest issue was the high number of people viewing the properties and the ability to ‘out-bid’ fellow tenants. Not by £50, not by £100 but by hundreds, sometimes closer to a thousand pounds. This was wildly over our budget, so when estate agents called to ask to push up our bid, there was nothing we could do but to let the flat go.

Klara: Our biggest issue was finding a new place in time. It was incredibly stressful knowing that we could not stay in the old place slightly longer in case the search did not pan out in time.

Because we were pressured by time, we settled on a flat that was in a worse condition than we would have liked. It has a very low energy efficiency rating, which has caused us to use and spend more on heating than we could have ever imagined

And the move-in date was 3 days after our final move-out date. This gap in tenancy meant extra hassle and cost: hiring movers for two different days, paying for a storage unit, and finding accommodation during that time.

What was the most memorable moment?

Aiste: The reasons some of my offers were declined. I was told things like ‘landlord doesn’t want kids in the property’ or even telling me that a one-bedroom flat is too small for us and suggesting that I ‘need to look for a two-bedroom accommodation’. Great insight, but it’s not something for an Estate Agent to comment on.

Ines: We saw a flat that had a toilet built into (yes, into!) the shower – I will never forget the mortified look on my stepmom’s face when she saw it. Or my dad’s laugh as he said ‘It’s practical. You can shower right after you finish.’

Jon: I once viewed a flat in Newington Green in the pouring rain, got there and found that the estate agent had made a mistake with the booking, so there were 15 couples standing outside the flat! He then turned up a full hour late and didn’t apologise.

Klara: My flatmate told an agent our ideal location and budget, and he just laughed in her face.

Katie: Two were particularly striking. The first was being in a tiny (slightly grim) flat with about 30 other people, with hundreds queueing to see it next – we got a full five minutes in the flat and spent the whole bus journey home laughing to avoid crying at the audacity of estate agents.

The second was visiting a ground floor flat in Stockwell which backed onto a poorly lit train tunnel and to get to the front door we to walk down an unlit alley. As we left, my flatmate turned to me and said, ‘please please please don’t make me live there, I would prefer to live in your shed than live in that flat’.

How would you make finding somewhere to live in London better?

Aiste: I believe that personal circumstances (in my case being a single mother) should be kept private. There shouldn’t be so much questioning about people who are not liable for rental payments to avoid the risk of being ruled out because you’re a parent!

Jon: In the long run, building more housing in the city is the only way to relieve the shortage of affordable places to live, including a step-change in government funding for building social housing. London’s housing stocks is also disproportionately old and much of it is in poor conditions, so new building and retrofits would also make it easier to find somewhere liveable.

Katie: Landlord licencing is a necessity. The state of rented properties which cost thousands of pounds a month is unacceptable. In 2023, no one should be living with significant mould problems, without sufficient space or in poorly maintained housing.

Currently, landlords can get away with appalling conditions – especially when demand for housing is so high, tenants feel at the mercy of landlords, accepting atrocious flats out of desperation. (Also… double-glaze your windows please! Heating is expensive enough without single glazed windows!)