Guest Post: Tom Church presents uHouse

As you and I well know, living in London is expensive and finding an affordable place to stay can be incredibly difficult. There’s no doubt about it. A student from University College London (UCL) has created a website that he says will help make life a bit easier for anyone on a budget when it comes to flat hunting. And so of course I’ve invited him to write a guest post telling us more about his site and the story behind it. Meet Tom Church.

The first bedroom was more like a prison cell. 9ft long and 6ft wide, it was one of eighty-six identical rooms along a single corridor. “Welcome to your university accommodation”, smirked the security guard. There were two bathrooms and one kitchen shared between forty-three ‘flatmates’. And this kitchen only had one mini-fridge and microwave. The whole place was noisy, dirty, and quite frankly disgusting. But I loved it.
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Londoners can make anything fun, and that year I spent in university-provided accommodation was one of my best. Yet it was also one of the most expensive. Before moving in, I had been naively made to believe that £155 a week for that room was “about right” in London. Remember; no living room, no outside facing window, no sleep. Yet, with an interest-free student loan coming in, who was I to complain? The contract was signed, bags packed.
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Friday Night BluesPhoto: Friday Night Blues by Karva Javi
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Five months later, sitting by a cash-machine, a homeless man asked if I had any change. It was the same man that always asked me for change, and this time, as I was checking my balance and taking out some cash, I would oblige. Then I double-blinked. The on-screen balance read £55.
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With a month to go until my next loan instalment, I was broke. I had to get two part-time evening jobs to pay the rent whilst studying, and it was here I learnt that I was not alone. This story is very, very common amongst London students – especially those from overseas. London rent is just too expensive.
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The Courtain
Photo: Courtain by s_mahela
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However, every problem has a solution. For the last two years I’ve been researching the London rental market and think that I have it. And through Stephanie’s great blog, I would like to present it to you. How can you make London rent cheaper? There are three answers:
  1. Share the flat
  2. Live further out
  3. Look really hard
My solution combines all three, and here it is: uHouse.co (yes, .co).
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uHouse lists all the affordable properties to rent in London. It searches the listings of all the small estate agencies in London, and picks the few houses that are within a budget: £650 per month per person OR LESS. It allows you to contact the estate agent/landlord directly, so there’s no middle man, and it’s entirely free to use. There’s even a Facebook page so you can keep an eye on the best flats as they come up.
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The streets of London
Photo: The Streets of London by Gautier Houba
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uHouse is my thank you gift to the Londoners that made my stay very enjoyable despite some prison-like conditions. I hope that you will find it useful, and if you do find a place to live through it, don’t forget to thank Stephanie for allowing me to write this guest article!
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Find it, love it, live it.
Tom Church
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Listen to a Londoner: Donna Hardie

Listen to a Londoner. This is a weekly post where people who live (or have lived for a while) in London answer a few questions about the Big Smoke. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers!

Donna Hardie

Remember that recent post on Completely London magazine? I managed to get in touch with Donna – the editor of this new property publication that is cooler than your average property publication. She agreed to answer a few of my nosy questions. It’s a bit of a twist on the usual Listen to a Londoner posts, but she’s definitely a Londoner in the know! Here she talks about London’s secret river, tells us why Brockley is a cool place to live and lets us in on what to expect in the next issue of Completely London, out mid-February.

LLO: Completely London’s first issue is full of little London secrets. Which is your favourite? 
DH:
 For me it has to be the River Fleet that flows under the streets of London, including right underneath the Zetter hotel in Clerkenwell where I’ve often had breakfast, completely unaware of what was flowing right beneath my feet. It’s a piece of London that can be traced right back to Anglo-Saxon times – a tangible link to the city’s past. 

