Flat Finding Flat Out
from Maggie in London
The exchange may start off with the weather, but within less than the time it takes to say 'Do you have an extra umbrella?' the property market will take over all rational and irrational conversation. If it isn't all about buy, buy, buy, it's all about buy-to-let. I simply say: please let me buy.
The housing market may have crashed elsewhere: Canada, the US, Australia, but in the UK it borders on the frenzied. You simply can not buy a flat unless you have a bank account bursting; billions always better than millions.
With the mass immigration of foreign investors buying up properties like a disadvantaged 4 year old in a sweet shop; 'I'll have that one and that one, give me one of those, one of those'.' They are driving up the prices. They are buying everything; they are buying the sweet shops.
The uber-rich live here in financial tax free bliss. In one street in the very lovely and posh Holland Park, 80% of the properties are owned by non-tax-paying-internationals. In one month, 10 out of 11 sales handled through the Holland Park office did not involve any borrowed-money. Oh that is a scary thought.
These ridiculously rich are as busy as little worker bees (how ironic) altering the very history of London. The posh are being pushed out, out of the very neighbourhoods they have claimed as their own since childhood. An income of '100,000 is now of so little consequence because this lower-level banker's neighbour brings in at least a '25m bonus ' and that was last year.
This lot are the his-and-hers private jets'the '100m pied-'-terres'the '6m renovations to start'the my yacht's bigger than yours lot. One of these ubiquitous super rich has bought 3 connecting Georgian houses in my neighbourhood so that he could have a swimming pool installed in his basement. As you do. I'll be sure to keep my new polka dot swimming costume at hand.
I am now in the process of breaking my addiction to flat finding, cold turkey. 55 properties later, I'm free'but am I? I can't seem to cancel my daily email updates on the new and inappropriate, over-priced, unappealing flats now available for the next hour or so.
Feral estate agents are reduced to tears of laughter when you give them your list of priorities. 'First floor'ha, ha, ha'storage'ha, ha, ha'separate kitchen'ha, ha, ha.' I learned quickly: you preface your requests with ' 'Now I know I am only dreaming and what I want isn't at all possible and that I will only be able to tick a few boxes, I know, probably 2 out of 10 and that you are doing your very, very best to find me my perfect flat'any flat.'
Most agents are clinically deaf. I repeated my mantras over and over and over again: no basement, no lower ground, no raised ground'no basement, no lower ground, no raised ground. Did they hear me? Never. What did they repeatedly show me? Basements, lower ground, raised ground. You can not imagine how many of those undesirable flats I have seen. 'Everyone wants first floor. You will never get it.' Well I conjectured silently to myself: why can't I be one of those 'everyones' and get the floor I want? Because these agents have been trained to trick and bully you into submission. They truly are masters of their game. Bless.
Once you give them your budget, they ignore it. They insist ' and am I using that word kindly ' much closer to terrorize, harass, bully, intimidate you into admitting that you really want to pay '150-250 more a week. 'Oh please. Do show me more of those '650 a week flats with period detail, lovely views, access to private communal gardens. I may have a few quid still available in my over-draft. Or say, what about a high-interest loan?' Sometimes they show you the very flats they know you would sell your grandmother to live in so that you can then feel incredibly depressed that you have to settle on utter rubbish above your budget. I can see those stunning panoramic views from those huge curved windows, those massive rooms with wooden floors throughout in my mind's eye this very moment. Now I am depressed.
If the estate agents don't fill you with fear and anxiety, 'There are 10,000 newly arrived American bankers who need flats immediately and we have 120 flats coming up. What can I tell you?'- then the newly contrived bidding war surely will. 'But I know this is my flat'' is whisked out of your realm of possibilities in a bidding war to the death or at least to injury. Good god, these people are ruthless. Tiny sharp pins'little androgynous dolls'hmmm. Ouch. 'Oh, sorry, Darling.' Right I am.
While begging to see one of those 120 flats you know in advance that you will be outbid on, you find yourself spending your days whizzing around in a tiny car with a totally unfamiliar person who doesn't really have your best interests at heart; they are working for the landlords after all. It is the strangest phenomenon: you are a captive audience of intimate knowledge of a complete stranger whom you will never happen upon again, hopefully. 'So, you left your terminally ill mother in Slovenia with your sadistic brother?' 'So, you hate London, the English and the weather?' 'So, you are still living with your Gran and her six cats in a council flat in Croydon?'
It saves time to understand the standard euphemisms used by all estate agents: charming means too small to swing a cat'an effusive description of the neighbourhood means you might prefer to live outside the flat'well-proportioned means the sofa only fits along one wall, and not the one you'd choose'shower over the bath means only sharers need apply'well-situated means you can hear the underground and not the TV'nicely presented means tatty furnishings you wouldn't want to sit on, lie on, touch. I've seen them all.
I did find a first floor with more storage than I could have imagined possible, loads of windows, high ceilings, a block away. Now all I have to do is pack all my belongings as if I am moving to Mumbai and unpack all my belongings 10 minutes later. Can't wait.
About the Author:
Maggie is from Manhattan, where she was a painter, then designer of clothing, objects, textiles, interiors while writing for various publications and her own webzine. She is permanently based in London, the city of irony, where she writes regularly to her gal pal Lulu in New York.
You can read her amusing tales about London's daily life, people, current events, politics, fashion and culture at her website www.lettersfromlondon.com.