I hung up the phone and walked along the road towards the house, running through the usual nonsense in my head. Be charming and funny, I thought to myself, but are they gonna be weirdos? Will I like them? Will they like me? What kind of state will it be in? Will I walk into a room to find them pouring wine from a monkey skull and dancing around a teapot in the dark? As I approached the house itself I saw a figure waiting outside staring solemnly at his phone. He was tall and gangly, with long brown hair and a nervous disposition. As he heard my footsteps approaching, he looked up at me like he’d just been caught masturbating by his mum. He quickly looked the other way as if to make out he was just taking in the surroundings. Is that one of them? I thought. I hoped not. As I got closer I figured it out.
“You’re here for the viewing too are you?” I inquired.
“Yeah. They said 19:00 though so I thought I’d better wait outside.” Sitting on their wall like a weirdo I thought. I looked at my watch; it was 18:58.
“I’m sure they won’t mind,” I said, “let’s ring the bell shall we?” At which point a third man dressed in skinny jeans, pointy shoes, NHS glasses and a beard turned up as well. The door opened, and everyone put on their best Ooh-Look-How-Friendly-I-Am faces.
It’s hard enough to be funny and charming at the best of times but when you arrive at a house occupied by four people you’ve never met before with two people you just met on a doorstep and then attempt to have a meaningful conversation with any of them, it’s all a little bit… well… strange, shall we say? Normally when you go to view a house people will set aside timeslots – half an hour is a safe bet – so that they can actually have a proper chat with their prospective housemates. Occasionally you’ll get someone who just hasn’t thought about it, names a timeframe, and tells everyone to come at some random moment during that timeframe. Chaos ensues.
It was a French guy that opened the door. Nice enough chap; dealt with the situation pretty well. He led us – all three of us – through the hallway and into a kitchen about the size of a skip, stuffed with 4 people cooking, and 3 of the biggest house flies I have ever seen lazily swooping through the air in the same way a tired commuter’s head bobs in and out of consciousness on the tube. They burrowed like moles through the dank, sweaty air as I took in the scene around me. The housemates seemed nice enough and, when led upstairs to view the room I thought it was a good size, but the place as a whole was old, dirty and crowded. I decided there and then that I couldn’t live with 4 other people again – I’m too old and grumpy for all that nonsense. I made my excuses, said thanks very much, and left.
A couple of years ago when I was looking for a house in London it was a piece of cake; there were plenty of rooms going that were of good quality at a low (for London at least) price. In 2007 I was able to get a sizeable double room with an en-suite bathroom in zone two with all bills included for £550 a month. Supply and demand was pretty even back then but now, as I’ve been informed by every newspaper I’ve read in recent weeks, the house-sharing market is saturated with people who have been pushed out of the market by rising rental costs in London. Every estate agent I walked into had a sign on the door saying “CALLING ALL LANDLORDS. PROPERTIES DESPERATELY NEEDED,” and when I went in asking about any 3 bedroom properties that might possibly be available you’re greeted with a tired shake of the head and a look that says “Nor will there be. Ever.”
To increase my chances of ever being able to live in a room in someone else’s house, I raised my limit to £650 per month including bills. This was somewhat galling considering that for the past year I have been living in a 2 bedroom flat on my own; I had my own walk-in wardrobe, I could walk around naked all day (as long as I kept an emergency tracksuit near the front door), and I could have a poo with the toilet door open; all for little over £230 a month.
Increasing my budget made no difference though. Hundreds of people have obviously done the same; competition was still fierce and the situation wasn’t helped by the few adverts that trickled through which contained such gems as “I am quiet, into meditation and have cats.” Just who, exactly, is she trying to attract with this kind of statement? Within a microsecond of digesting this my brain had already constructed a complete and detailed image of a woman with dirty, matted brown hair dressed in an Indian sari, and sat cross-legged in the middle of a living room filled with pictures of elephants, spirit crystals, burning incense, and cats that crap on the antique bureaux in the corner. Of course with me being someone who is a bit noisy, who finds the prospect of emptying my mind for an hour about as enjoyable as sticking pins in my eyes, and who finds cats a little bit annoying, I’m probably more prejudiced than most. I can’t help but think though, that she will attract only those people who are most desperate for a place to stay. Or hippies.
In the end though, it has all worked out beautifully. My new housemate and I have found a delightful maisonette in Wood Green opposite a park, newly refurbished for £450 a month each. It came on the market on Friday – the only 3-bed on the market in all the estate agents around Finsbury Park – we viewed it on Saturday, and told them we’d take it there and then.
After 2 months of searching for jobs and houses, everything is finally coming together. Now that I have a home base I can join a gym, change my diet, meet up with old friends; basically do all the things I felt like I couldn’t do before. I also have a great, challenging, techy job a world away from teaching with a steep learning curve and plenty of opportunities for progression.
Now all I need is to find a decent ramen shop and my life will be fulfilled.