Monday, March 25, 2013

Official house search day

So the day for the official house search was upon us. I woke up excited for the possibilities of finding my one true rental love. I know this sounds silly, but after seeing five (sorted from hundreds) and only thinking one could be a possibility, I was starting to wonder if the horror stories of London's rental market were actually true.

I needn't have worried. Dominic, my wonderful apartment agent, had prepared an itinerary of wonders. He sent the list of places to us the night before and we were to see 14. Yes, 14.

In reality we ended up seeing 16, even though one of the ones listed had been taken off the market before we got there.

This, will be a gross summary of everything that we saw. And what the end result was. Just in case you're not interested in sifting through all of that exhausting experience; the result was I put in a bid on my first choice at the end of the day. There was definitely some hilarity along the way. And some surprises.

So, without further ado, the places I saw that day:

Candidate #1: Tiny brand new studio

The first place we saw for the day was a wonderfully refurbished studio with an all-new kitchen with all of the necessary appliances. I'm impressed to see that the British have caught onto the Japanese invention of the washer-dryer combo machines and now have them in their rentals. In any case, though this place was way too small for what I need (my large Finnish furniture would never fit in here as this place was about 24 square meters), it was a good start to the day and we all looked hopefully to the future.

Candidate #2 Fabulous sitting room

This place actually ended up being my number three choice. Its fabulous sitting room and 1.5 bathrooms plus built-in storage was enough to convince me that I could see myself living there. For whatever reason the British, unlike the Finnish, don't believe in building in storage. There are no basements for your additional crap and they don't build-in closets. I've asked several people about this and it seems everyone buys their own storage solutions like wardrobes and armoires. Oye, this was likely going to be an expensive move-in for me, but whatever.

Also the garden views were wonderful in this place, and it was quite a large space, all things considered. (Just as a side note, the furniture was removable).

Candidate #3 Heaven on Argyle

This ended up being my number one choice, and the one I put the bid on at the end of the day. Though slightly out of my price range, I was told by the viewing agent that the landlord would be open to negotiation (and had let the other apartments in the building rent for about 50quid below the asking price).

It was a stunning place - all completely renovated and freshly painted, gorgeous views of the neighborhood and everything brand spanking new. I couldn't have asked for more. It was fabulous. It even had a ridiculous jacuzzi bathtub. I had my eyes set on it from the moment we walked in.

Candidate #4 Heaven on Argyle's lesser cousin

The one I ended up bidding on was on the second floor, but there was also another apartment available in the same building on the ground floor. It was still beautiful, as it had all the same finishings and whatnot, but the layout wasn't as pleasing, it was more expensive (so even less in my price range) and though it had a gorgeous full glass view of the backyard (which you would have access to), I have no interest in tending to an English garden. So, it was ruled out.

Candidate #5 Quirky Stirling Court

This is my second choice, and delightful though it has its little faults. It's located above a Ceramicafe (one of those places where you go to paint pottery and then have it fired so you can take it home and show people that you're indeed, slightly artsy). It's also been completely renovated recently (especially it's gorgeous all-white bathroom) and has all the newest appliances in the kitchen (including one of those spiffy washer-dryers).

The drawbacks? It has single-glazed windows off a slightly busy street and has a weird electrical heating system that I would need to learn, should I live here, but eh, I'm sure I'm smart enough to figure it out. Minor details I'm sure.

Candidate #6: Stirling Court's lesser cousin

So I guess most of my top choices have lesser cousins. I've read studies that say people will choose something based on whether or not there was something to compare it to, and it seems I'm following that rule to a tee. Though this apartment was not in the same building, it was in the same complex and managed by the same company, renovated at the same time, and definitely easy enough to compare (similar floor plan, clearly renovated by the same company). And my opinion: definitely of lesser quality. Carpeted floors instead of wood, just a washer instead of a washer-dryer, and well, hideous window coverings. Thank you very much, I'll stick with my plain blinds or choose my own curtains when the time is right.

Candidates #7 and #8: The house of the Tiger Mom, units 1 and 2

This was one of the funnier situations that we arrived upon during our search day. My parents had found this one and we requested that Dominic add it to the list, not knowing so much about it except what had been listed on the agency website and some pictures. Boy were we in for a surprise.

As we were waiting for the viewing agent to show up and open the apartment for us, the owner came out of the house and introduced herself. Small petite Asian woman, seemingly very shy. She explained that she was the owner, she was living there, and that she was in the midst of renovating the house so two renters could rent two units within her house. Included would be council tax (sort of a local residency tax), water, and heating. The tenants would only need to pay for electricity and the flat rent amount.

Well, sounds like a pretty good deal.

As we stepped into the units, she asked me if I were a student or worked and I said I worked. My parents explained that the rental would be for me. She shook my hand, looked at me, and then completely ignored me. Such is the Asian way - she sequestered my mom and didn't even let her viewing agent get a word in. Deal with the mom, clearly the one who wears the pants in the family.

