5 inexpensive buys to take your shared kitchen from drab to fab

1. Windowsill Herb Box

How many times in the last month have you found yourself mid-marinade, wishing you’d remembered to pick up some basil from Tesco earlier? Cry no more, my friend. A windowsill herb planter will soothe all herbal culinary woes, with no need for a garden, trowel or previous plant-growing expertise – and it’ll make every grimy kitchen look (and smell) better straight away. Snap one up for as little as £9.99 on Amazon (complete with compost, basil, chive and parsley seed packets) and get growing. Flatmates shall be bowled over, bolognese shall taste better, and visitors shall mistake you for a proper adult.

2. Cloud-shaped Chalkboard

There’s SO many things to love about the good old fashioned chalkboard. Not only does it conjure endless classroom nostalgia, it also serves as a great canvas for scribbling important notes to your flatmates. You know, things like the all-important cleaning rota, whose turn it is to buy milk, or passive aggressive (read: threatening) messages to the suspected biscuit thief. This one is cloud-shaped and comes in at under £20, leaving you plenty of pennies to stock up on an array of coloured chalks.

3. Pineapple Bottle Stop

Bid a smug farewell to the days of leaving random spoons in the top of your prosecco to keep it fizzy in the fridge (thanks for the tip though, Mum). This chic £12 pineapple bottle stop is here to keep those rare unfinished beverages fresh, flavoursome and at their strongest ABV. It’s simultaneously also pretty cute and stylish enough to incite envious conversation amongst dinner guests. Which is a great distraction from a less than brilliant choice of wine.

4. Panini maker

Everybody knows there’s nothing quite like the heartwarming smell of gently toasting bread, and nothing quite like the taste of gooey melted mozzarella. Enter the (£20) panini maker. Flatmates will be wooed by your freshly toasted sandwiches (they make great bribes/peace offerings) and just think of all the cash you’ll save without the need for those lunchtime Pret visits and dodgy meal deals. Better still, you can garnish your creations using those freshly grown windowsill box herbs. Winner, winner.

5. A kitchen garden

Because let’s face it, reasonably priced rented accommodation with a garden = SERIOUSLY rare, particularly if you’re living in the city. But not to worry, because there’s always Patch – purveyors of the uber-cheap urban plant. There’s kitchen plants galore for both well-lit and dimly-lit spaces, plus a selection of minimalist cool pots to keep them in. We’re hankering after Franky the aloe vera plant and his air-purifying, skin-soothing powers. Is there anything Franky can’t do?

Buying these is great and all, but how about if you didn’t pay rent for a month? Then you could buy all of these and more…SO much more. Well, it could happen sooner than you think – enter our Live Rent Free competition, where we pay someone’s rent EVERY month.

TV documentary looking for Flatsharers in London with stories to share

Are you currently living in a nightmare houseshare?

Are you super fussy about who you live with?

Perhaps you’re a serial house hunter moving for the 10th time this year?

Or are you in your 40’s or 50s and finding the flatsharing market challenging?

Sundog pictures are exploring the phenomenon of housesharing – what it’s like to live with strangers and the trials and tribulations of trying to find a room in a saturated rental market.

We’d love to hear from anyone with an extraordinary story – the information you share with us will be strictly confidential and at this stage won’t be used for broadcast. Please note we’re looking for current stories only at this point.

Please contact us for more information – tom@sundogpictures.co.uk or call 020 7602 8163.

4 great ways to find a flatshare in London

London flatshare search options

There have always been several ways to search for a London flatshare on SpareRoom but they’ve been a little hidden away – until now.

With a bit of design tweaking we’ve been able to create a much easier way for you to access them. Here are the 4 ways you can search:

  1. Location – Simply type in the postcode or name of the area you’re looking in and away you go. Easy
  2. Commute time – Select your ideal commute time, let us know which station you work nearest to and tell us your budget. We’ll show you all the flatshares you can reach in that time
  3. Travel zone – Looking in a specific zone or, say, between zones 2 & 3? Cut out rooms in places you’re not interested in and zone in on the relevant ones
  4. Tube line – If you want to live on a specific tube line tell us which and we’ll show you all the best flatshares you could be living in

We hope these tools make it easier for you to find a London flatshare. Happy hunting!

