Finding An Affordable Place To Live In London

(For the purpose of this post, I’m using affordable in London terms, FYI. Which might be very different to most other cities definitions of ‘affordable’)

I have officially been a resident of GREATer London for three years and two months and ‘a bit’. In that time, I have lived in three different house shares, and next weekend I’m on the move again to a one bed flat in a somewhat grown-up-relationship-living-together-situation (Yep, that’s happening).

That’s four places in just over three years (not even counting the month I spent being lost and confused and having restricted access to the buffet breakfast in student hall accommodation when I first showed up on London’s doorstep). So you could say I’m quite accustomed to the minefield otherwise known as finding somewhere to live in London. And in particular, somewhere half-decent I can actually afford to live in, without missing out on too much actual living because all my money’s being swallowed up by the very real rent monster of your graduate nightmares.

Captain Obvious time. This city IS pricey. Fact. If you’re moving down from T’NORTH (please bring me gifts), you’ll probably be pretty overwhelmed at how much it is to rent out a basic room in a house share. But for me at least, the benefits of living in LDN while I’m young far outweigh the financial benefits of living elsewhere. So, I may not be able to post smiling social media pics of my smug face and a set of house keys – but instead, I can share all the fun things I get to experience in a city like no other.

debenhams lighting

However, as expensive as London is, I believe you can still balance living in a non-dungeon with having enough cash to let the good times roll. There’ll be people out there who’ll try and convince you spending any less than £1500 for a pokey one bed in Zone 4 is basically impossible. Probably the very same people to make you believe that’s the standard of London. Those people either a) haven’t bothered to look around much and have an opinion based on property that comes mostly from this article, or b) don’t want you to come and live in their city.

And neither of those are people you should listen to (especially the latter – London’s TOTES gonna love you – as long as you practise getting your Oyster ready first). There are affordable (by London standards, at least) flats, houses and rooms out there. If you’re willing to compromise a bit.

My first room in Leytonstone (Zone 3, about 20mins on the tube to Oxford Circus) cost me £420 a month. Including all bills. It was a big room, with lovely wooden floors and a beautiful fireplace. An absolute steal, which I’ll admit I lucked out with – but its proof decent value places can be found. At the time, I was a Publications Assistant learning 17k a year (here are some more thoughts on people who think you can’t live in London on less than £25k BTW) and after my rent I had enough disposable income to throw at Primark and Gin Enabler Venues and even, you heard this right, go out for dinner quite a bit.

flowers for instagram

Unfortunately, there WAS the issue of my weird live in landlord whose bedroom was above mine and the horrible sex noises, hence why I decided to move out as soon as I earned more £££, but for a first place to live in the city it was a pretty good intro, and proof you don’t HAVE to spend 2/3 of your cash on a bed in a hole in the wall. Here are just a few things I’ve picked up over my three years of moving about like a travelling one woman circus…

Decide what’s negotiable. When we were flat hunting in December, we’d already decided what was negotiable (exact location, the kitchen being separate from the living room, garden) and what wasn’t (proximity to tube, bathtub, a basic state of cleanliness). Some negotiable aspects went up and down with price – if we’d found a practical PALACE for £800 that happened to not have a bath, I could MAYBE have been swayed (but it would have been a criminal waste of a bath bomb collection). Once you’ve decided these and your budget, you’ll be ready to decide quickly when something’s right – more on that in point four…

Look beyond the obvious. Yes, we all want to live in Clapham/Angel/Shoreditch because yes, it’s lovely/trendy/has good coffee, but with the most-wanted places come the less-wanted prices. There are some great places that are still within Zones 2-3/4 that won’t make you feel like you’ve been cast out into the suburban wilderness. After having a brief look on the internet, I’ve spotted plenty of places that I could afford in Leyton/Leytonstone (COME BE MY NEIGHBOUR, we can do brunch), Tufnell Park, Ealing, Tooting, Wembley, Barking and Turnpike Lane, as a starting point. Yes, I know, they’re not super glamorous – but you can spend the cash you’re saving on your rent on cocktails in glamorous places elsewhere. Instagram will be none the wiser.

recipe organiser box

Be prepared. Know where you’re looking – save your searches on Zoopla, Rightmove and Spare Room and set up email alerts for new properties to be added. Email letting agents in the areas with your information, budget and the kind of properties you’re looking for to get the jump on viewings. Be flexible with viewings – if you can manage to get in at short notice, you’re less likely to miss out on the place of your dreams. Which brings me nicely on to…

Get in quick. And I’m talking agreeing to take the place on the spot. As you’ll quickly learn, there ain’t no time for Dithering Dorises in the ever-changing capital. For my first room, there were three other people at the viewing, and it turned out that all four of us wanted it. It just so happened I was the first (and we’re talking by a few minutes, max) to say yes. It’s ruthless, but it’s reality. And really useful in shaping your decision-making skills.

I could say A LOT more on the renting situation in London – and I probably will sometime soon, possibly in the form of a grumpy rant about ‘Generation Rent’ (aka me and my pals) being pushed out of the city if they can’t afford to take advantage of the supposed ‘help’ being offered to those wanting to buy because home ownership is basically the only pinnacle of achievement in life…um. Anyway. Hopefully these couple of pointers have reassured anyone wanting to make the move to this ridiculously fabulous city that 1) it IS doable, 2) you WILL be able to find somewhere and c) you TOTALLY won’t be living on beans on toast and Pot Noodles. Hooray!

