Moving to Walthamstow: “I never imagined this would be my life”

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And you may ask yourself
Where is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god. What have I done?

 

Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

 

A resident shares her experience of moving to Walthamstow, in the first in series of articles about the housing crisis

 

My name’s Ronnie. I’m 30 and single and I don’t have any children. I work in media relations for a medical organisation. I have a degree and a masters degree and haven’t been out of work since I was 16.

I earn around £32,000 a year which sounds like quite a lot on paper. But once I’ve paid my taxes, national insurance, £110 to the Student Loan company, £150 on my zone 1-3 travel card, paid back the money I’ve borrowed from Nationwide for the deposit and rental fees to move house, paid my phone bill, council tax, and of course my rent and bills, there is never much left at the end of the month.

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I’m not starving and I go out sometimes. But I’ve got no savings, and I haven’t had a proper holiday for years. One big unexpected bill would cripple me. As a teenager, even a few years back when I was finishing university, I never imagined this would be my life. 

Having lived in god knows how many houses and flats over the years with god knows how many housemates – partners, friends, strangers I’d met on Gumtree – I’d seen my already sky-high anxiety levels rocket. Approaching 30, I just thought that I’d like to try living by myself for a year – given the ridiculous rise in rents over the last few years, it could be my last chance to do it.

Originally I looked in South London, close to work, as far down as Croydon, and couldn’t find a single studio flat to rent under £800 a month, few were under £900. And I wasn’t fussy – even the tiniest, shabbiest, places were out of my budget.

I finally found somewhere on Rightmove for £750, in Walthamstow – a place I’d never been before. I called the letting agent, Victoria Knight, within 20 minutes or so of their advert going online, yet I was still about the fifth person to look round the next day. That shows how competitive the current rental market is.

The property is a converted attic on very busy, noisy crossroads. It’s tiny, with a roof so sloped that I can’t even stand up in some of the living/sleeping area. I immediately said I wanted it, because I was desperate.

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When I say desperate, I have to remember that at least I wasn’t fleeing somewhere – my then housemate (also my landlady) was nice, I wasn’t trying to leave an abusive relationship or family member. What on earth do the people in those situations do?

Victoria Knight charged me nearly £500 in various fees for things they almost certainly didn’t do properly. £500 in fees, for one person to move into a tiny cupboard. 

When I complained about this on Twitter someone said “well why didn’t I use a different agent?”

What choice do I have? The number of properties in my price range was so tiny, the number of people so keen to get them so numerous, that you just can’t argue over fees, or browse around. Decisions have to be immediate and you have to do anything and everything these agents want, or the flat goes to someone else. You have literally a few minutes to make massive choices, involving massive sums of money.

The deposit was £750, plus £750 for a month’s rent in advance. Plus fees. Once I’d paid a big chunk of that as a ‘holding fee’, I handed in my notice to my then housemate/landlord. A few hours later, Victoria Knight called me up and said: “the landlord hadn’t decided yet so can you come up here tomorrow and meet with his agent”. They clearly have no idea what ‘holding deposit’ means. 

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Luckily, I managed to get the day off work and after an interview the landlord agreed to let me the property.

So on top of those £500 agency fees, the deposit then suddenly jumped up from £1500 to £1700 “because bills were included” – that’s £100 a month for utilities so I didn’t have the option of saving money by not having the heating on, or taking a quick shower instead of a bath to cut down my bills. £100 for one person living by herself who barely owns any electrical gadgets, and lives in a tiny property, seems a huge amount.

I had to use all my savings – £1200 – borrow £1000 from my bank on a low interest loan, and borrow £1000 from my mother just to move in, pay the removal guy for his van, and buy some cheap furniture. Those are loans I’m going to be paying back for quite a while.

On moving day, I’d called Victoria Knight twice to confirm what time I’d be there to pick up the keys. Arriving bang on time, I was made to wait for well over an hour in their office, while people refused to tell me what was going on. Turns out they hadn’t bothered to transfer the huge deposit I’d given them over to the landlord so the landlord was refusing to give me the keys. They’d had my deposit for a week by that point, so I don’t know why they hadn’t already done it.

Not only did I have to pay my delivery driver for an extra hour (plus a big tip for waiting for me for so long), I had to single-handedly carry 20-something years worth of possessions up the stairs to my new fourth floor flat, on a boiling hot summer day, because the driver couldn’t help as he had another job to go to. Not something I want to have to repeat in a hurry.

I know that I’m relatively fortunate – I had that little bit of money in my savings account, and I was able to borrow a bit more from my family. 

But what happens in August when my one-year tenancy ends? If the landlord raises my rent, which you can predict he will, I’ll be forced to pay it. I have no savings and can’t afford all those up-front fees and other moving costs to go elsewhere.

And what is ‘elsewhere?’ My current rent and bills amount to about £900 – I can probably save a little bit each month by moving in to a bigger shared house with strangers but then I’m left with the anxiety, the compromises, the nightmare housemates. And with most rooms now £600 or £700 or more plus bills per month, I wouldn’t even be saving much money.

My parents live 40 minutes from London but a monthly season ticket is around £500. I used to have a very long commute (it’s still 1hr 15 each way for me to get to work, on a good day) and I just can’t face going from their place, in Bedfordshire, to south London every day. And at almost 30, I can’t face the fact that this – living with my parents – is actually the sensible, and most affordable option.

I’m angry that I’ve done everything by the books. I’ve paid my own way through university, worked hard, and I have to spend every single day worried about how I’m going to be able to live and work in the same city in a few months time.