An interesting aspect of my profession is that I spend time in new locations. I get to live in a variety of cities such as Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow for extended periods of time, three to six months usually. I get to live as a local, eat as a local, read local news and make local friends. My new location is not so new to me, London, but the area of London is very new. I am located in Ilford.
So my first task is to get a place to live. I tend to book a hotel for two weeks, make that my crash landing, make sure I can get to work without any issues and focus on the job. I get to know the local area and look for my first flat. Nothing too impressive, just somewhere I can spend time and work out how long I might be engaged in my current project, do I need to get my own long term place or will I be moving on again soon.
So it came to be that this weekend I spent my time flat hunting. I was looking for basic accommodation, something that would do for a month maybe, but not be as much as a hotel.
I messaged one lady on AirBnB. She agreed to cut me a deal and wanted to meet me. So she invited me out in Stratford with two of her male friends. It was clearly a ‘safe meet’ for her to decide if I was safe to live in her house. No problem with that. We all went for dinner and watched a jazz band.
Her friends were interesting. One of them in particular, a 60 year old man who is in my exact line of work, just 20 years senior, was noteworthy. He contracts just like me, he travels the world just like me, he dresses well, eats well, reads well. I felt like I was seeing the possibility of my future and it didn’t look bad at all. In fact, it looked damned good. Money, sunshine, happiness and being my own boss. He was young of spirit, free and single. Never married, no children, no divorce payments or maintenance payments. He did not look 60 at all, though I am not surprised seeing as he was rich, happy and lived in Italy 6 months a year. I’d have guessed 50. I don’t know if he has female company, I presume so. There are not many men in his age bracket as fit, healthy and impressive. I’d expect he finds it easy to attract women in his age bracket. He may just feel he is a bit old for all that and take his pleasures in wine and song these days.
I’ve heard people warn that men may be ‘left on the shelf’ if they don’t marry soon, that they’ll end up ‘old and lonely’. I’ve got to thinking, as we get older, surely the ratio of women to men steadily increases in favour of the single man. Female company only gets easier to find as we age.
I discovered something else interesting at first hand while flat hunting this weekend and it goes thus:
At the lower end of the rental spectrum, basic but clean and secure, rooms in my area of London seem to go for £120 a week. The lady I am living with is a lawyer with a city law firm. She naturally lives in a nice house. She rents at that rate. As I say, it’s a nice house. Some of the other places I looked at however were appallingly bad. I mean, truly appalling. Five people crammed into tiny rooms in a very small apartment in a tower block sharing one bathroom, surrounded by people in a similar situation. These apartment blocks are dirty, litter strewn and plagued with anti social tomfoolery. One man was beating the water out of a dirty rug over the balcony, oblivious of the water flying onto the people below.
So how did I end up looking at such bad places? Well the answer is, they were advertised at the same rate. I just assumed all offerings at the same rate would be of a similar standard.
But no. To live in such a terrible place was exactly the same price as it was in the nice places. Why would someone pay £120 a week to live in hell when they could just pay £120 a week to live in a beautiful house? Well I asked and here’s what I found out.
1) Some rooms are actually worth £120 a week. The landlords want clean, reliable people who tidy up after themselves. They don’t take people who have the Government pay their rent, it’s a lot of hassle dealing with the Government.
2) If the Government pays your rent, you can go to landlords who cater for that. These places are smaller and dirtier but they are willing to take DSS cases because they actually cater specifically to them. They welcome them with open arms.
3) These places just aren’t worth £120 a week. Nowhere near that. But since the tenants aren’t paying for it, they don’t care what the cost is. So the landlords charge twice as much as the place is worth. That’s why they cater to the DSS – so they can get more than they would on the market. The DSS tenants don’t care, they just get free rent. The landlords get well above market rate for poor properties.
So if you have a slum you want to rent, you can make more money if you rent it to people on benefits. That’s what people told me this weekend. The landlords, the tenants. They may be wrong.