Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where to stay in London: 5 things to look out for

One of the common questions that I get from those looking to move to London is where to stay in London. While I have attributed a section on this in my London Accommodation Guide, I thought I’ll touch upon five things that you should look out for when deciding where to stay in London.

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1. Crime

Let’s be honest, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that London is crime capital of Europe, there are some pockets in the capital that has a higher incident of reported crimes as compared to the others. An acquaintance who shuttles between New York and London once observed that unlike New York where you know exactly where the dodgy areas are, it’s not quite clear in London – there seems to be a low level of petty crimes distributed throughout the capital.

The dispersion of low cost housing might be a contributing factor but it is by no means the only as one the area with the highest crimes reported is the Covent Garden, Westminster, Piccadilly Circus triangle, where we don’t really see any low cost housing. Then again, it might be that tourists are more inclined to report criminal activities.

Anyway, the London Metropolitan Police has a very user-friendly website that provides an overlay on where high crime level areas are. You could even toggle between different crime categories while you are at it.

2. Demographics

Some of us would like to stay where there is some level of cultural familiarity. This is especially so if you are new to the UK itself. Not only that, as Culture Shock: London pointed out, there is a trend of London’s supermarkets stocking their shelves according to the demographics of the area. For example, you’ll find pak choi (leafy vegetable frequently used in Chinese stir fry) in Islington Angel’s Tesco Metro but not the branch in Bank.

Also, if you are with a young child, staying in Hampstead Heath would be more desirable than in the City Square itself. Singles may prefer staying in Zone 1 where there are more nightspots and so on.

3. Schools

Some parents move into neighbourhoods so that their children can attend a particular school. Safely said, some neighbourhoods saw their property prices maintain despite the credit crunch simply because there are good schools nearby. I would recommend going for the Good Schools Guide as a starting point.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) provides very comprehensive reports on each registered childcare nursery and school. The reports even touch on the relationship between the management and the staff (you get the idea).A colleague read a damning report on a nursery where she has paid a hefty deposit for and she is now considering forgoing her deposit. If only she read the report earlier.

4. Budget

Most likely this will be the major factor on where you’ll eventually settle down. Naturally the rental costs depends not only on amenities and location but on size as well. As expected, the jump between studio to one bedroom and subsequently to two bedrooms isn’t as significant compared to the jump to three bedrooms and above.

For an independent indication of property rental prices, you can refer to London Property Watch. If you are looking to buy, look at Zoopla instead.

There is a growing trend of single Londoners looking to flatshare. Not a bad idea if you are looking to save up for a deposit for your first home or simply to have more spare cash each month. Pros: there'll be someone in the house and it's a great way to meet people. Cons: you might just be bunking with some weird characters. Gumtree is the place to go if you are going the flatshare route.

5. Distance to work

This is rather misleading. I have come to realise that most of the travelling time is wasted on the transport delays within central London itself. Ironically, if you are staying outside Zone 2, you might arrive to work earlier than the chap who stays in Zone 1 provided that you are close to a overland train station and transit through London Underground is not necessary.

Simply do a dry run during peak hours before signing on the dotted line. Alternatively, head to Transport for London to get an estimate of the travel time required. Just don’t forget to add the time required for you to get to the station itself.

Of course these factors aren’t exhaustive. In fact, London for Londoners gives a decent breakdown on the various London boroughs (or precinct if you prefer) detailing not only the pros and cons of staying in each area but also the average housing prices, household income, demographics and even the schools available.

Did I miss out anything? What would you consider when deciding where to stay in London?

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Emm said...

TFL is the first site I visit before I even go to see a new property. Then again, I have started taking the slow trains of a morning so that i can get some relaxing and reading time in!

C K said...

Other than TFL, I'll head to Google Map. That gives you an immediate picture of the surroundings. And I know what you mean. My daily DLR commute has become my 'personal time'!