We finally managed to give away a year’s rent

After the general frenzy that was last Monday, we’re having a much quieter day at SpareRoom London HQ today. Having finally located Jo and been able to pay her the year’s rent she’d won we feel all at peace with the world (if £7,072 lighter in the wallet).

Whilst updating the competition winners’ page I couldn’t help but notice that, out of 4 months’ rent won and one year, we’ve only had one male winner so far. Is it just that boys aren’t entering or are girls generally better at forwarding their code to friends to get extra entries (and thus increase their chances of winning)? Who knows (not me, that’s for sure).

So, chaps, let’s have some more male entries this time and see if we can give away a month’s rent to a male flatsharer in October or November.


Never ever use junk filters. Here’s why.

As you may know, our Live Rent Free for a year winner almost lost £7,072 because her junk email filter junked our email. In fact, had we followed our competition terms to the letter she would have. This has inspired me to get on my soap box and explain why you should never use junk mail filters and how, if you look after your email, you should never have need for them anyway.

I learned my lesson years ago. At the time I didn’t look after my email (as I didn’t know how) and so felt I needed junk filtering on my email program. One day a renewal email for an important domain I owned got junked and I lost the domain forever as a result. That’s the point: it only takes one of these incidents to make it worse than not worthwhile using these filters. And it is not a question of if it will happen to you, but when. Because it is impossible for them to be 100% accurate and that fact will never change, however sophisticated they become in the future.

For the last 7 years I have used the same email address extensively every day and have never used junk filters nor needed them. Here are my tips for junk free email:

1. Unsubscribe, don’t junk

First off you need to know that there are 2 types of ‘junk mail’

  1. Unsolicited (email you didn’t ask for)
  2. Solicited (email you did ask for, whether you realise it or not).

Often the line is blurred between the two because we forget what we sign up for, or hit the wrong opt in/out button when signing up for something, and/or companies aren’t always as clear as they could be about where the email is coming from and why. Despite popular myth, you’re very unlikely to get emails of the first variety through signing up to websites  you come across in your day to day web usage. Most of these sites are law abiding and if you just follow the unsubscribe instructions at the bottom of their email, you shouldn’t hear from them again (though don’t be too hard on them if it doesn’t work first time – we’re all at the mercy of computer systems and their little kinks!)

2. Never use sites that publish your contact details publicly

You WILL get put on spam mailing lists. We’re referring mainly to certain classified ads sites (mentioning no names, but one large one in particular who really ought to know better considering they are owned by a global corporation), who either publish your email publicly for you, or allow you to put it within your ad description. There are ‘robots’ that trawl such sites lifting any email addresses they find and building mailing lists for unscrupulous companies to use to peddle their viagra and penis extension kits!

3. Make a clean slate

If you’re already plagues by proper spam (i.e. the unsolicited variety), you may be better off changing your email address and starting again. These mailing lists don’t follow the unsubscribe rules, so once you’re on, it’s a lifetime membership!

4. Choose your email address wisely

If you do decide to set up a new email address, think carefully about what you use as this can affect the likelihood of receiving spam. Beware that if you use a common service, such as hotmail, that spammers use automated tools that try 1000s of common first & last name combinations etc before the @ sign. However, this technique is less effective and so less common than the one in tip 2. This is because it results in a large number of non existent email addresses, which give email providers a heads up to a likely source of spam so blocking it before it gets as far as your inbox.

A year’s rent almost junked

Here’s a quick follow-up with more details on our competition winner.

After sitting in her junk mail folder for a couple of weeks we’re pleased to say Joanne finally found our emails saying she’d won a year’s rent and got in touch. Having read our follow up email we got a reply from Jo, quickly followed by a second once she’d read the full thing and realised what she’d won!

“Didn’t fully read the last email, now I’ve read the second bit… I’m sort of freaking out. I don’t think I’ve ever won anything before”

We’ve worked out the average for a double room with bills in Jo’s postcode and are happy to announce that she’ll be getting £7,072 – good job she checked her emails!

For those who missed out on the full story, here’s a quick catch-up

Don’t forget, we’re giving away a month’s rent every single month so don’t forget to enter (and don’t forget to check your emails once we you have!).



Joanne found (but not in Brixton)!

After much consternation and Twitter action yesterday (and several emails from people offering to give the prize money a new home) we’re happy to say we’ve heard from Joanne, who is alive and well and living somewhere near Clapham Common.

For those who don’t know, Joanne was picked as the winner of our Live Rent Free for a year competition but didn’t respond to any of our emails letting her know. Turns out the problem was an over-zealous junk mail filter and, luckily, Joanne checked her junk mail yesterday and found our emails!

We’re checking our rental index right now to work out what Joanne’s prize will be (based on the average rent for a double room in the SW12 area) but I think it’s only fair we tell her before we tell you!

Many thanks to everyone who helped us with re-tweets (including @sarahbeeny, @tepilo and @4Homes) and TheRatandMouse for their assistance.

We’ll follow this up with more details later, cheers again for all the assistance we got.


Where’s Joanne??

Here’s a quick update on our search for Joanne…

We’ve had plenty of help from people tweeting to help us find her and have also had several people kindly offer to take the money if she doesn’t turn up!

We heard from one Joanna in Brixton who came very close but just wasn’t Joanne. As a random aside, we popped out for lunch today and didn’t find Joanne but did spot Mika giving away free ice-cream in East London!