And wow. The units were TINY. Though they were beautifully renovated (wood floors, gorgeous bathrooms (which were designed and picked out by her husband, nowhere to be seen, with rainforest shower heads and classy fixtures)), everything else was pretty meager. Instead of putting in a normal range in the kitchen, she put a portal electric burner, assuming that someone living in a unit of that size would only need "something like that." None of the appliances had been put in (like the refrigerator, microwave, or washer) because she said people usually brought these things with them, or if they wanted, they could split the cost with her and when they moved out, they had already used them so they should just give them to her. Give her the appliances they had paid part of because they had used them. Wow.

Granted, I'm pretty sure she will find some renters because her deal is decent - no council tax payments and most of your utilities are covered, but god. It was like living with my mom...but worse. Far worse. It's like living with an aunt from the motherland that I wasn't fond of. And who wanted to know what I was doing all the time. I could only imagine what bringing guests over would be like. And to think, she's living in the same house as you.

Even my parents agreed that this was a no go. Thank goodness we agreed on that.

Candidate #9: Needing some TLC

Across the green and into a quieter part of town, there was a large house that had a unit for rent. Though the place was large and had some cool unique details, we all agreed that if the owners renovated this place it could be worth a lot more. Its bathroom needed some serious loving and well, it could be fixed up in several places. Too bad too: it had some nice bedroom storage.

Candidate #10: Still in renovation

I guess part of the problem of requesting bathrooms and kitchens that have been newly renovated is that sometimes you'll end up with projects that are still in the works. Turnaround time for construction is pretty quick here in London, so I shouldn't have been surprised when we walked into this apartment and it was only partially renovated with the promises of being done next week. The bathroom had just been completed the day before but the flooring in the bedroom still needed to be set. Needless to say it was difficult to picture what this place would look like, half-finished. Maybe I have no imagination.

Candidate #11: Tiny, cramped, cute

The next one on our list was technically a one bedroom but it was tiny. A previous viewing agent had told us we shouldn't bother because it was half the size of one of the places we had just seen. They were right. Though it was nice, I think it was just a bit too small.

Candidate #12: The opposite end of the scale

And then we went out on a limb and went to something completely on the other side: way out in the middle of Acton, not particularly conveniently located next to anything, but the development was beautiful. Large unit, beautifully wall-papered, nice kitchen, big bedroom, huge amount of built-in storage, okay bathroom (I know, I'm starting to get picky). Somehow though, the thought of walking 15 minutes (that means over a mile) to the nearest anything just seemed...odd. It was like living in any of the large communities back in college again...except nothing was nearby. And I had no car. Or friends around. Seemed rather isolating. I told my parents: if I had my person and a dog, this would be lovely. We could go out walking and stay inside and cook and watch Netflix all the time. And never need anything else. But alas, I don't live that life. So this one was out.

Candidate #13: Previously owned by British Airways

That's no joke: the entire set of flats in this building used to be owned by British Airways so their pilots and flight attendants would have a place to crash inbetween flights. This was cheaper than putting them up in hotels and it was conveniently located next to tube stations that would take them to Heathrow and other related airports, so, that's what they did. When this was no longer interesting/viable, they sold the flats to the current landlord and he took them over. He now owns the entire building and is doing with them what he will. I found the flat...uninteresting.

Candidates #14 and #15: Two bedrooms for the price of one?

When one of the viewing agents heard my price range, apparently he thought "why settle for a one bedroom when you can get two?" So he showed me two two-bedroom flats that fit pretty closely to my price range. Though the second one was already being bid on, it was mostly as an example of what an empty flat of that size would look like (it was the mirror image of the one that was available, and had no tenants living in it). Strangely the empty flat looked smaller than the one that had people, furniture, and things in it. I'm not sure how that illusion worked. Though I appreciated his thought (and really, it was an innovative idea), I wasn't sold.

Candidate #16: Romney Place in Shepherd's Bush

Yes, you read that right: Romney Place. When I saw the last place on our list I had to laugh. I said to Dominic, "If I end up moving to London to live in Romney Place the jokes will never end." And it's true, I would never live it down. Especially considering it's located in Shepherd's Bush. God the jokes would be endless.

Alas the apartment was not what I was looking for, but the details were endearing. It had crown moulding everywhere and cute little cupboards lining the living room. It also had strange secret cupboards everywhere which I thought was strange, considering it was supposed to be a purpose-built building (meaning it was built to be apartment complex, not that it had ever been anything else like a hotel, and then converted into apartments).

And that was the end of our viewing day. Exhausting. Especially considering it started at 10am and ended around 3:45pm. 16 viewings in less than 6 hours. You do the math. We even had time to stop for a half an hour lunch at Pret a Manger. Yeah, that kind of hurried.

Anyway, at the end of the day I stopped and had a chat with my advisers (the parents and Dominic) and then submitted my bid for Heaven on Argyle. The emails went out and we waited anxiously to hear what the landlord's response would be.

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