If it costs you £800,000 to buy a 10ft wide property in East Dulwich, the chances of being able to afford anything like your own flat in London are so minuscule as to be irrelevant. (Unless you’ve got a lot of money, in which case, lucky you.) And when it costs upwards of £1,000 per month to rent a one bedroom flat in zone 3, the only reasonable option for most is to take a room within a flat-share.
The problem is that everyone else is in the same boat as you, so the competition is ferocious. And it’ll still cost you on average a minimum of £600pcm to live in south east London, rising swiftly to a minimum of £800pcm anywhere else in zone 2.
What this means for you, the humble house-hunter, is that the stakes are both high and remarkably personal. While you’re competing with hundreds just for the chance to get accepted for a viewing, your prospective new flatmates are looking for something with a bit more sparkle than a simple “hello”.
So when you join one of the wealth of flatmate finding websites – RoomBuddies, Flatmate.com, SpareRoom – you compose a profile that not only explains what you’re looking for, but what you like, what you do, your hopes and dreams. You can even add a photo.
It all feels a bit over-familiar – something that’s highlighted if you’re simultaneously using online dating sites like OKCupid. My potential new housemates, much like my potential lovers, apparently need witty paragraphs of pseudo-ad copy, photos of my pouting face and my vital statistics to get to know the real me. They need me to send an opening message that makes me stand out, and if I am lucky enough to get a shot at a viewing, this stranger is going to let me into their home, and maybe sit me down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, but more than likely just show me round their room then chuck me out the door again. I will spend the next week wondering if I’ll ever hear from them again, then chalk it up to experience and move onto the next one.
It’s not difficult to see why people might think both dating and house-hunting have lost the soul that was previously at the crux of both processes. It’s a lot less romantic to meet someone via a computer screen, just as it’s a lot more utilitarian to meet the person you’re going to share a home with through a few message back-and-forths and a ten minute interview-style interaction.
But it seems that this is the future, rather than a temporary state. SpareRoom themselves have noticed the similarity between the two experiences, setting up regular “speed-flatmating” events across London. Now, you don’t even have to compose your long-winded self-marketing campaign and send an awkward first message. Just as speed-dating has all of the crushing anxiety of going on multiple dates with none of the intimacy or the opportunity to take your time, speed-flatmating takes away the need to fire off countless, increasingly desperate messages to every room ad in sight, and replaces it with an even colder, even more hurried process.
Is it possible to impress someone enough to make them want to see you every day in five minutes or less? I’m not convinced it works for relationships either, but the continued existence of the process is some kind of evidence that it does.
Flat hunting in today’s London is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Just as my OKCupid inbox is full of strange men propositioning me in as crass a way as possible, so I received unsolicited messages on SpareRom from men in their forties offering me the illustrious opportunity to live in their home – maybe even share a bed! – for reduced rent, or even rent-free, if we “get on”.
And just as this is part and parcel of online dating now, I worry this too is what we must accept whilst house-hunting in 21st century London. It certainly won’t be getting any cheaper or less competitive any time soon.
Tilly Grove tweets as @femmenistfatale.This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.