Monday, 4 March 2013

Room Hunting

I have commented over the past few years how traditional modes of residence have come back into style as work in the UK has become more geographically concentrated, pay has fallen in real terms and the cost of accommodation has risen particularly rapidly.  I guess I am wrong to have ever thought that I should perceive what I think of as ‘old fashioned’ modes of living as such.  It is clear that they are, in fact, part of lifestyles of the 2010s and completely bury the myth of a ‘property-owning democracy’ that was once peddled in this country.  Thus, I guess it is unsurprising that as a man in my forties, I have lived with my parents: ; in a guest house:  and as a lodger:  Working in London I am again looking for accommodation, a process which is fraught with difficulty.  I am more alert to the hazards of 419 scammers in the market place for renting rooms:  and so far, this time round seem to have only encountered one.  This was a very low-key one without all the grandeur and fake photos of those I ran into back in 2013. 

One lesson I learnt back in 2009 is that there is no point in me responding to advertisements for rooms.  There are a number of characteristics which rule me out.  First is my age.  I am now in my mid-40s and for some reason people letting rooms seem to feel that there is something sinister about a man my age renting a room.  Even when they say in emails that they are happy to have me, meeting me they change their minds and I suddenly find the room has been ‘allocated to someone else’.  I accept I am overweight and unattractive, but I am clean and tidy and do domestic chores.  However, I clearly do not fit the image that people have of a young, dynamic businessman.  If I did, then presumably I would not have to rent a room. 

I think part of the problem is that they think that I will not tolerate poor things about the room.  I certainly think that if I am paying rent for a room, I should get all that is advertised.  Perhaps I am overly demanding in expecting cooking facilities and heating.  If you have a cooker and a heater, then they should work.  However, maybe this is too demanding and is what rules me out when there are others who will accept no heating or no cooking facility.  For me it is rather selfish because I know it is far more costly if I eat out every meal and I find I cannot stomach living on sandwiches constantly. 

The other key factor is that I am a man.  Around 75% of the advertisements I see specify that only women can rent the room.  At least people say this now up front, whereas in the past you had to ring or go there to find out ‘well, we’re actually looking for a woman’.  Yes, it is prejudicial, but I would rather see the prejudice before I waste my time.  Of course, no-one is allowed to specify ethnicity.  I am a very pale Caucasian.  I find that other people in that category do not want to rent to people like me because of the concerns about.  I get on far better with landlords/ladies who are South or East Asian.  However, not being from that background myself I am sometimes jumped over by someone ‘from the home country’.  This happens even when I have said I like a room and want to rent it.  Of course, in some cases it is just because they have met me and now the other negative aspects kick in.

One key negative aspect for me is the company that employs me and the fact that I now do administrative work.  For some reason there is a prejudice against people who do not work in making earnings.  Strangely I was told that people prefer a salesman on commission to someone who does a solid administrative job day-in/day-out.  Again, I think this comes down to the sense that an administrator renting a room must be a serial killer.  However, ironically, I am actually a better lodger as my income does not fluctuate and I certainly do not have alcoholic lunches and noisy celebrations the way some people in sales still do.  However, it is clear that it is better for me to lie about where I work and the nature of my work or run up against this prejudice.

The other thing is people’s sense of geography.  If I say that I want a room in North London, then clearly I will consider places in North-West London or North-East London and having a car and a parking space at work, I am not tied to bus, tube or train lines the way that many people are.  However, somewhere in South London or East London are of no use to me and it wastes my time to have to deal with these people contacting me.  Conversely, when I put an advertisement about being in a certain radius of work, I found I got no responses.  When I took this criterion off, I then had loads of people contacting me with properties precisely within that circle.  It is clear that, certainly in London, that people have little idea where their house is in relationship to other areas or even points of the compass.  I suppose if you travel just from home to work you do not gather this information.

I accept rent by the week.  However, there is now this common thing of accepting weekly rent and then after a period of time requesting the ‘make-up’ rent for the months which have passed.  This is because, aside from February in non-leap years, months have 2-3 days more than 4 x 7 days = 28 days.  Rent by calendar month appears to have disappeared and rental weeks that go over months also appear to be too difficult for landlords/ladies to work out, so you have this cluster of days, which add up to 29 days in a normal year, 30 days in a leap year.  Thus, you can suddenly be charged with an additional four weeks’ rent.  Storage places pull off this trick as well.  A key problem is that some charge you for it even when only four or six months have passed, so you have only tallied up a fraction of this additional month. 

I have now tried to rent three rooms only to have my application rejected or reneged on at the last moment.  I know the competition for renting a room is very high in London, but it is clear that my optimism that as when living in Exeter and Uxbridge that I would be able to find a place within a few weeks, has been entirely misplaced.  Though my income has fallen I did think I could rent somewhere at the same kind of level, with a 25% leeway, as I did last year.  It is clear that I need to accept that I am not going to find somewhere even within those parameters now and will have to put up with an unheated room or one with no access to cooking facilities if I want to rent for £4-500 per month.  Saying that, at this moment, I cannot even afford that.  I am not clear how I can go any lower in terms of finding somewhere to rent.  A job outside London or with higher pay is clearly necessary but is as difficult to conjure up than an affordable room as a lodger.

1 comment:

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