As a young person moving to London on a low graduate salary, housing options are limited. When I first moved to London as a student in 2008 I lived in student halls in Tooting for £76 per week including bills and a daily cleaner. My then boyfriend was living in Edgware Road for £90 per week (again bills included). But in the eight years that have passed things have changed. Today, Londoners have two options, they can either move into a nice house in a nice area and pay an extortionate amount (£1,000 per month for a double room in a shared house is not uncommon) or move into a fairly grimy house, a long way out of the city, with a 20 minute walk from a tube station for a slightly less extortionate amount (£600 per month would be considered a good deal). Living with randoms is common, while living by yourself is unrealistic and buying somewhere (even a box in outer London) is unimaginable yet the bright lights of London still draw us in.
Until last summer I had somehow managed to avoid joining the dreaded London rental market through a combination of student halls, taking over the last few months of friends’ contracts and moving in with a boyfriend who had recently purchased a property – jammy right? However, after a traumatic break up, moving home to finish my master’s degree and a few months of travelling it was time for me to start house hunting in the big city again.
My main criteria were:
- Could get to work (relatively) easily – essential
- Under £800pm including bills – essential
- Private room (i.e. NOT sharing a bedroom) – essential
- On a tube line that would eventually run for 24 hours instead of until just after midnight (this was expected it to launch in 2015 but due to strike action its start date is still undecided) – preferable
As you can see I wasn’t being particularly fussy or unrealistic in my demands. Although if the Guardian’s spoof of Location, Location, Location, ‘Exploitation, Exploitation, Exploitation: a property show for millennials’ (which went viral a few weeks ago) is anything to go by, none of us can be anymore.
It’s where you rent a place for half of what you might pay, because it’s a building waiting to be knocked down or otherwise.
Initially I turned to SpareRoom and spent a couple of days of trawling through thousands of rooms, sending messages that never received a reply, being offered rooms in peculiar places (Alperton anyone?) and being unable to view possibilities as immediately as adverts demanded because I wasn’t in the area. I was close to giving up when my dad told me about property guardianship. It’s where you rent a place for half of what you might pay, because it’s a building waiting to be knocked down or otherwise. There are pros and cons to this, such as, you agree to move out with little or no notice (you waive the usual renting rights) but if you’re lucky, you could live in an otherwise great property for up to a year or more for very little. Dad had read this article earlier in the year and had noted it as a possibility for his ‘favourite daughter who insists on living in London even though she earns no money’. The article referenced a scheme called Guardians of London – although I now know there are many other similar schemes operating in the capital and across the UK including Camelot, Ad-Hoc, Dot Dot Dot and Live in Guardian.
It’s truly awful.’ I said. ‘Also, it is really far away. I cannot possibly live there.’
I did a bit of research and signed up to Guardians of London, they focus on providing accommodation to ‘key workers’ (such as nurses, firefighters, social workers) but also offer places to professionals. There was a quick application form to fill out plus a question: ‘Why do you think you would make a good guardian?’ to which I put some waffle about being happy sharing a house, being a clean, tidy and considerate housemate and being open to new experiences. A few days later I received an email back, listing the current vacancies and inviting me to the open-house viewings. The mix included a sports centre with access to a basketball court somewhere I’d never heard of, a Pizza Express in Kentish Town and a house in Finchley with a range of rooms including some en-suites.
The first house had a strange layout with a shower in the corner of one bedroom. Odd.
I ummed and ahhed for a while – the Pizza Express was closer to the centre of London, but more expensive – whereas the Finchley house was cheaper but much further out! The Finchley viewing was first and I had a free afternoon so pitched up at a rather rundown detached house along with around 20 other young people.
The property turned out to be two houses next door to each other that were being rented for between £200 and £400 per month per room, depending on the size and en-suite facilities. The first house had four good-sized bedrooms and a box room, the other had three double bedrooms and a box room. Both had off-road parking and large gardens. Neither house could be rented out long-term as they were due to be demolished to make way for flats.
The second property was a bit nicer but still very worn-looking and came with a complimentary stair-lift.
The first house had a strange layout with a shower in the corner of one bedroom but no shower in the bathroom. While the bedrooms were on the large size, the kitchen was small and there wasn’t a lot of communal space owning to the living room being rented out as a bedroom. The second property was a bit nicer but still very worn-looking and came with a complimentary stair-lift. On the plus side, it had a bigger kitchen than the other place and a living room which had access to the garden and so wasn’t to be rented out. It also had a fridge, freezer and washing machine (white goods aren’t normally included) and we could redecorate the house as we wished.
Rooms are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis and you have 48 hours to pay the holding deposit so I knew I didn’t have too long to decide. I left the house and immediately rang the boy . ‘It’s truly awful.’ I said. ‘Also, it is really far away. I cannot possibly live there.’
But over the weekend I pondered my options, I had less than two weeks before I had to move to London for my new job. I could spend another week house-hunting and potentially not find anything I liked in my budget or I could spend the time moving and decorating so I had some where nice(ish) to live. The maths worked out that even with travel costs and buying furniture it was by far my cheapest option and would allow me to actually save some money. I decided to bite the bullet and got in touch with a girl I’d met on the open day. She was keen to put an offer in too. After that, the decision was made, I would be a property guardian.