Lowe Cost Living: The Highs and Lows

Over the course of the last four months, my investigation into renting for less than £500 pcm within Zone 2 has taken me all across London, and everywhere in between!  Primarily, I wanted to assess whether it was at all possible for a young economically active individual, like myself, to live within the rental system on such a low budget. But also, whether there were any policies in place to tackle the issue of the core workforce being priced out of central London.

My project began in a windowless office block in Hampstead; I then sampled shared living in Camden; spent time on a canal boat in Hackney; a flat pack home in Wimbledon; became a security guard in Hammersmith; joined a family in a housing co-op; and finally took my home onto the roads with a horsebox across London.

During this experience, I began to formulate an idea of what is working in the sector and what could be addressed by those investing and developing property.

Temporary vs Permanent

Having covered six different alternative spaces in the last four months, I do believe it is possible to live within the price points I was set at the beginning of this project.  But, to do so, I had to get creative and accept the rough with the smooth.

Pretty much all the accommodation I experienced existed as a short-term solution; be it a guardian scheme, a houseboat or a flat pack home, they all lacked permanence. Don’t get me wrong, the housing co-operative certainly provides a solution, but its target audience is not young professionals..

Size doesn’t matter:

My time at the Y-cube and the Collective both highlighted that the size of the unit really doesn’t matter for occupants of my age; our priority is purely location and price – for me in that order although the Knight Frank tenant survey identifies that for 65% of people it is affordability that is the key concern followed by location (23%). I would much rather a cosy crash pad which was centrally located and affordable, over a spacious pad which was unaffordable or even a cheaper big flat further out of town.

Location is Key

Clearly, your responsibilities change when you settle down and your need for space outweighs your demand for a central location. But the opposite is true for the young. My most enjoyable rotations were those closest to my work or with a decent transport link close by – if there was an outdoor space close by then that’s also a big bonus.  Living in Southbank, being next to Hampstead Heath or being 5 minutes’ walk from Marylebone were all three of my favourite locations as they allowed me to stay out later and make the most of my surroundings.

Never underestimate the power of community:

Community was a concept I had not considered before starting the project. This side of living, especially in schemes which involve sharing with others, is critical. Although I had my gripes with guardian schemes, they were a great place for meeting like-minded people in similar positions in their careers. Not only do you need central communal areas to hang out, but you also need to make sure you have the right mix of tenants.

The ups, downs and why I did this:

It’s difficult to pick a particular highlight of the project.

I particularly enjoyed the freedom of being on a houseboat and going for jaunts up and down the canal after a busy day in the office. I loved being next to Hampstead Heath in middle of summer and making the most out of the natural ponds and it was really fun hanging out with a young family at the housing co-op.

In terms of low points; my patience was tested by using a cold bucket to shower at night on the houseboat.  Living with rats in the empty office was a bit much and I think my first night in the horsebox wins worst night sleep due to the freezing temperatures, combined with being positioned adjacent to an incredibly busy road.

I really hope Lowe Cost Living might create a springboard in helping the industry better understand tenants’ needs.  It has certainly given my team at Knight Frank a more authentic understanding of what is required for a Private Rented Sector product.  Most research into the sector is based on data, conjecture and speculation rather than on-the-ground experience.

I must also convey my thanks to both Knight Frank for all the support I have received from colleagues and managers and the Estates Gazette for deciding to run with the story and support it so comprehensively.