It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a person in want of an apartment must have a long and arduous search.
Living in New York, I hear some good and some nightmarish stories about apartment hunting. The renter process is somewhat hectic – real estate here moves at the speed of light. If you find a place you like on a Thursday, you better have a down payment on it that night, or else Friday morning you’ll have to start all over.
Although I have not yet experienced the fast-paced process here, the first time I actually had to find my own place to live – I had to look outside of the country. Searching for a sublet, flat-share, apartment lease – whatever you want to call it – is an entirely different animal when you live in a land far, far away.
I was going to live in London for two and a half months and tour through the city, and needed a place to live for six weeks.
After a two to three week search and a week of finalization I was set to live in an apartment south of the Thames, with two university students at Kings College. The best part? My rent was $900 US dollars – to which your reaction may be: “$900?!”, but considering the circumstances, it was a steal. I had my own bedroom, a location smack dab between two tube stations on the Jubilee line, and a 5-minute walk to Tower Bridge. Even better – I was living with two girls my own age. This apartment would cost me more in my own city.
So, how did I find this? A lot of research, and a lot of precautions. And I did it all two months before I arrived. I was clueless and scared – how was I supposed to find something 8,000 miles away? And how was I supposed to start?
The first stop was looking at student housing. If you are a student, this is an option. But if you don’t have a student visa for the period of time you’re staying, these housing projects likely won’t accept you, and they can charge you quite a bit of money – especially in the summer time when normal term isn’t in session.
My next option was Air B&B – where you can find apartments to stay in for any given period of time, at the owner’s discretion — but a lot of the properties I found were too expensive and out of my price range. After that, someone at work recommended I register on roommate and classifieds sites like Gumtree.com, Flatshare.com and spareroom.co.uk.
I posted ads and was able to communicate with others whose ads matched mine in some way. Most likely, a match for you is out there – but if it takes far too long to find someone, then amend your ad. It’s really important to know when to be, and when not to be, flexible.
It helped to research cultural trends and terms, as well. One of the things that confused me at first was how UK listings were priced. In the US, renters list prices by month – ie: $2000 PM. But some of the flat-shares (sublets) I saw had “PW” next to the price – which I learned meant “per week” – so the payment was four times the amount listed.
I was really nervous about communicating with people on roommate sites, and as such, extremely careful with whom I contacted. Google Maps and social media were really helpful for making sure identities and places matched their ads. Then – which I recommend to everyone – I called the owners and asked to Skype. Skype was definitely the most reassuring.
Like I was, you’ll want to be careful with people who don’t post pictures (and who do – because you never know if it’s a false photo), information that doesn’t add up, or people who will not disclose their locations. It’s crucial to take these precautions.
Luckily, Spareroom helped me find a listing by two girls my own age in a great location. Their names and faces matched on Facebook, and they easily agreed to Skype me and show me the apartment. And because I arrived earlier than I needed to move in, we met for lunch. I ended up making two amazing friends – who I’m now visiting on my university’s spring break!
My first time looking for an apartment abroad was a success – and now I have a better idea of how to look in my own city. If I can do it from 8,000 miles away – I can do it from five, and anyone can do it. It may take awhile, but keep a clear, critical head on your shoulders, and start searching!