‘Flatpack’ guide to finding the perfect place and lodger

Imagine the scene: your foot has turned blue from poking out of the warm duvet. A hybrid of leaping and hop-scotch across the ice rink floor lands you in the kitchen. A small groan as you notice the fridge ajar and the steady flow of milk onto your shelf from the contamination zone above. The makeshift Jenga set of your dishes is no closer to being resolved, and opting for the infamous Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut bowl seems to be the only option for a meal.

Hovering back to your room you hear that dreaded noise: the knock. Influenced by the mighty Rambo, you dive! Lurking underneath the windowsill, you wait patiently until you hear the footsteps growing smaller. Knocks on your door are never welcome. Upon befriending someone new, you divulge the secret (and only) way to gain entry to your dwelling thus avoiding all contact with TV licensors, the stairwell cleaning man, and any unnecessary and pricey maintenance workers. Your flatmates never seem to have the cash for such luxuries, and paying them on your own in the hope of future reimbursement is preposterous. You are in fact living life on the edge.

Sound familiar? You must be a renting a flat, possibly with strangers. They’re a flourishing breed, but their standard of life leaves a lot to be desired. Still, never fear, with flat hunting season now in full swing, here is the ultimate guide to picking a livable flat and decent flatmates.

When looking for a flat there are many considerations to keep track of even for experienced flat hunters, never mind first-time masochists. If you are new to the city, buy a street map and use it. Come through a couple of times and find your way around. From there, work outwards, finding first a supermarket. Resist temptation of the nearby Tesco – you know in your heart you’ll happily walk an hour for a Lidl. Second, find transport links, a takeaway of some sort and, of course, a local pub as a means of immediate escape. After finding all of the above within walking distance, you have yourself a location! Congratulations on succeeding this far in our quest. Few do.

The next big question: a private or company-owned flat? There are pros and cons to both. With a private let your landlord is self employed and usually has other flats or a completely different 9-5 job. Usually the rent is slightly cheaper and the flat finished to a poorer standard. You may also wait a year or two to have a problem fixed. Pillow sniffing and going through your drawers when finishing ‘maintenance’ whilst you are out may also be a problem. However, on the upside, you escape all legal fees such as £80 credit checks and might be let away with the odd day or two on the rent front as you check down the side of the couch to Narnia for the few coppers standing between you and homelessness.

As hinted at above, going with letting agents sees hefty bills coming your way. If a letting agent suits you, be prepared for legal fees of £50 upwards and the mythical ‘double-whammy’ charge of the first month’s rent plus a matching deposit (and maybe damage control of £50-ish) all in one. Sound scary? It is. But at least you have the extra protection of a company to run to when your shower decides to branch into cryogenics. With a reputation to maintain, expect someone round within a couple of days or less. And there’s a better chance of getting back your deposit with a company than with the private landlord you’ve always thought looked suspiciously like Fagan.

If you’re viewing a flat (and please do), don’t just look at the pretty wallpaper. Get in there with a spirit measure and get what you’re paying for. Checking windows is essential. Single glazing is simply bad news. Make sure all windows are in good condition and, more to the point, that all open. Don’t worry, not all of us can be good at cooking, these things can happen and food will burn. In fact, best to invest in a fire blanket. The main rule when picking a flat is that the ground floor is a definite no. You may joke about it being perfect for when you’re stumbling back from the ultra-local, but you’ll be freezing in winter and can’t steal any of the heat from the neighbours with the real jobs. The higher up the better: and this is why they taught you that heat rises when you were a kid. Plus the exercise of the stairs will save you hundreds on gym membership!

When choosing your flatmates you’re in for a bumpy ride. Picking your friends might seem wonderful at the time, but  arguments do happen and you might wake up as enemies. And of course, when picking strangers, you may never wake up at all. So here are our top tips for living a life closer to Friends than Fatal Attraction.

If someone uses the word ‘outgoing’ in their advert to find a place, don’t reply. What they really mean is ‘I often drink too much and throw up in the kitchen sink after a wild night out’.

Words you are looking to see are respectful, tidy, interested in cinema and in board games. Don’t be afraid to pick a ‘boring’ flatmate. Your life will be made considerably easier simply by not having to let them in at four in the morning because they lost their keys at a foam party. Other than meeting in the kitchen, you don’t really need to socialise with your flatmates so don’t worry if they aren’t quite to your taste.  Besides, monopoly is fun!

Remember, living with complete strangers isn’t all doom and gloom! Sure, you’ll notice your milk goes down quicker than it used to and your fridge may become a contamination zone but you could end up living with really great people. Shock horror, you might even become friends!

So there you have it, the guide to renting. You’ll budget your couch cash, live with boring people, be able to walk to everything major in your life, and of course, you’ll have the best windows in the city. What more could you want?

Words and photography by Colleen Reid

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