Funny to think that in less than a year I'm doing the exact same thing in a different city. I say this with surprise and neutrality - it was not my intention to be doing so, but I find myself here nonetheless, and so I go forward and see where life takes me.
Armed with the experiences of yesteryear (and my wonderful parents, again ^_^), we begin our search much in the same fashion - figuring out the appropriate price range, appropriate neighborhoods, and whittling down the requirements that I simply cannot live without. What we have discovered so far:
- Apartments and renting in London is far more expensive than anywhere else I have ever lived. I've upped my max rental limit three times now.
- There is an actual limit to how much I can spend, and I don't mean setting a personal limit. The max you are allowed to spend (according to some rule of thumb, though it's stated more like a law than anything else) is 30% of your gross monthly income. You're literally prevented from spending too much a month on your rent. Though in general I agree with this, it's sort of interesting to be told you can't spend too much of your money on your living arrangements. But anyway, this limits me as well. And I'm coming up against this limit finding the things I like.
- Neighborhoods I've decided I enjoy: Ealing and Shepherd's Bush with an emphasis on Ealing. The commute to work is short (we're talking about half an hour or less, which is phenomenal in London) and it's quiet, a little green, and old-persony. I find myself loving suburban life rather than urban life. I know, I'm old.
- There is no wonderful universal online resource for all of the rental listings in London, unlike Helsinki. For whatever reason no one has decided to cash in on making a database of this information and consolidating. So there are numerous websites that need to be checked all the time, everyday. (Hint: someone should really cash in on this: really. REALLY.)
- Yes, I do have an apartment agent for this relocation as well. No, they are not as helpful by any means as the Helsinki agent. I have very undecently called them a "useless portal." (Not to their face).
- I have a full day of apartment searching coming up which will hopefully help me narrow down my possibilities, but may have as many as 15-16 viewings in it. Sounds like an overwhelming amount but from what I understand, seeing more is better. There is a lot of potential muck to wade through to find the diamond in the rough.
- My general requirements, as we've started viewing places on our own (before the apartment search day) have very clearly become: newly renovated/refurbished bathrooms and kitchens, clean carpets or wood flooring, not on the ground floor, and location location location. Must be located near a station that allows me to get to work easily. My choosing Ealing (and Shepherd's Bush) already points that in the right direction, but still, there are easier and tougher spots even within those bounds.
Surprisingly good quality, but my parents also know what I like (they are my parents, after all) and they've viewed hundreds of ads. Hundreds. To choose five to see. Five.
And only one of them has made the cut as "okay."
The reason it's not the one? Weird electrical heating system. Instead of having a normal gas heating system, they installed an electric one, which supposedly stores heat during the night (when electrical rates are cheaper). However, it's a completely manual system, so it depends on you remembering to turn it on and off, knowing how much heat you'll likely use, and all the rest. If you forget to turn it off? Ungodly expensive. Surprisingly complicated, and the consequences are quite high.
Also a bad thing about this apartment? No double-glazed windows, and it's off of a busy street. Potential traffic noise.
Other than that, it was wonderful.
Another runner-up was a gorgeous apartment in a weird run-down building. It seems this may be the case a lot of the time. Someone took the time and renovated one apartment in a hideous building.
As a child I used to imagine, when I was somewhere I was uncomfortable, floating in a beautiful jeweled compartment in a hideous environment. This way I could think of being in a wonderful comfortable place, sealed away from the horrors of the world.
As I stood in this apartment, which was the literal translation of that dream, I realized that I would never be able to live in that vision. It did matter to me what the outside looked like. And it freaked me out. Peeling paint on the exterior walls, creepy mold and moss on the outside balcony (so I would never open those blinds or use that balcony), holes in the common hallway carpets...
...this is not something I would be able to stand on a day-to-day basis. Call me crazy, but I just can't do it. I just can't.
And so the search for the perfect rental continues. I still hold out hope for my one true love, as I found in Helsinki. This one might take awhile longer, but I know it's out there. We've found some pretty decent ones so far, and I believe in diligence paying off.
I would post the ad links but by the time anyone would see them they would likely be taken down (which is frustrating) so I'll just leave you with descriptions and pictures. :)