Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

The perils of big city flat hunting

Aoife Moriarty shares her tips on finding a place to live in London.

Sat, Feb 4, 2012, 04:00


Aoife Moriarty shares her tips on finding a place to live in London.

When the topic of the growing faction of young people emigrating across the pond to London arises, the focus is generally on the varying struggles and triumphs of securing work, the ever dulling prospect of a return to Ireland, and universal homesickness for a good cup of mammy-made Barrys tea. However it is rare that one of the greatest difficulties initially faced by a young person arriving in London is covered in great depth: that is, the struggle to find a decent flat.

After all, where you live is just as – if indeed not more – crucial as where you work. The place where you eat, sleep and carry out that all important life admin needs to be somewhere you can relax, afford, and in a location that is not too far off the beaten track as to make your journey into work a total nightmare. After three years in London, I can verify that finding all of this in one fell swoop is a difficult – if not entirely impossible – feat.

London is an expensive city. However, it is comparable with Dublin in all areas but one: accommodation. With 12.5 per cent of the UK’s population (7.75 million) living on 0.6 of the land area, the average population density is over 4,900 persons per square kilometre. Space in London is at an absolute premium. If you are young and not making a great deal of money, it can sometimes seem impossible to find somewhere to live that fits the bill without making too many compromises.

Case in point: I currently pay £575 a month for a small two bedroom flat in Clapton (zone 3), which would be considered relatively good value. My sister in stark contrast, pays €370 to live in a very decent-sized four bedroom flat in Dublin, a ten minute walk from the city centre, whilst another friend pays €650 for a one bedroom flat just off Thomas Street.

Of course, there are other considerations too to be taken into account. For most, living alone or even with one person in London is often not a viable option due to the cost. For the young Londoner then, with one-beds starting at £1000 upwards, flatsharing becomes necessity rather than a choice. This is fine of course if an opportunity to move in with friends comes up, but then you might be of the sensibility – like me – that you’d rather not risk damaging your important friendships as a result of not having taken out the bins.

Living with strangers, then, becomes the only option.

This is where I offer you – the potential immigrant – a lighthearted yet serious warning. Of course you can be lucky like friends of mine and end up living with decent, considerate people who become genuine friends over time. Equally, you could have the experience of a girl I met recently in Dublin who moved in with a vague London work acquaintance only to find herself starring in her own version of ‘Single White Female’ involving her housemate guilt-tripping her every time she did something without her and pouring water over her work laptop in a jealous rage after she secured a new job. Somewhat scarred by the experience, she moved out and in with her boyfriend of just a few months, vowing she would ‘never live with strangers again’.

Although London is an amazing city, filled with energy, variation and culture, living here as a young Irish person in these recessionary times is certainly not easy, and the drain of your monthly rent and bills – lets not forget about UK council tax – on your financial resources cannot be underestimated. Whatever decision you make, ensure you do as much research on locations, prices (and housemates) beforehand as possible and try to be realistic about what you can and cannot afford before you take the decision to fly the coop.

Aoife Moriarty, 27, is a film graduate and freelance journalist and writer originally from Dublin. She moved to London in March 2009 and writes for arts listings websites The Cultural Exposé, Société Perrier and an occasional music blog for The Independent. She tweets (infrequently) from @modoeslondon.