Matt & the SpareRoom team

Great new London area info tool

Where to live in London

Choosing an area in London can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re new to the city. Most people either end up in one of the few areas they’ve heard of or choose somewhere based on where their frinds are or to be near work. There’s nothing like a bit of local knowledge though when it comes to living in a new city – luckily, with hundreds of thousands of Londoners using SpareRoom every year we’re not short on local knowledge.

So, to take advantage of this (and make things easier for you), we’ve now added a new ‘area info’ feature to SpareRoom’s London ads. This shows you the average monthly rents for a single and double room in the area (including bills), plus a handy list of the tube and train stations you’ll find there. The best bit though is information on what each area is like based on real feedback from SpareRoom users who live there. Whether you’re looking for somewhere leafy, chilled, good for pubs or multi-cultural we’ve taken the recommendations of thousands of Londoners to help you decide where to live.

Every London ad on SpareRoom now has an area info link (next to the postcode at the top of the details):

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Click the link and it’ll take you to the info for the area in question (in the example the area is Brixton).

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If you know the area already there’s even a link so you can tell us what you think.

Happy hunting – don’t forget to come back and let us know what you think of your area once you’ve moved in!

Cheers

Matt

How to advertise for a flatmate part 7 – Speed Flatmating & viewings

In the final part of Rick’s guest blog for us he looks at the usefulness of Speed Flatmating and shares his thoughts on viewings

Speed Flatmating

I’ve been to a few Speed Flatmating events in my time, and as odd as the concept may sound to some, they’re an incredibly useful way of meeting potential flatmates face-to-face and sizing them up in a way that reading someone’s advert doesn’t really allow for (whether you have a room to let or are looking for a room). As undeniably useful as they are, the strangeness of turning up at a social event to basically ask people if they’d like to come and live with me is something I’ve always found a bit stressful; for example, as a man pitching the spare room in my two-bedroom flat to a woman, I have to give off an unspoken assurance that I’m not some sort of weirdo and that they can feel safe and comfortable if they were to move in. Still, printed copies of my ad and the video tour I mentioned earlier ready to view on my phone make for an impressive pitch, so there’s no shortage of interest. And it works – my current (female) flatmate was found at a Speed Flatmating event in Fulham.

Viewings

I’ll not presume to tell anyone how to conduct themselves at a viewing. But the one thing that caused me no end of annoyance and inconvenience whenever I’d arranged viewings was people simply not turning up without so much as a text message to let me know they weren’t coming. It’s rude, it’s inconsiderate, and it’s a colossal waste of my time. I once scheduled eight viewings over one weekend, and only three of them turned up. Two non-attenders texted me half an hour or so before they were due to arrive to say they weren’t coming, the other three didn’t bother. A whole day, during which I had plenty of other things I could have been doing, completely wasted. Politeness, consideration and good manners cost nothing. Well, perhaps the cost of sending a quick text in this case but simply not turning up seems to be considered acceptable. It bloody is not!

Viewings can sometimes be awkward experiences, though. For example, one person felt the need to make it very clear to me that he intended to be massively sexually active should he move in, in such a way that left me in no doubt that what he actually meant was that he intended to pay for the privilege, if you get my drift. That, as well as evidence of a drink problem and some frighteningly ‘old-fashioned’ attitudes regarding race and women, had me keen to wrap things up as quickly as possible. I didn’t fancy the prospect of an angry, tooled-up pimp kicking my front door in during the early hours, for one thing. Another person had a go at me as soon as I opened the front door, telling me that he hadn’t realised how ‘far out’ my flat was (despite my ad and the directions I’d given him being perfectly clear on the location), accusing me of deliberately misleading him, before turning heel and storming off. I was quite startled, I can tell you.

