Is room-sharing the new flat-sharing?

Like when you had to share with your sibling. Only now you're an adult and you're paying for the privilege

Like when you had to share with your sibling. Only now you’re an adult and you’re paying for the privilege

Just when you thought sharing a tin-box ‘flat’ with five of your closest friends (and if they weren’t close before, they certainly are now) was the ultimate in low cost living – a new meaning for co-habitation has been defined.

Room sharing. Not with your current squeeze but with a completely platonic friend or (no we’re not joking) a stranger.

The eponymous SpareRoom website that has made renting so much easier for so many, has seen a 71 % increase in searches for bedroom shares over the last two years.

The harsh reality of rising rent prices means that the sanctity of your own space – a room to call one’s own – is being forfeited. Few people would choose to share a room with a complete stranger (hell, squatters get more say in who they lie next to at night) but if young people are able to afford to live in a city that has job prospects, then this may be the only answer.

Roost spoke to Simon Roach, who room shared with friend Louis Reader for nine months, about the reality of sharing a bed with your mate – and paying for the privilege.

Faced with an increase in rent on the three bedroom flat he share in Hackney with two other friends, Roach decided to rent his room out to friend Reader to help with the bills.

“It made sense – paying half the rent for what seemed like a relative inconvenience meant that I could stay living in an area that I liked, in a decent flat and not get into debt,” says Roach.

Roach admits that it was not an ideal situation but it wasn’t intended as a long term solution.

“A lot of my mates were quite surprised when I told them about it – they couldn’t understand how I would be prepared to sacrifice my own bed to stay in a decent area,” says Roach. “But the reality of it wasn’t too bad.”

He would, however, draw the line at sharing with a complete stranger.

“As Louis and I had travelled together we kind of knew each others weird habits, but if it was someone I didn’t know at all – that would be weird.”

What started as a short-term solution, turned into a nine-month love in – and they managed to stay friends at the end of it. Roach got promoted and moved into a different flat up the road in Clapton – with a room all to himself. But for many Londoners, room sharing is still their only option.

With the result of the General Election now cemented, let’s see how another term of empty promises about ‘affordable’ housing will impact on the capital’s renting generation.

Spotlight: Three long term renting cities – and why they work

1. B-E-R-L-I-N

Every day is a festival when rent is this cheap

Every day is a festival when rent is this cheap

In Germany’s capital of cool, the tenant’s rights are top priority. Rents are regulated and people have secure tenancies, and because the situation is so amenable to the tenant, around 60 per cent of Germans rent rather than buy. That the voter bloc is made up of more than half of renters means that politicians are more likely to cater to their needs – putting rent regulation high on the agenda.

How does it work?

Germany has more liberal planning restrictions than in the UK, which means that supply for housing isn’t as constrained. Berlin also operate a rent control system and so rents remain low across the board.

So what kind of price are we talking?

You could get a one bedroom apartment for about €600 a month for a central location, and a three-bed in the centre would be around €1,300.

Should we move there?

Yes, go now. Seriously, get on the next plane – before the rest of Britain clocks onto the benefits of this renter’s haven

2. M-O-N-A-C-O

Ok, we get it. It's a veritable paradise.

Ok, we get it. It’s a veritable paradise.

Monaco is unique for many reasons – there aren’t many countries whose taxes are funded exclusively by casinos. But the property market is just as bizarre: it is made up almost entirely of rentals, almost entirely owned and managed by one family – the Pastors – who have been running the show since the 1920s. The selection process to gain a tenancy in one of their properties is rigorous to say the least – unless you are well connected (ie related to royalty or own a shipping conglomerate) then it is unlikely you will even be considered.

How does it work?

It works for the residents because they are generally super-rich and can afford the astronomical prices. Once you’re in, you get what you pay for – the Pastor apartments are immaculately maintained and at least you won’t be paying through the nose for some hovel in Epping Forest.

So what kind of price are we talking?

You could get a studio for around €4,500 pm but if you want something with a bit more space we’re talking upwards of €13,000 pm.

Should we move there?

If you’re sitting on a fat inheritance then get thee to the Cote D’Azur, otherwise, you’re better off being ripped off for rent in Britain – at least we have a sense of humour.

3. N-E-W–Y-O-R-K

 You may live in a broom cupboard. But it's a broom cupboard in Greenwich Village, okay?

You may live in a broom cupboard. But it’s a broom cupboard in Greenwich Village, okay?

The Big Apples’s rental situation is complex. There is certainly a culture of renting but it is not regulated as comprehensively as it is in Berlin. On the island there is a premium on space, but if you spread your wings to Brooklyn or Queens then the prices aren’t as astronomically high. Like London, it’s a city of dreams – veritable gold pavements and all that – and so people are willing to pay through the nose to live there. After San Francisco, it is the most expensive city to rent in in the whole of America.

How does it work?

Because there is a mixture of rent-control and non-rent control apartments it completely skews the average prices. There are lots of cheap rentals in New York but you’re unlikely to be able to get your hands on them, because if they’re rent controlled and the tenants will be clinging onto them until the day they die.

So what kind of price are we talking?

Obviously it varies from borough to borough, but the average one bedroom is around $3,000 pm (£1957.60) and a two bedroom will set you back another $1,000. And the price keeps on rising – to put it in perspective the average rent for a one bed in 2012 was $2,100 pm.

Should we move there?

