Are you thinking of taking the plunge and moving to London with your young family?
We were incredibly fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive friend (thanks Kirsten!) assist us with so much practical advice and answer hundreds of questions when we were making the decision to move. I know not everyone is lucky enough to have this type of support so I thought I’d share the things we discovered that really made a difference for our family. In the next few posts I will document what we have learnt over the past 12 months about settling into one of the world’s greatest cities with toddlers in tow. First up.. where to live – the focus is on renting as that has been our experience.
Set your criteria
This won’t surprise you but London is huge and expensive. You can get an idea of how much more expensive than where you are currently looking by checking this link. To narrow down your search to areas that are suitable for your move have a think about your top three criteria. For us they were:
1. Proximity to my partner’s office. We have no other support in London so he needed to be able to get home quickly i.e. within 30 minutes. Check the door to door travel time rather than the main train or bus journey i.e. factor in walking or other modes of transport. The best way to do this is using CityMapper where you can plot your commute via a number of transport methods. Update – I just found this ingenious website that helps identify areas to live in your preferred commute time and general area of London/commuter towns – www.commutefrom.com
2. Budget. Rents and property prices are eyewateringly high. If anyone ever says to me again it’s as expensive to live in Melbourne as in London I will ask them to check their rent/mortgage situation and this comparison site. My advice is to choose a realistic budget (i.e. more than you are paying at home) that takes into account your financial situation and other costs specific to London such as travel, childcare and council tax. Unlike in Australia where council rates are paid by the property owner, in the UK council tax is which is payable by whoever is living in the property and can vary considerably.
3. Close to the Thames and London landmarks. This was really important to me, though less so my partner. I’d lived in London as a student in a very dull suburb and knew that to continue to feel excited about our move I wanted to feel like I was in London proper.
Other criteria to consider:
- overall access to transport
- close to large supermarket (although less of an issue with online shopping)
- close to friends/family
- close to large parks and gardens
- within/outside the congestion zone (if you plan on having a car)
- old or new property – older properties can involve a lot of maintenance and mean you are at the mercy of your landlord if renting
- steps – we ideally needed a no step entry if I was going to manage 2 babies on my own!
Things you may need to compromise on: extra bedrooms and bathrooms, outside area/garden, separate laundry room.
Research online before you arrive
I spent a lot of time doing research online before arriving in London and I really believe this paid off for us in the long term. We were able to understand the rental market a little better and what we could expect within our budget. Use these sites for the easiest way to search for properties to rent or buy: Zoopla and Rightmove. Try to find some areas you would like to live in before you arrive so you are not starting from scratch completely. Note – the real estate industry is quite deregulated so it is also advisable once you have selected your preferred area to research local estate agents as many properties are not listed on Zoopla and Rightmove.
Part of our relocation package was several weeks in a serviced apartment. This bought us some time to find the right place to rent and we didn’t feel (too) rushed in the process. Try to negotiate this upfront if you can or find an AirBnB apartment to stay in while you research your permanent accommodation.
We were also allocated a relocation consultant by my husband’s company though honestly we had to do a lot of research ourselves and drive the process to get the outcomes we were looking for. The best advice they gave us however was to pick 2-3 areas and do some deeper research and visit them when you arrive to see if you like the overall atmosphere and services. We ruled out Islington and Bermondsey this way. I am still sad about that (mainly because there are many more coffee options than where we are now) but I was never going to feel comfortable pushing our big pram down those narrow footpaths.
This is where things start to get a little crazy. Now you have your preferred areas determined and have decided on your criteria then you can start making appointments with estate agents. I think we looked at over 20 places before making a final decision on the house we live in now.
There is a housing shortage in London so competition can be pretty fierce and the best properties go off the market quickly so set up some alerts on Zoopla and RightMove so you are notified as soon as they go on line. Via your research you may also discover real estate agents in the areas you like that hold and turnover a large amount of stock and contacting them directly may help gain access to properties before they hit the internet.
Hopefully you find the property of your dreams quickly. It’s then time to negotiate contracts. This warrants a whole blog post in itself so instead I found a great summary on things to consider when negotiating your rental contract. With any luck you will be moving in to your new London home with minimum fuss and settling into your new lifestyle shortly after.
I hope this post was helpful. My next expat post will be on healthcare, something you will want to get familiar with quickly when moving to London with small children.
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