A significant milestone for SpareRoom.co.uk

Thanks 3 million!

In January, SpareRoom hit the magic number of three million. That’s how many registered users we have in our database, and the number is constantly rising. It’s just one of a number of landmarks we’ve passed recently, which go to show how we’re not complacent about our status as the UK’s favourite flatshare site. We’re constantly striving to improve the site and get the word out beyond our existing audience, so that you can benefit from a larger pool of prospective tenants and rooms to choose from. A big thank you to everyone who’s been part of the SpareRoom story so far, from landlords to agents, tenants and lodgers.

We surprised and delighted our 3 millionth registered user, by sending him a rather large cheque. Ryan Jackson signed up to search for a flatshare in Devizes, where he was moving to for a new job. We thought it fitting to give him £377 (the average rent inc bills for a double room in Devizes, according to the SpareRoom Rental Index). It turned out to be perfect timing as he’d just found somewhere to live.

World’s biggest houseshare is forming in London

Some of us live on our own, some have family to share with and some live with friends. Some, however, find themselves in a position where they can’t have a house to themselves and don’t have enough friends to share with so they have to seek new housemates – often people they wouldn’t have chosen to share with otherwise. Enter David Cameron, desperate to fill the House of Commons with enough new friends to be able to take charge.

OK, that’s a fairly glib intro but the point is this – for the UK to have a stable and secure government over the next four years the main political parties will have to learn to work together and decide on some house rules. If not, we could see a long period of squabbling over whose turn it is to buy the toilet roll with very little real governing being done.

As with any form of share the parties will have to carve out a balance between themselves and strange and unexpected alliances may start to form. Suddenly, the calm, quiet person in the middle of the argument who isn’t fighting either extreme becomes hugely important as a mediator and is in a position of power over the other two who want to secure their support. Step forward Nick Clegg. If the Lib Dems play their cards right they could secure the electoral reform they’ve been seeking for years, setting themselves up well for the next election. Last night may have been a disappointment for them but it may just prove to be the stepping stone to the 3 party race they want to see in future .

With many existing house shares that involve new housemates moving in there’s a danger of the biggest room going to whoever was there first – step forward (or step down) Gordon Brown. It’ll be interesting to see how the Prime Minister (he is still PM for now) approaches the situation and what he’s prepared to give away to the Lib Dems in order to try and hang onto power. If he’s forced to step down then the others (and the rest of us) could find themselves with a new housemate nobody chose to live with, let alone be governed by.

Whatever happens over the next days and weeks let’s hope the country emerges with a government ready to steer us out of financial difficulty and address the serious problems faced by the housing market in the UK. With a serious shortage of housing something needs to happen to help homeowners who want to rent out a room and clear up the confusion surrounding the HMO situation for landlords (although I think a house with 650 in it is an HMO in anyone’s book).

At least if they’re all sharing it’ll cut down on expenses.


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).


It’s a north vs south thing

Earlier today I came across an article I wrote for www.intoLondon.com several years ago ( just after I’d moved into a new flat in South East London). I’d lived in flatshares in London for around 4 years by this point – for the first 3 I was north of the Thames and happily prejudiced against anything south of the river. For the 3rd year I lived in a lovely flat on the not-so-lovely Stockwell Road. Every night (or so it seemed) I would have the convenience of having my walk home from the tube station lit for me by a kind police helicopter – one morning I woke up to discover that every single shop window in the area had been smashed. Not a great introduction to south London.

A year or so later, deciding that we wanted our own place, I ended up moving into a flat with my girlfriend purely because we knew someone who had a vacant rental property at exactly the point we needed one. The flat was in Forest Hill and, 6 years later, I’m still living there (albeit in a different flat a few streets away).

Re-reading the article took me back to the time when my perceptions of south London changed for the better and now I don’t think I’d want to live north of the river again, unless I had a whopping budget and could pick from a handful of places. My girlfriend, now my wife, was born and brought up in north London but is now most definitely a south of the river girl.

Here’s the article:

Taking Sides

Everybody knows about the great British North-South divide, it’s like the American one but in reverse. In the US the northerners consider themselves the sophisticated city dwellers and think of southerners as the poor country cousins. Over here it’s the other way round. We all know the divide exists in age-old attitudes and opinions but where on a map would you find it? Ask on either side of the Pennines and you’ll probably be told it starts somewhere south of the midlands, ask in London and the answer will be ‘just north of Watford’, ask a Scot and it’s all south to them. When it comes to the London North-South divide, however, finding the point of separation is easy, it’s one of the most famous rivers in the world.

Ask most Londoners (and by this I mean people who live and work in London as well as the born-and -bred variety) and most will express a preference for north or south of the Thames as a place to live. Both have their benefits and drawbacks as well as their supporters and detractors. It tends to be the case that London conforms more to the US style of North-South divide than the British one with the north looking rather down its nose at the south, I’ve often been told by people that they’d never consider living south of the river. There are many reasons for this but by far the greatest when it comes to choosing a place to live is transport.

The perception is that north London is far better off in terms of transport. There are 33 tube stops south of the river only 5 of which have access to more than one line. In contrast north London has over 35 which serve 2 or more lines and enough in total that I got bored of counting. The upside of this is that in south London you often get more for your money property-wise (whether renting or looking to buy) as most people in London want to live near a tube line rather than a train station. Tubes are more frequent, tend to run later and can carry you around the centre of town far better than trains, but in terms of getting into town in the first place (presuming you can’t afford to live in zone 1, correct me if I’m wrong), trains do the job just fine. For a start they don’t stop as many times per mile as tubes do plus, as an added bonus, you get to see daylight and – sometimes – the windows even open. This might seem like a small benefit but, until you’ve travelled any distance on the Piccadilly line in high summer with your face in a stranger’s armpit, you won’t know what a difference it can make to your general state of well-being. The redevelopment of the Docklands area in the ’80s also helped bringing the DLR links and eventually the Jubilee Line extension out into south-east London.

Another popular myth is that south London is a more dangerous and somewhat less savoury place to live than north London. People point to the high- and not so high-rise blocks of council flats, which march down from Bermondsey towards New Cross and out to Peckham as examples of this and Brixton still finds it hard to escape the taint of its troubled past. Slowly but surely, however, south London is being transformed as money moves in and starts looking for somewhere to eat out. Many areas south of the river are still affordable places to buy whereas their northern counterparts at a similar distance from the centre of London are way out of most price ranges. As a result bars and restaurants are springing up in areas where beforehand there wasn’t much on offer and tired and forgotten areas are getting a new lease of life and much needed income. In addition to this, there are some lovely hidden gems in south London, which are well worth a visit even if you live north of the river. The better-known examples range from Borough Market, which has been around for nearly 250 years, to Tate Modern and the London Eye. Less well-known are the wonderful Horniman Museum and park in Forest Hill and the collection of 30 life-size dinosaur statues in Crystal Palace Park which, seen from the train on a misty autumn morning, must be one of the oddest sights in London.

I think you may have gathered by now that I’m not exactly impartial when it comes to the question of the north-south divide – I live in south-east London and I love it. The point of all this, however, is not to persuade you to live south of the river but just to consider it because I have no doubt that somebody, at some point, will tell you not to.