The Struggle to find housing in London is Real!

Guest post submitted by RW traveller Louise Pitman

The struggle of finding a suitable place to live in London is real for many travelers who have moved to the UK seeking excitement, opportunity and adventure.  I experienced this struggle first hand. Armed with some (not a lot, or enough as we would learn) cash saved up, my 2 year UK Youth Mobility Visa, and a healthy dose of optimism, I quickly learned how hard it can be to find somewhere to live in the UK.

When I first arrived in London - jet-lagged AF - I was picked up by a true Londoner dressed in an England FC jumper and jeans. I had never met this guy before but knew him as my recruiter who I had signed up with to get me a job as a Social Worker. He greeted me at Gatwick Airport at the arrivals gate as promised – sign in hand featuring my name (like you see in the movies) and we got into his little car. He drove the “scenic route” into London, eventually to our selected destination (somewhere near the Wembley Stadium on the red line/Central line).

But first – food! My boyfriend and I were in rough shape after that flight; neither of us seemed to get any sleep so food we decided was a good start. We found ourselves in a traditional little British pub - a little bit cold inside (it was January after all). Winter in January is an odd concept to an Aussie at first! We ordered a Full English which would soon to be adopted as one of our favourite brekky staples.  The Full English includes bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding (pork blood sausage = a hard pass by me), baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms and a coffee or tea. Great value at just 9 quid!

The food helped.

Then... more driving to somewhere near Wembley Stadium.

Initially we had planned to stay with an Aussie friend of mine in her share house for a couple of days until we sorted out our plans. I had job interviews lined up for the next 3 consecutive days so my friend’s place was going to be home-base until my interviews were done.

My friend worked as a dental hygienist and wouldn’t be home until close to 6pm. It was now just after lunch and we were tired! Waiting another 6 hours with all of our bags (enough bags containing 2 years worth of stuff for each of us) felt impossible, so we decided to check into an affordable, no frills motel for that first night and we would meet up with her the next day. 

The share-house experience was different! And having experienced it again since, I came to appreciate that the house dynamics and the overall share-housing experience is influenced almost entirely by the characters who live in the house.

I won’t go in to details here but FML!  The house was a tip; empty alcohol bottles and rubbish all about the place. It was constantly loud. This was a party house. And good for them – they had a blast together.  But, for my boyfriend and I, we realised that is not the life we were looking for in London. We were grateful for the place to crash and the wisdom passed on to us, the newly landed, but we were equally grateful to move on. 

With my job interviews now done and multiple job offers in hand, we decided we wanted to live in Windsor (not Central London) - about 60 minutes outside of the city on a direct train. We were going to be rebels and take the path least travelled, (at least compared to the other antipodeans we knew). Windsor is a cute little village complete with cafes, restaurants, tons of shops and a duck pond and train station. Windsor is also full of history (complete with castle). Windsor Castle is rumoured to be the Queen’s preferred residence, so there’s that, too!

We loved the relatively quiet feel that Windsor had compared to crazy-busy London. We felt this was a good place to start.

BUT, we soon discovered that without any UK rental references we were a bad risk to landlords. After finding an available shoebox of a flat (studio apartment) in our budget, in the end what we had to do was max out our credit card to pay for the first 3 months of rent upfront on top of the standard damage deposit. That was hard lesson learned but we don’t regret it at all!

After six months in Windsor we decided that maybe we did want to live closer to the action after all. This meant that we would need to jump back into the share-house market! Now, you may not be surprised after reading about our first taste of share-housing that we were weary... but with 18 months left on our Youth Mobility Visas, what the heck?! Let's go for it!

We found plenty of available rooms in houses all around London. We went to several viewings and met with heaps of prospective roomies. We learned that the share-housing circuit goes like this (generally speaking):

  • Housemates replace themselves with new housemates when they want to move out.
  • The exiting housemates tee up the ads online, and schedule the showings while the housemates who will remain living in the house will vote and select the new housemates.

Seems fair doesn’t it? Now you find yourself in a competition of likeability. It was like speed dating for housing!

I can remember countless appointments and meetings with strangers in places that we really liked and wanted to live in BUT we were not picked by the housemates. With so much competition for housing in London, the housemates have the luxury of being picky. When you are a couple or travelling in a group, it can be even harder.

That being said, I can also remember it from the perspective of being on the selection panel – when our roommates moved out and we had to select a replacement. In any case, there is a room available for everyone but it can take time, and a lot of patience.

We ended up in a share house just a couple of blocks from Wimbledon! (yes where the tennis happens). We loved our house mates and we felt very fortunate to live in a house with so many like minded individuals; we would go to the local pub every other week for a pub dinner and trivia! We did alright - we won (cash) a few times! 

So my message here is that while taking the leap to embark on a working holiday in the UK can be challenging, it is absolutely possible!  It is important to do your research and find out what resources are available to help ease the transition. Depending on what kind of work you do, there are companies out there that can help with finding housing in the UK. Sometimes, housing even comes with the job!  We didn’t utilse those housing services ourselves, but we know many people who did and they have a very different UK working holiday start up experience to us. While we did get some help from the good people at Restless World with our work permits / Youth Mobility Visas before we left home, we appreciate that our housing experience was character building and while at the time might have been a bit stressful, we look back now and embrace it as part of our travel story!