Loft apartments can be a wise choice for expats moving to London. These are large converted buildings where the ceilings have been increased to two to three times the standard height (termed ‘cathedral ceilings’) to create a large, airy space. Buildings converted in this way include offices, warehouses, hospitals, schools, mills, factories and churches. Loft apartments usually have large windows affording spectacular views.
Start looking early
Loft apartments are very desirable properties, so the sooner you start your property search the better. If you are staying in London while looking, it is best to pop into various estate agents and ask specifically for loft apartments from their list. Otherwise, you can search via the online property search engines, although you will probably need to use the keyword search function to save time. For example, to search for loft apartments via Zoopla, simply select ‘flats’ under the property type drop-down box, click the advanced search link and then enter ‘loft’ in the keywords box. RightMove doesn’t have a keyword search function, so you will just have to select ‘flats / apartments’ in the property drop-down box and browse through the results for loft apartments.
Other avenues to try are the classified sites such as Loot and Gumtree, both of which have property sections, or, for flat shares, SpareRoom. Again, select the advanced search option and enter ‘loft’ in the keyword options box. If you are a member of an expat forum or social network group you could ask questions about the best areas for apartments and helpful estate agents.
Choose your location carefully
Modern loft apartments are often very well presented, with designer kitchens, en suite bathrooms, built-in wardrobes and great views. It can be easy to fall in love with one and elect to put up with a location which is not ideal.
However, it might be more worth your while to wait until a loft apartment becomes available in a more favourable area; long commutes can become very tiresome, not to mention expensive, and you could end up too tired from travelling to enjoy your home. To work out how much transport is going to cost you, and how long journey times will be, consult the well designed Transport for London website. Many expats are drawn to the Docklands area in east and south-east London. Not only are there some brand new developments at reasonable prices, and with amazing views of the Thames, there is also the very convenient DLR (Dockland Light Railway) service which can whisk you to the city centre in no time.
Ask plenty of questions
There are plenty of considerations to make before deciding if a loft apartment is for you, and the more questions you ask at the outset, the more likely you will be to find your ideal London home. Just some of the questions you might want to ask include: is the loft apartment furnished, part-furnished or unfurnished? Will the tenancy agreement be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (most are) and, if so, how long will the fixed period be for? Will your deposit be placed in a government bond deposit scheme (legally the answer should be yes)? Is there on-site or street parking? Is there a security system in place for entering the apartment? How about a concierge or on-site management service?
Don’t forget to ask questions about the local area such as how close you are to supermarkets, banks, post offices and other useful amenities, and what the neighbourhood is like in terms of noise and crime. Outgoing tenants are usually a good source of unbiased information.
Find out what’s included
A common mistake inexperienced expats make is to think purely in terms of monthly rent and deposit. This can be very costly if you neglect to think about what else comes with living in a loft apartment. Even though modern loft apartments are well-insulated, all that extra space means extra heating in the winter which can be costly if your gas and electric bills are not included in the rent. Council Tax, water rates, TV Licence, internet and telephone will all need to be paid for, so be absolutely clear what is included in the rent before signing your tenancy agreement. If you are sharing a flat and are responsible for the utility bills, you should understand that you will be ‘jointly and severally liable’ for their payment. Unfair as it may seem, if your flatmates do a runner without paying the bills, you will have to cough up.
Some loft apartments also incorporate a chargeable cleaning and maintenance service which will either be included or in addition to the stated rent.
Remember your paperwork
When you’re satisfied that you have found a loft apartment in the best location possible for your budget, it will be time to sign the tenancy agreement. But before this can happen, your landlord or agent will need to complete some preliminary checks. This will include following up references from previous landlords; performing a credit check and checking you are employed and will be receiving a salary to pay the rent. You will need to ensure you have all the relevant paperwork, including your bank details, which might be necessary for setting up a regular rent payment via Direct Debit or Standing Order. While you are waiting for all of this to be processed, be sure to put down a holding deposit so that the property can be taken off the market. After putting in all this work to find your dream loft apartment. The last thing you need is to be outbid at the last moment.