Expat Living: Housing

“And my parents finally realize I’m kidnapped and they snap into action immediately: They rent out my room.”
― Woody Allen

The me also be abundently clear. I love living here
Let me also be abundantly clear again. I love living here.

I hinted at the prices of things before, but let me make it abundantly clear.

Rent in the city is ferociously high, it’s climbing, and it’s having some significant consequences (Kerry from Planes, Trains, and Plantagenets wrote about this recently).

Rent here is (accounting for currency adjustments) three times what we paid in the States, for half the space. To put it another way, our rent now costs half of Jeff’s salary and it used to cost just a quarter of mine. That is an adjustment, kittens. It affects every other expense and calculation.

Housing standards are also different. Lots of things are considered basic in the US are considered luxuries here. Our oven is old (the rubber sealing tube actually is no longer attached, I had to get creative in order to secure it back in place), and our cooker hobs actually are old enough to have rust damage. We also don’t own a garbage disposal which means we have to be extra mindful about what goes in the sink and the rubbish.The walls are concrete which means it’s nearly impossible to hang anything on them, and (in case I haven’t mentioned it enough yet) space is limited. Our toilet runs with an echoing dripping noise constantly and our washing machine’s pipes drain through our sink – with attendant clogging issues.

Our building used to be council housing (government social housing originally built to provide decently built, affordable homes for working class people), and the council still oversees most of the maintenance, but our flat is privately owned. Britain has a long history of social housing, stretching straight back to the middle ages, but the current incarnation is largely a result of WWII when so many homes in London were destroyed by bombing that the government had to provide something. It was also a good way to get rid of and redevelop a lot of long standing slum areas – many homes got running water, indoor toilets, and heating for the first time through council housing. Of course, most council housing is fairly dated now. We’re lucky, our landlady is very lovely and very easy going (and actually accessible, which is more than can be said for our old managers). But everything in our flat is very well worn. I suspect we’re going to have to replace at least one appliance while we live here.

On the other hand, we have a washing machine – actually in our flat that we don’t have to pay to operate. This is perilously close to domestic bliss as far as I’m concerned. We also have a lot of other things to be grateful for – a storage closet in particular that holds all our luggage, a shelving unit for shoes and cold weather accessories, all of our boots, and a few clothes that need to be hung up rather than folded to store. We have a great view of some of London’s most iconic landmarks. We live three minutes away from a Tube station and 20 minutes away from Jeff’s work by foot.

All things considered, I’m very pleased at how snuggly we’ve landed. Truthfully there are some days I can hardly believe our luck at how easily we found a place to live, even though it meant completely rethinking our notions about rent. I do worry about housing long term in case we ever need to move – prices keep going up – but in the meantime, in spite of some issues, I’m more than content.

[ETA: Ha! Mere days after drafting this our washer did in fact break. Luckily a bright, shiny new one was delivered yesterday, but I find the timing uncanny. As usual, there’s more to the story…]

4 thoughts on “Expat Living: Housing”

  1. No schadenfreude implied….but this is “normal” for many people in big cities like New York, which is why it has a growing problem of homelessness and poverty — crap wages and crazy-high rents. It creates a terrible income divide here. One reason I’ve never lived in Manhattan (and likely never will), much as it would be a lovely treat, is that we pay for a 1-bdrm with pool, balcony, tennis court and river view what we would pay for a nasty 300-500 sft studio or 1 bdrm in a bad neighborhood or walk-up in NYC — and with the real fear of rent rising with no control.

    When we met, my husband had a basement apartment beneath a Brooklyn brownstone (large but a little dark) in 2000, paying $1200 for a 2-bdroom, although the 2nd bdrm was too small to be very useful for much, with about a 40-min subway commute to work. Overnight, the nabe got trendy and the landlords said they could easily get $1,800 for the same space (no washing machine, no dishwasher.) Who gets a $600/month raise overnight?! Luckily, we were ready to have him move in with me by then.

    This is one reason New Yorkers are such workaholics. Their cost of living is ferocious. And why you’ll see so many out-of-state or country tourists watching Broadway shows and shopping Fifth Avenue. Beyond the wealthy, the rest of us are too busy working our tails off to just afford the bsics of NYC-area life….not all the cool, fun stuff we moved here to enjoy!

    1. I believe it! I’m glad our rent is locked in by contract, but goodness knows it’s got an end date. The income division is insane. I’ve seen whole buildings of flats that the owners can’t rent out, while living conditions are going down nationwide because incomes cannot possible keep up with the cost of living. It’s madness.

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