The frightening truth about flat-hunting
Daisy BuchananFollow author @NotRollergirl
Daisy Buchanan is an author, journalist and broadcaster who writes about sex, feminism and reality telly. She's a columnist for The Debrief, The Telegraph and The Mirror amongst others, and lives in a rented flat in Greenwich with her boyfriend, where she enjoys being within walking distance of some of London's loveliest pubs.
“So there’s a fridge AND a freezer?”
“But that’s BRILLIANT! How long have you had it?”
“Well, it came with the…”
“I bet you can keep all sorts of things in there!”
“Just food, really.”
In retrospect, I’m not surprised that the woman with the fridge and the freezer did not want me to move into her house. There’s friendliness, politeness and enthusiasm, which is what I was going for, and an almost sinister, obsessively positive reaction to a fairly normal collection of white goods, which is what she heard.
I believe that the most brutal bit of city living isn’t public transport, or being close to rats, or spunking the entirety of what little money you have in Pret, thanks to contactless payments – it’s the way many of us are forced to seek out strangers to live with, in order to be able to afford to live at all.
I have schlepped to all four corners of London, following the little blue dot on my phone – and, in the dark days when I first arrived in the capital, a sheaf of Mapquest printouts – and I’ve been turned away from residences in all of them.
There were the girls who lived in the flat in Chiswick that stank of old laundry and cat wee who denounced me as a “posh, stuck-up bitch” the second the door shut behind me, all because I’d become nervous and conducted the entire interview in my telephone voice.
There was the woman in Highbury who was possibly more deserving of that label, who poured me a glass of sauvignon and spent an hour telling me that she was taking anti-anxiety medication because she was so fearful her banker friends would discover she was conducting an “entirely sexual” affair with a joiner named Ken, and then sent me a text that read, “Don’t think ur for us :)” There were the 23-year-olds in Streatham who thought that, at 26, I was an ageing freak. “But surely by now you should have a boyfriend you can live with?’
And every time, I have gone out of my way to thwart myself. When you’ve walked 40 minutes from the “adjacent” tube station and have water in your shoe, it’s normal to be withdrawn to the point of surliness. Yet, every time I’d go fully RuPaul, flinging my arms in the air and screeching, “I loooooooooooohoooooooove what you’ve done with that lamp!” No one wants to live with that. In retrospect, I realise my prospective housemates probably feared I would start stealing their stuff and selling it for MDMA.
However, as someone who has been on the other side of the arrangement, I should admit that I have leapt at the chance to judge strangers within seconds of them wiping their feet on the doormat. When the system that has denied you power gives you the chance to play God, you hurl as many thunderbolts from your cloud as you can in the time you have allotted. You make it rain. I once said no to a perfectly pleasant guy who turned up wearing a whole bottle of Hugo Boss Sport. “Imagine what would happen if we all went out,” I moaned. “He might fill the whole bath with Hai Karate.” The poor man was probably, like me, a nervous pervous who wanted to make a fragrant impression, and accidentally drenched himself with scent when the bus got bumpy.
And there was the edgy girl who asked if there were locks on the doors because her current housemates kept helping themselves to her underwear. “Weirdo,” I muttered, letting the door shut behind her, when she was probably experiencing genuine psychological trauma and had done well to make it out of her (horrible-sounding) house at all.
The whole thing is a lot like dating. You arrive, shaking the rain out of your hair and lit up with hope, thinking, “This might be the one!’” Then you discover they are fairly racist and very, very antisemitic. (And I’d like to say a big hello to Paul and Daniel, my old housemates in Golders Green.) At best, you lower your expectations and keep lowering them until what is tolerable matches what is available, and move in, never properly unpacking your bags, until life moves you. I’ve known some marriages like that.
If you are on the hunt, good luck! Dial down the enthusiasm and go easy on the aftershave. Remember that “professional” means “able to show bank statements that demonstrate salary coming in, rent going out and a minimal amount of suspicious Bitcoin-based transactions”. You don’t have to turn up in your loudest pinstripe suit, complaining volubly about working on the Sanderson account. “Enjoy an occasional glass of wine” means ,‘”We will all watch Game Of Thrones together, with alcohol, and if anyone talks, they will get Red Weddinged.” “No couples” means, “Inevitably you and your partner will spend all your time here, or at their house. Make sure it’s their house.” Bonne chance!