When I moved back to London, England from Toronto at the start of this year, my local friends warned me that the rental market was in crisis — but nothing could have prepared me for the total and utter carnage that is searching for a one-bedroom flat to rent in the capital right now.
According to figures from real estate company Zoopla cited by The Guardian, average rents in London rose by more than 15% to £1,978 (roughly $3,360 CAD) a month, as demand soared over the past year.
On paper, this may not seem much worse than Toronto, where average apartment rents have soared over the $3K mark in recent months. In London, however, the competition seems more fierce — stories about bidding wars, or tenants putting down a year's worth of rent up-front to secure a property, have become shockingly common.
And all of this is happening in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
Like many others in my situation, I had become slightly obsessed with "London Flat Hunting" TikToks in the lead-up to my move, which had given me a sense of just how difficult it was to secure a place to live. Still, I didn't expect to have to see 13 flats in three days before finding the one.
Here's every rental property I viewed in London before finally finding a place to call home.
Flat 1 was damp with a tiny bedroom
@alimillington Come flat hunting with me in London! Day 1, Flat 1 #londonflat #londonflathunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
Having lived in London in multiple areas of the city for seven years until 2020, this time I knew a few things about how to find a rental.
I first nailed down my criteria — a maximum budget of £1,750, at least one bedroom, some sort of outside space, a maximum 10-minute walk to the closest tube station, a space that was recently renovated/in good condition, enough room to live and work, and in one of my preferred areas of the city — and set up email alerts on online real estate portal Rightmove.
Right away, I saw plenty of properties that looked great and matched what I was looking for. I reached out to each to book viewings and was able to arrange a few for the following day.
The first flat I saw on day one of my hunt was at the top of my budget, but I had high hopes since it was in a perfect location in Chiswick, a neighbourhood I love.
However, I was quickly disappointed, especially considering the price. The space felt and looked damp, had a tiny bedroom that would fit next to nothing, and a pretty grim bathroom. I liked the layout and garden space, but overall, it wasn't a great start.
The living space in Flat 2 was way too small
@alimillington Flat hunting in London Part Two: The second flat on Day 1 wasn’t for me #londonflathunting #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunt #londonflat #londonapartmenthunt ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
I made my way down the road (in the rain, of course) to my next viewing, which was also at the top of my budget. It was in a slightly less desirable location but the pictures looked great, and it was in the same neighbourhood.
While the bedroom was a good size, the living space was small for someone who works from home, and I was also concerned by the fact that the kitchen and bathroom hadn't been cleaned in what seemed like a long time — it was a red flag for me that the landlord was happy to show the place in that condition.
Flat 3's location was too busy for me
@alimillington London flat hunting Day 1, Part 3 #londonflathunting #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunt #londonflat #londonapartmenthunt ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
The same evening, I made my way to Hammersmith in west London to check out another one-bedroom place that was listed at almost £200 under my maximum budget.
When I arrived, 5+ other people were waiting to view the flat at the same time, which was quite awkward. It was on a busy, loud main road, which I didn't love, though the finishings were modern and recently updated.
It was ultimately too small for what I needed, though — the tenant had squeezed his desk into his tiny kitchen, which wasn't going to work for me.
Flat 4 was the second-best of the bunch
@alimillington Flat hunting in London Part 4: We have a contender! #londonflathunting #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunt #londonflat #londonapartmenthunt ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
My final viewing of the day (yes, I was exhausted) was back in Chiswick at just under my maximum budget — and after taking a look, I honestly thought I'd be putting in an offer.
I loved the quiet but close-to-the-high-street location, the layout, the adorable garden, and the extremely kind landlords.
Most rental flats in London are first-come-first-served so you have to act quickly, but, in this rare case, the owners wanted to let all the viewings take place before entertaining any offers. There was one downside, though — the place was fully furnished, and the furniture was pretty ugly and dated.
I decided to keep looking before I made a decision.
Flat 5 was adorable, but too far from the station
@alimillington London house hunting Day 2, property #5 - Richmond edition! #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #househuntlondon #londonhousehunt ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
Day two had arrived, and I was starting to worry I wouldn't find anything better than what I'd seen the day before.
However, I tried to stay hopeful as went to see if I'd get more for my money by going right to the end of the tube line in Richmond — which is a great place to live.
Advertised as a "cottage," this was a two-bedroom property (top of my budget, again) that was extremely cute – I loved the open plan main floor, the fireplace, the kitchen and the fact it would allow me to have a separate office space.
However, the bathroom wasn't great, and the main dealbreaker was the 18-minute walk from the tube station, which was already pretty far out of the city. As a woman who is often coming home alone at night, I didn't love the idea of having that added to my journey, so I decided not to put in an offer.
