London Flats: I've been gazumped! 0

By Maureen O'Driscoll

Summary: Searching for at flat in London? International Living provides a look at the ins and outs of looking for a flat to rent in London.

"I've been gazumped!" Upon hearing this, most Londoners knowingly nod their heads. The rest of us, however, may be left feeling puzzled, wondering whether we really do speak the same language. The risk of being gazumped is at the heart of flat hunting in London. It references the act of losing a flat you previously believed you had secured. This practice is so common that the English have coined their own word for it.

The ins and outs of looking for a flat to rent in London can sometimes be an arduous process--so I tagged along on a flat-hunting excursion with a friend and her knowledgeable agent, whose familiarity with the process made it more than manageable.

The first lesson we learned was that rental rates are quoted weekly. To determine your true monthly cost, multiple the weekly rate by 52 and divide by 12. Some feel this is a sneaky way for owners to obtain a bit more rent per month. One might assume, for example, that a £250 weekly rate would translate to £1,000 per month. Not so. Do the math, and you discover the rate is actually £1,083 per month.

We viewed a number of one-bedroom flats ranging in price from £220 ($400) to £265 ($484) per week. Cost variables are contingent on a variety of factors, including size, neighborhood, proximity to tube stations (the London Underground transit system), and general condition. Most London flats are well furnished and the majority have a small washing machine (few, if any, have clothes dryers).

In addition to utilities, another cost consideration is the council tax. Every London borough has a fixed tax that renters pay monthly. Annual rates vary from £600 to £2,200 ($1,095 to $4,000), depending on the neighborhood, home, and occupancy. Interestingly, in less-wealthy areas, the council tax is higher to account for greater social services.

Some things are negotiable in London. Weekly rates may be reduced by about £20 ($36.50), and the six- to eight-week deposit--recently increased from the formerly standard four weeks--may be reduced by two or three weeks. Lease durations also may be negotiable and, with the inclusion of a break clause, one-year leases can be terminated with two months' notice.

My friend staked a claim to her first flat by wire transferring a two-week deposit to the flat owner's account. This, she was told, would take the flat off the market. Two days later, however, she was gazumped. Dealing with this inevitability is exactly why having an agent on your side is essential. It was the agent who was able to straighten out the details and, in the end, ensure that my friend secured a beautiful flat in Belsize Park.

Maureen O'Driscoll
For International Living

P.S. While it is possible to find your own flat, working with an agent during this unfamiliar process can be the saving grace. For help, contact Property Consultant Stephanie Gladis (an American born and raised in London), at tel. (44)208-459-5082 (office); (44)7855-427-880 (cell); e-mail: . Property information is also available from Jean Oddy & Co.; tel. (44)20-7625-7733; e-mail: . Agent fees are paid by the landlord (typically 5% to 15% of the annual rent).

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First Published: Jun 04, 2005

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