As I said, back at the beginning of this series of guest blogs, the search for a flatmate is usually an uncomplicated process, and hopefully you won’t encounter any of the potential complications I’ve described. This little blog isn’t meant to be taken 100% seriously, but I hope it’s been in some way useful, if not entertaining, and at the very least kept you from doing any work for a few distracted minutes.

How to advertise for a flatmate part 5

Rick’s post today looks at the part transport plays in people’s search for somewhere to live (especially in London)

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Transport

Transport options are obviously an important factor, but one thing I found frustrating when managing my ad was the prevailing mentality that, if you live in London, you absolutely have to be within walking distance of a tube or overground station or you might as well be in the middle of nowhere. This seems just as ingrained in lifelong Londoners as it is in those looking to move to London for the first time. My flat is a ten minute bus ride from the nearest tube or overground station, which was enough to cause a large proportion of people to tell me it wasn’t worth their while because “I need to be within 5 minutes walk from a tube” – despite the fact that three regular and quick bus services run from right outside the block, and I can get to work in Central London in 45 minutes. Some people were even quite rude about it, as if my choosing to live somewhere not immediately next to a station was some sort of weird objectionable anti-social stance I’d taken specifically to annoy them. The very idea that anyone might even consider not living within 5 minutes of a station, let alone have the sheer sodding audacity to advertise the fact on a property website with a view to having someone move into the spare room, was evidently akin to my having drowned their puppy. It was strangely fascinating to see how it simply did not compute with some people, and how it offended their sensibilities to such an extent that I half-expected an outraged Daily Mail article to be written about me, which would be Twittered and Facebooked around the world within hours, forcing me to seek police protection and go into hiding.

Maybe it’s because I’m not from London, but this peculiar love-hate relationship its residents have with its transport system fascinates me. Everyone moans about it, no-one seems to have a good word to say about it, yet everyone seemingly cannot bear to be more than 5 minutes walk from its sweaty, smelly, dirty, overcrowded, overpriced, poorly-maintained, rude-staffed, perennially service-suspended cloying embrace. It’s an unhealthy, obsessional, dysfunctional relationship, and if TFL and the residents of London could be distilled into two people, we would no doubt see them shouting incoherently at each other on The Jeremy Kyle Show before being restrained and having Jeremy shout at them for a bit before Graham the counsellor comes on to offer a more soothing perspective.

Sorry… I got a bit ranty there. It just seems such a limited, and limiting, perspective to have. Maybe it’s the ‘instant’ culture we live in these days. Some people absolutely will not consider buses as a transport option, which I can understand where night buses are concerned, but for anything that doesn’t comply with the perceived ‘5 minutes walk from a station’ rule to be considered out of the way is ridiculous to me.

So, if you’re looking for somewhere, don’t be afraid to think outside the box in terms of location – it’s better to live somewhere nice that’s a bit further from a station than you’re used to than somewhere not quite as nice but within easier reach. If you’re looking for a flatmate, be sure to be clear on your location and transport options, and if you don’t come within the 5 minute rule, be prepared for some people to be inexplicably rude about it.

How to advertise for a flatmate part 3

Managing the Advert

Once you’ve posted your ad, you can either wait for the emails and phone calls to start coming in or be a bit more pro-active. My own approach was to write a standard message directing the reader to my ad and save it in Word on my desktop, to be copied and pasted and sent through the SpareRoom messaging system to advertisers in the ‘Room Wanted’ section who were looking for what I had to offer. On average I would send out around 30 messages a day, which hugely increased the number of views my ad got, and in turn increased the amount of interest.

Facebook and Twitter are also very useful tools. The era of social networking websites has revolutionised the way we communicate, so not only can you find your house trashed by 2000 teenagers (after someone put out an open invite on Facebook to a party at your house, giving full address, date and time details ‘for a laugh’), get fired from your job for making a derogatory remark about your boss on Twitter, or get murdered by someone you’ve never even met – you can also use the Facebook and Twitter widgets to spread the word amongst your friends and followers.

Rick

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.

Matt

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).

Matt

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.

Matt