If you’d like to help us spread the word please tweet the following:

Joanne has a whole year’s rent waiting for her from @spareroomuk – help them find her http://tinyurl.com/mb2h38 #wheresjoanne



Live Rent Free winners

So, we’ve got one Live Rent Free winner to announce and one still to find!

Congratulations to Aisling O’Neill who won our Live Rent Free in October competition. Aisling lives in Bath so wins £351.17, the average for a double room in her area.

As you may have read on Friday, we’re still waiting to hear from our winner of the year’s rent competition. We’ve decided to hang fire a little longer before we pick another winner so please help us spread the word and see if we can find her.

Our winner’s name is Joanne and we think she lives in Brixton, as that’s where she was looking for a room on SpareRoom when she entered the competition. We have an email address for her but haven’t had a reply to the emails we sent. As the prize is in the thousands of pounds we really don’t want her to miss out!

Please do what you can to help us as, unless Joanne gets in touch, we’ll have to pick another winner. Joanne can call the number on SpareRoom.co.uk to get hold of us so please spread the word.



A whole year’s free rent is waiting…

You may have noticed our Live Rent Free competition that’s been running on the site for the past few months – every month we pick a random winner and we pay their rent for a month. We also ran a competition to win a whole year’s rent that finished at the end of August. We picked a winner and emailed to let them know their prize was waiting but, so far, we’ve had no response! The terms and conditions of the competition state that we’re now allowed to pick another winner but it would be gutting for the person who was picked first time round to have missed out so we’re desperately trying to find them! If you know anyone who entered the competition please get them to check their email and get in touch with us ASAP so we can sort this out.

I don’t want to print their email address on the blog for obvious reasons but the winner’s first name is Joanne and we’d love to be able to get hold of her!



Crema vs crema – London’s best coffee

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in Italy recently and quickly got used to fantastic coffee on a daily basis. Cafes, restaurants, train station buffets – it seems impossible to get bad coffee in Italy. This made me wonder how Italians react when they arrive in the UK and are faced with the options we have. OK, the standard is improving but, let’s face it, there are still plenty of places in this country to get really crap coffee.

So, here are my favourite places to get a decent coffee in London. There will be great places I haven’t been to so let me know if you have a particular place you love.

  1. Monmouth Coffee Company – These people roast their own beans (several varieties of which you can buy to take home) and supply them to coffee shops all across the capital. Their own coffee shops in Monmouth Street and Borough Market are the place to go for a brilliant espresso.
  2. Caffe Vergnano – These people have a shop on Charing Cross Road and, having checked the website, another on the South Bank! Hurrah! Not only is their coffee as good as any I’ve had, full stop (can’t quite bring myself to say the American version), but they also have a marvelous Caractacus Potts-style espresso machine.
  3. Nude Espresso – Brilliant antipodean coffee shop near Spitalfields. The coffee is great and they do that wonderful thing with the frothed milk that makes it look all velvety and like a Vienetta (which doesn’t make it taste any better but looks cool, bit like the shamrock on a pint of Guinness).

That’s my top 3, let me know if there’s anywhere else I should check out (and why).


“Renting’s great…it’s a no brainer”

Not my words, ladies and gentlemen, the words of Sarah Beeny (and what refreshing words they are too).

We interviewed Sarah last month while she was busy launching her new site Tepilo and she had some interesting views on the UK’s attitude towards renting vs buying. In a nation obsessed with property ownership (see ‘10 Reasons to Ignore House Price Statistics‘) it might do us some good to occasionally consider the alternatives.

Here’s what Sarah had to say on renting:

Matt – Do you think as a nation we’re overly obsessed with the idea of home ownership?

Sarah Beeny – Definitely, renting’s great! If you look at other countries everyone’s really happy to rent. I think we are a bit obsessed, it’s fine if you can afford it and want to do it but bear in mind that people don’t actually look at the figures realistically. The reality is that if you buy a property on an interest only mortgage and you’re just paying the interest off, in 25 years time you still owe the cost of the property and effectively you’re renting it from the bank. But the disadvantage of that is that it’s you that spends your weekends in DIY stores and its you that has to fix the boiler or replace it and you have to re-decorate and mend the roof . The great advantage of renting is that if you don’t like it any more you can just move out and go somewhere else. It’s very flexible, you can live in a much nicer property if you rent than if you own.

So if you buy under an interest only mortgage you’re basically renting under another name?

Exactly. It’s renting under a different name but with the additional costs of having to maintain it as well. It’s a bit of a no-brainer really.

Would you hope that the UK’s attitude towards property ownership would have changed by the time your children get to the age where they’ll be thinking of buying?

If my children grow up and are happy renting I would encourage them to rent. I’m not going to be saying ‘you’re completely useless unless you manage to own your own property’. As long as they’re happy in what they’re doing if they rent all their lives that’s pretty cool. What they’re doing on a day-to-day basis is more important to me, rather than owning or not owning a property. I think it’s slightly irrelevant.

Read our full interview with Sarah Beeny


10 reasons to ignore house price statistics

It seems as though there’s a constant flood of news concerning the housing market at the moment when – in reality – there isn’t much news. We’ve become so obsessed as a nation with our housing market (and invested so much in it) that we’re constantly looking for signs of growth, peering into the property supplements and broadsheets like kids on a rainy British holiday pressing their faces to the glass desperate for a glimpse of sun. It’s exhausting!

Finally The Times has given us permission not to. Today’s article 10 Reasons to Ignore House Price Statistics explains, in straightforward terms, why we shouldn’t read too much in the latest statistics. Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one property sale that achieves the asking price doesn’t end a downturn.