I didn't like the neighbourhood surrounding Flat 6
@alimillington Flat hunting part 6! This one was reduced by £100 within 24 hours after I viewed it… #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
The next flat I saw was in Acton, a neighbourhood I didn't know too well, but it looked great from the photos and was slightly under budget. I also had a friend living nearby who had recommended this part of London.
It had a bright and fresh living space and a decent layout, but I didn't like the damp bathroom, the area, or the lack of nearby transit links.
Flat 7 didn't have a full kitchen
@alimillington Reposted to edit out faces! Flat #7 on my London Flat Hunt #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
The seventh flat I saw was back towards Hammersmith. Although in great condition and under my budget, it didn't have a full kitchen, which was a problem for me as I love to cook and entertain.
I also didn't like the building, or the fact that the furniture was completely different than what was shown in the photos (and would be staying).
The rooms in Flat 8 were way too small
@alimillington Flat hunting in London part 8 (I swear we’re getting there)… #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
I was feeling ready to give up by the time I got to the eighth property, but I made myself power through — I was on a timeline as I was staying in hotels and Airbnbs until I found a new home, which wasn't particularly wallet-friendly.
This one-bedroom at the top of my budget between Chiswick and Acton had extremely small rooms — to the point where I didn't know how I'd fit my furniture in the living room or bedroom.
The bathroom was modern and the outdoor space was great, but, again, I didn't love how far the property was from a main road or tube station, and knew I needed more living space.
Flat 9 needed a lot of TLC
@alimillington Flat hunting in London part 9: this one had so much potential! #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
I was optimistic as I started day three of flat hunting since the place and location in Chiswick looked perfect, but the flat itself was extremely worn down — and again, top of budget.
The paint was peeling, the carpets were stained, and it ultimately needed a lot of love — which was such a shame because it had an incredible rooftop terrace with a view.
Flat 10 was too expensive — and too depressing
@alimillington Flat Hunting in London Part 10: Checking out a place over budget, and it was a definite no. #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
I decided to change it up and head to Notting Hill, where I was convinced by an estate agent to view some properties that were above my budget. It was a rough start, though — I couldn't believe the poor condition of the 10th flat for the price.
While the location and view were stunning, the previous tenant had lived there for 20+ years, and there were no plans for any upgrades. The kitchen and bathroom were frankly quite depressing.
Flat 11 was — like most of them — absolutely tiny
@alimillington Flat hunting in London Part 11: Another one-bedroom in Notting Hill #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat #nottinghill ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
I headed to the second Notting Hill spot, which was, again, way too small despite being in another great location and slightly under budget.
It was also furnished, and the furniture wasn't my style.
Flat 12 was so awful I didn't stay long enough to take photos
The final Notting Hill property I saw — the fourth of the day and 12th overall — was so bad I didn't even take any photos or videos, as I wanted to leave from the second I arrived.
It was in a rougher part of the neighbourhood in an old council (social housing) building and was dirty, cramped, and packed with junk.
I realized I wouldn't find what I wanted in Notting Hill, but with no other viewings booked, I felt defeated.
I found my home in Flat 13 on a whim
@alimillington Flat hunting in London is finally over - Flat 13 was the winner! #apartmenthunting #londonrenting #apartmenthuntinguk #londonflathunting #londonflathunt #londonapartmenthunt #londonflat #flattour #londonflattour #housetour #apartmenttour #londonapartmenttour ♬ original sound - Ali Millington
Back at my hotel after seeing 12 flats in three days, I decided to reach out a second time about a property that had gone live that morning, but I hadn't heard back about.
It was a modern-looking one-bedroom right near the station in Kew Gardens, a quaint village that's one stop closer to the city than Richmond.
The agent picked up, telling me that while the flat already had at least one offer on it (in less than 10 hours) I might stand a chance if I could come see it immediately.
I was pretty close by, so I dropped everything and went to take a look — and it was perfect. I loved the modern kitchen, the little terrace, the open plan and the natural light.
I got my offer in right away, by which point there were three others on the table, so I went slightly above asking price, wrote a personal letter, and hoped for the best.
After a few days, I found out my offer had been accepted, and I was ready to celebrate. While I was relieved the hunt was over, I realized it could have taken a lot longer and I had actually gotten pretty lucky.
For anyone seriously looking for a new place to rent in London, the only way you can be confident in this market is if you're ready to view properties — and lots of them — on short notice, at any time of day. Unless you have a flexible job, take some time off and get it done — you'll thank yourself for it in the end.