One Londoner’s Desperate House Search…

Jun 12th, 2008 | By | Category: Readers Contributions

Searching for a London property

I was half way up Stroud Green Road on a sleepy Saturday morning when I seriously started to dread having to see the next apartment. It would be the sixth place I had seen in my increasingly desperate search for a one-bedroom apartment in London. I wasn’t looking for much, just a quaint little place that I could call home.

Apparently this is a luxury few Londoners can enjoy.
First there was the studio flat in Regents Park. After reading the advert in Loot that promised extreme comfort and luxury, I hurried over there in a haze of optimism with my check book ready and my ‘man with a van’ on call. Seeing nothing but a room with an oddly placed cooker and lime-scale infested sink next to a bed, a toilet separated by a plastic curtain and a ceiling that appeared to be leaking in one corner – I quickly realized the advert was merely a unique concoction of flowery adjectives that camouflaged, well, elaborate lies.
“Its not much” said the buggy little man who was showing me around, sympathetically, “but it does the trick eh?”
I nodded and might of mumbled some sort of reply but something inside of me was yelling, frustrated and confused, “for 170 pounds a week I must say it does FAR from the trick! It is so far from doing the trick that it doesn’t even know what the trick IS anymore!”
Clearly that didn’t end well.

Then there was the one bedroom flat in Liverpool Street. I held my breath as I entered, not knowing what I would be shown next. But at first glance, it looked OK. I was relieved when I saw that the furniture seemed to be in order, sighed thankfully that the walls were erect and delighted to the fact that there was no water dripping from mysterious places. It was when I started to inspect the view and the size of the living room that I smelt that god awful smell… I choked slightly in the little cloud that seemed to have formed above the landlord and I. A little misty bubble of the stink of mould? Rotten food? Sewage?

“What is that SMELL!?” I heard myself ask abruptly. The agent turned to me slightly embarrassed, slightly unaffected.

“Oh no, nothing at all. Not to worry. It’s just a teeny, tiny problem we’re having with the plumbing. It will be up and running by next week!”

I smiled awkwardly and explained to the woman that I might pass out if I stayed there any longer and thanked her for her time.

Following that smelly adventure, there was the tiny mouldy bed sit in Bounds Green, the studio flat in Arsenal with the grotty kitchen underneath an unusually tall and unstable looking bunk bed, and finally, the one bedroom apartment in Marylebone with the cockroach, the mouse trap in the bedroom corner and the old food in the kitchen.

I waited for a moment in front of the front door of the sixth house on the top of Stroud Green Road and truly wondered what I might be shown next. 

“Come in” said a little middle-aged man with a surprisingly high-pitched voice. I shuffled through the entrance and walked behind him as he dabbled in small talk about the weather and his frustration at the regular Piccadilly line closures recently. He said that he hoped I would like the room and explained that three other people including himself (the landlord) live in the house and share one bathroom. He began to narrate his every move, selling every corner of the house to me.

“Here is a place you can sit and relax. Lounge around after work, watching a bit of TV or reading a newspaper.”

 The man proudly points to a ragged purple couch opposite a prehistoric TV set and a pile of dusty newspapers and continues. I force a smile and say something like “That’s nice” half-heartedly.

“There is carpeting throughout the house…so we are certainly never cold during the winter!”

 He chuckles and looks pleased at this remark as he gestures to the carpeting in the living room. I look around and see that they are a discoloured colour beige, filthy with food stains and mud from the street. As I walked behind him, I noticed the carpet felt strangely crispy under my shoes.
I smile politely and quietly imagine the amount of microscopic bacteria crawling around in there. Little creatures that have lived there for centuries and centuries – happily reproducing and multiplying with no threat of ever being vacuumed or thrown out to the garbage and replaced with new carpeting.

“Here is the room that is available now” the man continued, pushing a creaking door open to reveal a tiny little mess of a room. There was a mattress crammed in one corner with a flower-patterned worn out easy chair hanging out in the other. Three white shelves sagged down, barely clinging onto the cracked, pale yellow walls behind them. The ceiling was plagued with mould and looked as though it might cave in at any moment as the windows rattled violently with the wind the whole time we were in there.
Amazingly, there was nothing the landlord did not dare show me, or indeed, exhibit proudly. This was true of all of the landlords and agents I came across. It was acceptable to have termite infested furniture and four hundred year old curtains and ceilings. It was perfectly normal to have to dodge loose and jagged kitchen tiles and shimmy under dusty staircases to get to the bathroom. You should also expect to see rattraps outside every window and mouse droppings behind the cooker and around the fridge. These things have, apparently, drifted into normalcy in London.

With still no place in the world to call home, my patience and ability to remain calm and polite had seriously been threatened. I waved goodbye to the high-pitched man and made the trip back to Stratford, to my friend’s house where I would be staying until I found a place of my own. I resort to Loot and organize three viewings for the following day, calling at least ten people in total that hung up abruptly after mumbling something about the flat already being taken.

Tina and I sat around that night drinking coffee and munching on Swedish cookies as I told her horrid stories of the places I had seen. Her four-year-old daughter was quietly watching ‘Dora the Explorer’ sitting next to a small electric heater after being forced to shower in cold water again. Tina jokes about how little Marie is well acquainted with the mice and apologizes that she can’t cook any proper dinner, because the cooker has been broken for weeks.

Written by Rebeca Laliberte

Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • bodytext
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati

One comment
Leave a comment »

  1. As great a city as London is to live in, it’s certainly true that you can be let down by the four small walls which would make up your home. Finding the perfect base can be an extremely aggravating endeavour, as can trying to reconcile the estate agents’ generous descriptions with the somtimes-hilarious reality .

    Moreso if if you’re a student or recent graduate looking for a flatshare in the £125 per week region as opposed to the lofty heights of £170 per week. Falling squarely within this unenviable category, the past week has seen me hopping back and forth between my current place in Kingston and my desired habitat of Euston, Camden-ish, … Swiss Cottage, I suppose. Flexibility is paramount when hunting anywhere central of Zone 3.

    With such flexibility I was easily spoilt for choice. There was the flat near King’s Cross where a hose from a tap was called ‘the shower’; the flat in Chalk Farm which stank of refried offal from the kebab shop downstairs; and the room in Euston where all four sides of the double bed touched the walls. That was the much-touted ‘double-room’. No wonder the guy showing me around couldn’t look me in the eye.

    On my way to a property in Camden this morning (another flop) I got chatting to a Californian tourist who wished me luck in my search. Which was nice. But what she didn’t know was that I was silently cursing her for her (no doubt) comfy, stink-free hotel accomodation. With a power shower… and room to get out of bed without finding yourself in the corridor.

Leave Comment