If you live (or have lived) in London in the last 10 years, then you already know what to expect: ie very little for a lot. But if you buy into lifestyle and location rather than having say, windows in your apartment, then NY will be your kinda place.

Let’s hear from the ‘dreaded’ Estate Agents…

While it may be easy to paint a damning picture of the ‘dreaded’ estate agent, only out to steal your hard earned cash while your flat dissolves into a damp-ridden cave – the reality is that some of them really are on YOUR side.

Roost caught up with entrepreneur and young estate agent owner, Nick Jackson. At the ripe old age of 27, Jackson knows what it’s like to be a young renter – most of his friends make up that demographic. So he is well placed to meet the renting generation’s needs, while also running a profitable business.

He set up Gordon’s Lettings in 2012. It is unique in the fact that potential tenants are able to view the properties virtually through the online video tours, so busy young professionals don’t have to trek back and forth across London, wasting time on properties they may or may not go for.

sw-virtual-tour

Nick, this is an unusual way to view properties, what was the thinking behind this?

It is certainly unique. At Gordon’s we pride ourselves on making our service work for the customer. I know from experience how difficult it can be to arrange a time for viewings – especially when you are having to do multiple ones. Making sure it suits a time for the people currently occupying the property as well as the potential tenant can be a logistical nightmare. So this way, we make it as convenient as possible for everyone involved.

Don’t most people want to see the property in the flesh, if they are going to sign themselves up to renting it?

Yes – but we offer that service to. This is the first step – you can have a look round the flat virtually and if it takes your fancy then you can arrange a viewing in person. But this cuts out all the wasted time going to view a flat that sounds good on paper, but maybe isn’t quite right when you have a look round. It helps people make a more informed decision.

Once a tenant takes up one of your properties, how do you make sure you provide all the services they need?

Myself and my team are always on the other end of the phone. We’re not like a lot of estate agents who hand it all  over to the landlords (who may not even live in the UK). We make sure that all the properties that we manage are well-maintained. I have a team of handymen who are on call 24/7 to maintain the properties. I know them all personally and I know they will get the job done.

Why do you think estate agents and landlords get such a bad rep?

I get it. Before I decided to get into the property business I was of the same belief to be honest. When I was at University my estate agents swindled me and my other flatmates out of loads of money, for supposed ‘damages’ – and it was such a pain in the arse trying to fight it – so they got away with it. I made a solemn vow not to be that kind of estate agent. Because I’m still relatively young – and so are the rest of my team – I am on the renter’s side. I know they don’t have £300 quid to pay for a form to be signed, so our costs and charges are proportional to the actual job.

It sounds like you have the young Roostr’s backs, but have you also seen a rise in older people looking to rent?

Yes I have – even over the three years that we have been operating. While renting used to be seen as the young man’s game, this is no longer the case. In places like London, people just can’t afford to buy. So we are seeing people aged 40 and upwards who have accepted that they are not going to be able buy any time soon and are looking at rentals. Young families, older working professionals – they have to rent if they want to live in the desired areas.

Is this the future? Are we going to become a nation of long-term renters?

The market looks set to ease off, and the government are trying out all these initiatives to make it easier for people to get on the property ladder. So in the next 10 years, I think it’s going to start becoming  easier for people to buy.

But London will always be an expensive place to live. If you want to find a three-bed house for less than £550,000 then move to the suburbs – that is not going to happen any time soon in London. What is often frustrating for us as estate agents, is that people are wildly unrealistic about what they can get for their money. But you know, I don’t blame them. Our job is to manage expectations and to try and find the best possible deal for their money – that goes for buying and letting.

Love period properties? Become a guardian!… But there’s a catch

Unusual building conversions are an attractive prospect for many renters. Those who want their home to have a history as interesting as the architecture will fall in love with their well-worn corridors (and ignore the rising damp and dodgy boiler).

From pubs to hospitals, hotels to pumping stations and even asylums – all can become a dream period property. And if you don’t quite have the cash to cover the rent on a period building, you can always become a property guardian.

The process of property guardianship is straightforward: guardian agencies approach landlords with empty buildings and offer to fill them with people, while a long term use is found for the space. On the surface it’s a great opportunity to live in a beautiful old building at a cut price, but because the guardians have no legal tenure over the property they can be asked to leave at very short notice. The property is generally not in a particularly good state and is not guaranteed to have all the amenities you’d expect when renting.

Most guardian agencies charge a £60 admin fee when you sign up, and you need to buy a personal fire safety pack (about £60). You will also have to pay a deposit – but once all that is out the way expect cheap rent in central locations.

Joshua Jess, an artist who was based in London last year, was a property guardian at a former office building, near old street roundabout. “My experience of guardianship was pretty positive,” says Jess. “I didn’t have much money and I only needed somewhere temporarily – it worked really well for my situation.”

The building Joshua stayed in was functional and although it got very cold at night – it was dry and secure, and had a kitchenette and bathroom, shared between 10 others.

“If you have a permanent job then I can see how it would get tedious moving around all the time,” says Jess.”But if you just want a temporary place and are short on cash then it’s perfect. I realise I got very lucky with mine – I know people who were staying in some less than sanitary digs – it’s pot luck unfortunately!”

If you think guardianship could work for you, check out Camelot, Dot Dot Dot Property or Ad Hoc.

In the mean time – Roost has compiled a selection of wonderfully charismatic buildings dotted around Britain that have now fallen into disrepair. However, with a little attention (and the services of a property guardian) they could one day be a dream rental property…

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