(Well. Except during the week before payday.)

(For those curious – the snazzy home bits used to illustrate this tome of a post are from, of course, wonderful Debenhams, snapped at their Christmas press day.)

  • jodie.keith

    This was such an interesting read! I work in a managing agent and look after flats in Hackney and the prices are ridiculous! I’m glad to hear it’s not like that all over London!

    Jodie @ Jodetopia x

    • Oh that must give some quite interesting insights! I think area definitely comes into it a lot, and knowing where to look is a good start!

  • This came at he best time for me! Im starting room hunting next week, I have some ideas already but Londons so big that It’s hard to know where to start! P.S I was also told I couldn’t love on less then 25, my new job is a bit under that so I was genunily worryed, then thought sod it!

    • You’ll be absolutely fine! 🙂 Keep me updated with how it goes! (preferably involving seeing your face soon!)

  • I moved from Scotland 4 years ago and I hate it when I see you can get a 4 bed, all en-suite, massive house with a massive garden for £350-£450 a month there and I pay £450 a month for a tiny room in a house here in England :/ I thought about moving to London a few months ago but was putting off looking (I’m currently in Hemel Hempstead which is about 20 mins on the train) so your post is great timing haha! I might have a looksie now 🙂


    • Do it! I think London’s the kinda city it’s definitely worth living in at least for a while – it’s such a full-on, busy experience if you make the most of it!

  • Have been living in London for about 15 years now and yeah I shared a lot and I moved 10 times , I had bad and good experiences too so I can totally relate to your post. Your post is great it will help new people moving to London I guess. I am lucky enough now to only live with my boyfriend in a tiny little house in Crystal Palace, we took that lil house on the spot as indeed renting in London is fearce if you snooze you loose. ( I hate letting agencies !!!! sorry I had to say it)
    But now the big thing is to try to buy something that it’s another chapter….

    • Letting agencies can be a nightmare, especially with fees! I’m glad we found somewhere so quickly that we loved and managed to get it!

      • they are indeed …my last one kept talking to my boyfriend and I like we were 5 …long story but omg ! I can’t stand them honestly! I am glad you found a nice place quickly .

  • Sophie Athawes

    This could not be more relevant to me at the moment! My bf and I are viewing flats for the first time this weekend. It’s so tricky to find any 1 bed flats that allow us to get to work for under £1000 a month (not including bills or council tax). We live only 20mins from Waterloo at the moment so it’s been tough. We think we’ve found some promising stuff so far though! Great advice xx

    Sophie Elizabeth

    • It’s tough isn’t it! I think as soon as you go under £1000, the choices get SO limited for a 1 bed. Good to hear you’re finding promising leads though – let me know how you get on! 🙂 xx

  • jaklien

    Great tips you are giving here. I am lucky that I bought a flat ten years ago and only have a very low mortgage to pay off every month. I couldn’t live where I am living if I had to rent. It is getting quite ridiculous in some areas here.

    • I would love to own somewhere, but realistically it’s not going to happen unless it’s at the extreme expense of my lifestyle – and I wouldn’t change that at the moment at all!

  • I’m graduating this year and moving to London is one of several possiblities, so this was a really helpful read! It was refreshing to hear you say that it can be done – so many people have told me ‘London is too much money’ without knowing any exact figures, but I don’t want to rule it out without doing some research first. Lots of luck with the move, I hope it all goes well! xx


    • Glad this was helpful 🙂 I think some people just see London and assume there’s nothing you can do except pay obscene prices – but a little bit of hunting around and being smart means you can often find slightly less obscene places around! Good lick graduating (and YES, MOVE TO LONDON!)

  • I loved this post, Milly. I’ve definitely found that living in London is all about compromises, and it sounds liek you’ve been really mature about the wants and the needs, and the negotiables! I’m very excited to have you so close to my neck of the woods.

    • NEIGHBOURS! (kinda!). Thankyou! It’s definitely really important to work out what you will and won’t compromise on, I’ve learnt that for sure!

  • This is a really helpful post and it is doable, about 8 years ago I was thinking about moving to London but I was given a promotion at work and stayed in oxford, which is probably similar prices to the capital anyway, but I did find such reasonable priced accommodation. I don’t think I could live in a busy city anymore though, I currently live in a small country village/town in Dorset which is bliss! It’s practically silent after 10pm here which I love!

  • Great post – though Leyton? WHAT ARE YOU ON DO YOU WANT TO BE MURDERED?! I’m looking at places near Liverpool Street to be commutable to work and travel-able to family functions. £300 per week for a bedroom with a kitchen in it is affordable, right?

  • Nancy Straughan

    Really useful and important advice. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m trying to buy and its pretty scary!

  • urbanvox

    those are some AWESOME tips right there… specially the take it on spot one… Gosh… I was gutted once when I found the perfect house and then went back the next day to take it and the ship had sailed!!!! Loving your adventures!!!!

  • Curious Emily

    Really, really helpful article. And good disclaimer at he beginning – I was talking about rents with a friend who owns a house in Bletchley (no comment) and she was like, “I’m sorry, I just can’t get any head around the idea that £500/month + bills is a bargain!”

    We live in an okayish three bedroom flat and it costs £585/month + bills, but our rent hasn’t changed in five years so I consider it a bargain. I live on Caledonian Road very close to Angel, King’s X and Highbury and Islington. (I am buying a house atm so it should be coming back on the rental market in December if you know anyone!) X