Thursday, 30 January 2014

Process, or How this is Turning Into A London Blog

The reason why I was in New York for so long was because of a slight hold-up in the Visa process for the UK.  My next home is London.

It's a lovely place.  It's another one of those locales that you just don't move here for the weather, but, eh.  I can deal with my pasty pale destiny. I had traveled to London as a tourist several times in the past- it's a great place to visit and they have amazing museums.  I hadn't seen much outside of the city center, but now, I'm learning.  The great thing about living in Paris was to really get to know it, and see the corners of it that you don't get to see when you pop over for a week here and a long weekend there.  Spending a year, or six months, or a month in a place really opens your eyes to how people live and get on. 

London was decided on after much hemming and hawing.  One of the reasons the Visa was delayed was because we literally decided on it a month beforehand.  We visited in late November and a couple weeks later started the process, and we were legal to go in mid January.  I was totally understanding of any delay or hold up we might encounter as this was fairly last minute.  

We are lucky in this move to have a corporate sponsor, which makes the immigration process much easier.  You just kind of show up with a sheath of paperwork completed and various forms and documents, and the lawyers will hold your hand for the rest and make sure everything goes smoothly.  Still, it was delayed, and we couldn't book our flights until we got our passports back from the embassy, so we ended up spending quite a lot of money on last-minute flights.  

PS, did you know that there's a non red-eye flight Virgin Atlantic flies from Newark!??  We decided to give it a try.  It eats away an entire day, which is terrible for productivity as you take off at 7:50 am and land at 9 pm at Heathrow, and you've watched all of two and a half movies on the 5 hour flight.  The flight was empty, too- whole rows were used for flat napping.  I thought that despite the lost day, I didn't have as bad of jetlag as I normally do from the redeye, but I would inexplicably wake up at 4 am every morning for the first week.
The apartment search was pretty straightforward, but a top priority and with an ASAP move-in date.  Almost no one uses Craiglist here, and early attempts while in the USA to contact people looking to rent out their flats did nothing but generate a lot of Nigerian-style fishing schemes.  We got a hotel and I started filling out enquiries online, of which Zoopla seemed to be the most effective search engine to use.  

Not knowing too much about the surrounding neighborhoods, I bought an Oyster Card and started pounding pavement.  I'd pop out and have a look around at a random tube stop or a neighborhood I had heard about, and then I would walk into the nearest real estate offices next to the tube station.  This was fairly effective, as most agents would be willing to take you out then and there to see some available places, or at least schedule you to come back later that day.  Face-to-face interaction was generally taken more seriously than filling out forms online.

I saw 7-10 places a day in various neighborhoods.  I was told that Islington was "The Brooklyn of London",  and found very little for housing there, and it was priced accordingly.  While it's totally a neighborhood I think I'll go hang out in all the time, I just wasn't willing to spend so much on so little.  I mean, rents here are high- like Manhattan high, even outside the city.  I tried to set a budget higher than I had since people are more than happy to negotiate if they think you will be an easy-going tenant, and offering to pay more months upfront than required also seemed to help.

We settled on a neighborhood that we both liked in South London with a 10 minute tube ride into the city.  We found a lovely place, put an offer on it, and then continued our search since offers can be rejected.  Three harrowing days later, we got word that our offer was accepted, which was great since we had run the real estate companies dry as far as what they could show us in the neighborhood.  I mean, we ended up seeing the same place twice at one point.    

I saw a lot of places, and got to check out a whole bunch of neighborhoods and streets I normally would not have seen, but I got tired of the game pretty quickly.  I'm happy that the search for a flat lasted one week total.  I saw a few nice places, but a lot of rubbish as well.  People live like animals, and occasionally you  had to look past all the piles and grime and stacks of mess to see the potential or charm of the place.   

A few things about apartment hunting here: they prices quoted are usually the price per week.  Most places come with at least some basic furnishings, and you can usually negotiate with the land lords to get more/better things.  You have to pay something called "council tax", which, depending on your neighborhood, is about 100 GPB per month.  Once you put in an offer, you have to give the agent 1 weeks' rent to let them know you are serious.

How did this compare to apartment hunting in Paris?  The buildings are a bit newer in London, and with the exception of renovated Victorians, they had a bit less character.  The prices are higher.  I don't think we saw anything in Paris that someone was still occupying, but in London, most places still had tenants and all of their junk scattered about.  Every place we saw in London had a washer or washer-dryer wedged in the kitchen, no matter how tiny the kitchen was.  Also, you probably wouldn't ever have a chance to live next door to a gin factory in Paris:

I've been so busy with the search that I haven't had too much time to do much else.  I did find a great yoga studio in Soho, and a few really good places to get a bite.  Our offer on the choice apartment was accepted, but we won't be able to move in for another two weeks (!) so I'm feeling kind of unsettled as living out of a hotel gets old fast.  Still, I'm excited for a new adventure, as always, and I feel fortunate to be in one of the great cities of the world.  

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