We have discussed the issue of relocating on this blog before, but I would like to go into more detail in this post about the act of house hunting itself. I’m changing jobs and relocating soon, so it’s on my mind. What follows are some of my own experiences of looking for places to live and sharing accommodation.
I first left home when I went to uni. I was in halls in first year. Sure, they looked nice from the outside. But inside they were grim. Boiling hot in summer, freezing cold in winter, and constantly noisy.
I moved out to a house for second and third year with three mates. We always knew Jeff was conservative, but sometimes you have to live with someone to really realise what a racist and misogynistic cockwomble they are. Jeff wanted a girlfriend, but it turns out girls don’t like being lectured on how inferior they are. He thought it was because he was too skinny. He started hitting the gym hard, and initiated a super-high protein diet. The house smelt constantly of roast lamb.
James was a nice guy, but fell under Jeff’s thrall. They were gym buddies. And lamb buddies. James got his guns but Jeff remained stick thin. And when James got a girlfriend, and Jeff didn’t, Jeff sank into a low mood. He had spent all his money on meat, and spiralled into a Skyrim and pornography addiction.
I first properly moved out of home when I started my HLF Skills for the Future traineeship at Worcester Cathedral Library. Worcester is a sizeable and a relatively cheap city, so there was plenty on offer. I picked one house, arranged a viewing, liked it, and moved in. It was a nice and spacious period property a ten-minute walk from the Cathedral. The live-out landlady, although strict, was scrupulously fair and professional, and took a real interest in her house being a happy one. But the best bit were the housemates. George, Andrea and Seb were a great bunch – and I remain very good friends with them to this day.
I knew I had got very lucky with my house from seeing the experiences of some of my fellow Worcester-based trainees who, like me, were new to the area. One had rented a room through a lettings agent, evidently more interested in filling vacancies than vetting tenants for suitability. She ended up sharing with a male student who didn’t really ‘get’ house sharing. He was dirty, rarely washing his clothes, and sleept under a duvet and on a mattress with no sheets. He contributed nothing to the communal purchases, and leached off everyone else. Washing-up liquid and liquitabs became commodities to be hoarded. So did toilet role. Each tenant had their own private stash, kept in their rooms. But not he. No wonder the tea-towels and flannels kept on disappearing. It was like Mad Max, but with more shit.
When he finally moved out, he was replaced by a couple who were in an unhappy relationship. Violent arguments would flare up nearly every evening, with plenty of loud screaming in Hungarian. After one of them became pregnant, the small house was soon filled with baby stuff – a pram, a cot and toys were crammed into the communal spaces. Fortunately for my colleague, our traineeship came to a close before the baby joined the mix.
When I left Worcester to work at Guildford Museum, I moved back home for a year. When I got my next job in Oxford, I began my second phase of house hunting. Would I be as lucky again?
Oxford is very expensive, and property is in short supply. It’s almost impossible to find anything reasonably close to the centre for under £600 per month (bills included), and when such properties are advertised, competition can be fierce.
Cue the viewings. The first, a nice place in Jericho, and I’m being interviewed by this very clever professor-cum-landlord. I am one of 17 applicants, he tells me, as he asks me questions about my cleanliness, sociability and nocturnal habits. A sense of humour is important in this house, he tells me, although he hasn’t smiled once in between scribbling some notes down to my answers. I half expect a clause forbidding onanism.
The second has a younger, friendlier crowd. I am one of 15 applicants, they tell me. No interview notes this time, it’s just a friendly, informal chat to see how we get on. Shit. I need to shine. I can’t shine. I’m tired and nervous. Say something funny. I can’t. Make conversation. How do you do? What do you do? What do you think of HS2? One’s a lawyer – what on earth are you supposed to say to that? Done any nice litigation lately? Jesus Christ what a car crash. Go home.
Viewing No 3, on a separate day, is for a property with no other tenants. No stressful interview stage, but I do have to go through an agent and face their considerable fees. But my job starts in literally days, I need to find somewhere to live. The agent cancels on me last minute, after I have already bought my train ticket from Guildford to Oxford.
One last throw of the dice. I walk the long, lonely walk to East Oxford. It’s cold and dark. I am relieved that the house is warm. It’s also quite nice. The tenant who shows me round says she wants someone quiet and tidy. Well that’s me, to an extent. I bite the hook, I’m so desperate for somewhere to stay. So we talk about the rent. Payment is to be made to her directly rather than to the landlord because he, err, prefers it that way. The landlord doesn’t live in Oxford, but he’s really nice, she assures me. She insists that I pay a deposit as soon as possible (to her) to secure the room. I ask for a copy of the contract, which she doesn’t have. She says she’ll send one through later. In a few days I get an email from her. Attached are photographs of a hard copy of a contract. She again asks me for payment. I don’t really feel guilty for ghosting her.
So that’s how my four-hour daily commute from Surrey to Oxford began, over two years ago. But now I’ve got a new job on the horizon, in a much cheaper area. House hunting time again.
I find two nice looking places listed in a nearby town. They’re quite close to each other. One has been listed by Gary, the other by Wayne. I message both, explaining my circumstances and outlining what I’m looking for. I get two messages back a few days later, both from Wayne, asking to call him to arrange a viewing. On the phone he sounds vague and evasive. He has a room available, but not in either of the properties listed. I ask him for more details and photographs, but receive none. I still go ahead with the viewing.
His mate Tezzer turns up, all shifty like. Wearing a beanie hat, he looks like Joe Pesci’s character from Home Alone – but with a thick Black Country accent. He shows me around. Exposed plasterboard and chipboard flooring everywhere in the communal areas. The carpets in the bedrooms are stained, and there’s a thick layer of dust everywhere. Mould grows black on the window sills and in the dark corners of the room. The sinks and taps are encrusted with limescale and the toilets are discoloured. Is there any more work to be done on the property, I ask? Oh no, he says, but they’ll give it a good clean. No thanks.
I made a second viewing that day, and it was much nicer. I should be set for the New Year now, just a bit of paperwork to do. House hunting is never easy, and there are a lot of scammers about – so be careful.
Fancy sharing some of your accommodation or house hunting horror stories? If I get enough then I’d love to follow this up with a part two!