I’ll eventually write about how I almost got married in Myanmar and why I wound up moving to London, but here’s why I’ve been MIA for several weeks.
Combine the pain of looking for a job with the suffering of going on blind dates and you know what it’s like to flat-hunt in London. (Job Search): First, you spend hours online scouring every related website. Then you send off dozens, if not hundreds, of emails. The response rate to your emails is maybe five percent. From these, you manage to make a few appointments. (Blind Date): You put on a nice outfit and find your way to the appointed place at the appointed time. Within the first minute you know if you like what you see. There is small-talk involving questions such as, “where are you from?” and “what do you do?” At the end there are promises to contact each other. You never hear from some of them again, although this isn’t always a bad thing. Other times, even if you didn’t think it was your soulmate, you still feel a little rejected when they email to say they’ve found someone else.
I didn’t really want to deal with someone deciding if they liked me more than 50 other people they’d just met. After all, I’m not a contestant on The Bachelor. Even though my housing budget steadily increased every hour as I realized how expensive London really is, I still felt studios were a little out of my range. So after a few days of going through this, I found someone else in the same situation and we started looking for 2-bedroom flats to rent. This would be easier because we just had to be the first ones to hand over money and sign a contract, right?
Well, theoretically that’s how it works. Except it seemed we had arrived in time for the Great London Housing Shortage of 2010. We saw nice flats advertised online, but when we called they were no longer available. I saw a lot of “To Let” signs, like the ones pictured above, and called them. They were no longer available, either. I asked if there was anything and was told, “No, it’s student season. We have nothing left in Central London for less than £1000/week.” Right. I’ll ring you back if I win the lottery.
We repeated this process over and over. In response to one phone call, we heard that something had just come across the agent’s desk and he was heading to see it. Could we meet him there? Forget The Bachelor, we were now on The Amazing Race. We dashed across town. We hadn’t even had time to ask questions about the flat; while it was nice, it was a little out of budget, and a pain to get to from school.
We ran across town, managing to scarf down a sandwich in the 5 minutes before our 3pm viewing – the only other one we had been able to set-up. But the flat wasn’t available until November and so we moved on. At 4pm we managed to arrange another viewing for 5:30pm. However, at 5, we got a call that an offer had just been made and our viewing was cancelled. At this point, we were ready to sign a lease for a box in Trafalgar Square.
And then it turned out that yes, Virginia, there is a housing god. After dejectedly returning to campus to plan our weekend (let’s start at 9am Saturday!), we got a call from a private landlord we had emailed earlier. We looked at the pictures , fell in love, and mentally moved in. We tried not to get our hopes up – clearly the people who saw it before us would make an offer and it would be gone. We arrived ten minutes early - the landlord was talking to the previous viewers and asked us to come back. We paced the nearby street, plotting ways to eliminate the competition. (Now we’re on Survivor?)
After viewing the flat, we told the landlord we wanted it. She said she needed to think about it, as the people before us also wanted it. However, after asking us a few more questions, she decided we could have it over the other couple. (Apparently our efforts to be charming had worked.)
But let’s not get too excited. More drama ensued, during which we convinced ourselves it was actually too good to be true and a scam. The landlord wanted a holding deposit so that she could stop showing the flat. While she seemed very nice, she didn’t have ID on her, and we needed to either wire her money or get her cash immediately. Neither of those seemed particularly appealing, especially since we had heard about a lot of housing scams in London. We finally worked out a compromise whereby we could bring cash/wire receipt to her house and sign the lease that night. We roamed the cold, wet streets of London trying to work this out, which was complicated by the fact that I discovered I didn’t have my ATM card on me and my roommate couldn’t reach his U.S. bank on the phone. We were rescued by my English aunt and finally made it to the landlord’s house at 9:30pm, determined to see her ID and to look for baby pictures (she claimed she had 3 kids).
There were baby pictures, we saw passports of the entire family, and had a lovely chat with the landlord and her husband over tea and biscuits. I got home around midnight and ate dinner, relieved it seemed to be settled, but worried that something would still go wrong – I wasn’t considering it a done deal until I had working keys in my hand. We got those Monday and are happily settling-in. Now, if only I can figure out the temperamental hot water in the shower…