The recession has turned London into a city of renters. According to the latest census results, more than half the capital’s population now pays rent rather than a mortgage, bringing us closer to the European model. This figure is set to increase due to high property prices, demands for huge deposits and the shortage of new homes.
In the past, renting was what you did with multiple flatmates for a few hectic years in your twenties before settling down.
Today, a rented home can be for different stages of your life — from being single, to being in a partnership, to being a parent. So where should you look?
LONDON ZONE 1 - RENTING FOR SINGLES AND SHARERS: EARL'S COURT
Being central with an affordable rent remain the priorities for most young people, said Marc von Grundherr, director of Benham & Reeves’s residential lettings department, who is constantly on the lookout for homes for singles and sharers keen to be in the thick of things.
His solution is Earl’s Court. The area is shrugging off its reputation as a grubby hang-out for Australian backpackers. It has culture, including the award-winning Finborough Theatre, and good restaurants abound. Its location is highly convenient and it offers a wide range of rental property, from modern apartments to mansion blocks, as well as conversions within period stuccoed homes.
Rents are, says Von Grundherr, between 20 and 30 per cent lower than in Kensington, which is only a mile and a half away. He estimates that a two-bedroom flat in the area would cost from £500 a week.
Nicky Chambers, the manager of agent Douglas and Gordon’s Chelsea office, agrees that Earl’s Court provides excellent value — in part because of an oversupply of flats to let. She said: “This is because the majority of renters looking at this price range tend to look south of the river as they feel they cannot afford to live in prime central London — but they will be surprised what they can find.” And, of course, the whole area is in line for an £8 billion regeneration project that will see hundreds of new homes built. Work begins in autumn 2013.
RENTING ON A BUDGET FOR SHARERS: POPLAR, EAST LONDON
A recent study by homeless charity Shelter showed London couples with children face 21 years of saving for a deposit, while single people face an eye-watering average of 30 years of saving. They also want to live somewhere decent.
Benham & Reeves’s Von Grundherr believes that Poplar is the place to look. Its strength is in its location: less than a mile and a half from the pubs, restaurants and cobbled streets of Limehouse, and handy for the Olympic Park and Westfield shopping centre at Stratford. The expanse of Mile End Park is nearby and it’s even walking distance to Canary Wharf. Homes for rent tend to be in modern developments with good-quality flats. Transport links are good, and Poplar’s in Zone 2.
Von Grundherr estimates that a typical one-bedroom flat in the area would cost about £270 a week, or £320 a week for a two-bedroom home. But low prices come with a compromise — Poplar is not pretty. The area was badly damaged in the Blitz and the postwar rebuild was shoddy. A familiar local landmark is the condemned Seventies council block Robin Hood Gardens. The high street is useful but pretty grimy. Chrisp Street Market is a traditional old-school East End market — about as far from trendy Spitalfields as you can imagine, though many would say they prefer its authenticity.
Tyler Lowther, senior sales negotiator at Alex Neil Estate Agents, estimates that one-bedroom flats in the area rent at about £250 a week and two bedrooms at about £300. “Poplar is one of the most affordable parts of E14,” he said.
URBAN VILLAGES FOR YOUNG LONDONERS: WANSTEAD, EAST LONDON
The classic “London village” locations, such as Hampstead and Wimbledon, are out of the question for most cash-strapped renters. But Wanstead, in E11, is a much cheaper option. Its high street is full of delis, independent cafés and gastropubs, and cute traditional shops.
Its eponymous park covers 140 acres and even has a golf club. And it is on the fringes of the real countryside, with Epping Forest only a mile away. There are good Tube services into London (three stops to Stratford, and 20 minutes to the City).
Parents will like the local schools. Our Lady of Lourdes RC Primary School is rated “outstanding”.
The houses are mainly Victorian and Edwardian, arranged in quiet, leafy streets. John Wagstaff, owner of estate agent Petty Son & Prestwich, says new arrivals tend to be young couples and families priced out of areas such as Islington, London Fields and Shoreditch, or those who believe that Wanstead is a better place to bring up children. “It is really a family area and has a really nice pace of life,” he said.
He estimates that renting a three-bedroom house would cost from £370 a week, with a four-bedroom house from £415 and a two-bedroom flat from £275 a week.
RAYNES PARK FOR FAMILY LIFE
© Rex Features
As the average age of a first-time buyer in London drifts from late thirties to early forties, many have young families to consider. Debbie Pinkham, of Knight Frank, suggests Raynes Park as the idea place to house hunt. She said: “It has a great vibe and some lovely independent shops and restaurants.”
Last year a study by the London Data Company, which monitors empty shops across the UK, named Raynes Park, as the best-performing high street in London, helped by chains such as Waitrose and Starbucks, as well as firmly established local businesses.
All this, says Pinkham, means the area is a magnet for families and it easily passes the green space test. Cottenham Park has a good playground and tennis courts, while Wimbledon Common is within walking distance.
Andrew Clements, head of Savills Wimbledon, says young families like the schools: “The well-regarded primary schools of St Matthew’s and Hollymount provide an excellent education. Rental values increase closer to the school gates.”
For commuters, trains from Raynes Park to Waterloo take just 21 minutes. Pinkham estimates that renting a three-bedroom house in the area would cost about £575 a week, while a four-bedroom property would cost about £690 a week.