LLO: If you could move to any area of London, where would you choose and why?
DH:
Mmm, a tough one. If money were no object and I didn’t have to worry about how easy it is to get to work in east London, then I’d say somewhere pretty and village-like. Maybe Hampstead – a place that’s so chocolate-box perfect, you could actually be in a country village. But to be honest, I’m a confirmed south east Londoner, so I’m not sure how at home I’d feel north of the Thames (see our next issue where we challenge two readers to a north/south swap for 24 hours). I also think it would be fantastic to live in Shoreditch where I work so I wouldn’t have the morning commute. Maybe in an open-plan converted loft apartment with vaulted ceilings and a private roof terrace where my dog Bob could go out and play around. Shoreditch is buzzy, exciting and vibrant without the crowded chaos of the West End. I love the shady old Victorian streets in Spitalfields where Jack the Ripper lurked – there’s a very real sense of history all around you.

LLO: There are plenty of areas in London that are artsy and eclectic, but compromise safety. Others feel secure, but the vibe isn’t as fresh or exciting. Where can you find the best of both worlds? 
DH:
I’m obviously biased but where I live now in Brockley pretty much hits the mark. It hasn’t quite got there on the social scene yet – when I bought my house 10 years ago there, estate agents were already calling it ‘up and coming’. A decade down the line and it still hasn’t quite made it but there’s been a spattering of trendy coffee shops, delis and bars opening over the last few years which might mean Brockley’s turning a corner. It has enough going on locally though to make it feel lively – you can dip into the foodie scene of East Dulwich which is next door, or soak up the arty atmosphere of Deptford and New Cross just around the corner. Brockley itself is one place in London where houses are still reasonably priced, so it attracts a lot of young families to the area –  and for that reason there’s a safe sense of community. The East London line opens at Brockley station in June, and I’m sure when that happens, the area will be transformed, hopefully for the better, but it would be a shame if we had to compromise our sense of safety and community for the sake of a booming social scene. 

LLO: Any advice for incoming expats looking to let their first flat in London?
DH:
 Research your area thoroughly before you commit to renting. Websites such as upmystreet.com give you information on the schools are in the area, the kind of people who live there, the crime figures, the choice of entertainment on offer and more. And as word of mouth is invaluable, you should ask like-minded people who have already gone through the renting process for their advice. Search online for expat forums where you can get first-hand advice.

LLO: What can we look forward to in the Spring issue of Completely London?
DH:
 The theme of our next issue is ‘Change’. And we’ve got lots to pique your interest – ways to breathe new life into your social life, interviews with people who have undergone life-changing situations, a peek into homes that had a previous life, a look at London gems that steadfastly resist change and much more that will redefine your views on our great Capital.

Thanks Donna!

[Stop in any London branch of Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward to pick up a free copy of Completely London….]

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Speed Flatmating

I was in the middle of house hunting last week when I decided it may be easier to find people rather than a place and start a completely new flatshare altogether. I met one person who answered a message I put up on an American expat site and we hit it off, but we thought it would be fun to find two more people to add to the mix. That’s when we discovered “speed flatmating”.

Spareroom.co.uk started this little phenomenon where they host an event at a venue in a specific area and everyone flat hunting in that area is welcome to come along and meet up face to face, in a much more personal way than the typical internet search would allow. This one was held at SoBar, a dim, cosy pub with lots of sofas, in Fulham Broadway last week.

Walking in, we saw a group of people standing there looking posh, drinking wine. We were in jeans and wondered what we were getting ourselves into, but later found out it was for the launch of a children’s book and the people we wanted to speak to were on the other side.

We had a kind welcome when we arrived, were given stickers on which we listed our name, area and budget. They were pink if you were looking for a room, white if you had one to let. After heading to the bar for drinks, we stood there looking at our options, feeling slightly awkward. Everyone was either deep in conversation or texting on their phones, but after a few minutes, we joined a conversation, met a few people and everyone was quite open to a chat.

By the end of the night, we found someone we really clicked with and decided we would all find a place together*. The event was supposed to be from 7-9, but we stayed until 11 having some amazing conversations and playing shithead. All in all, a great night. (Even saw Jamie from X-Factor hanging out in the corner with some friends.)

If you’re new to London and not sure where to start, I’d say it’s well worth checking out one of the speed flatmating events. Even if you don’t find a place to live, you might make some new friends. You can also bring friends along so you’re not alone.

All events are either free or about £2.

There’s some more info on the website and blog if you’re interested.

*Didn’t work out in the end, but fun was had by all in the meantime 🙂