Flat hunting is a competitive contact sport, played by landlords and tenants using elbows and sheer force of will. Prospective renters are on show. Every word and mannerism, even the tiniest gesture is assessed for clues as to character, potential criminal inclinations, and basic ‘will they pay the rent-ness’.
Landlords have a firm idea of who they want. Despite a legal agreement, you are nothing more than a house-guest, and they are a ghost that stalks the building. As they guide you on the dreaded tour, you must look eager, unruffled by sights which normally have you screeching with mirth or terror, like (as I once noticed) an enormous tube of KY, left casually, in plain sight, on the coffee table.
The golden rule is: get there first. Agencies only really care about references, credit checks etc. Provided you look presentable, and are not ostentatiously shifty or demented, there’s nothing you can do, as the flat goes to the first in line. Private landlords, however, must be wooed. They must be convinced you are suitable, if not downright fantastic, while you are summing them up to see if they seem slovenly, unreliable, or unexposed serial killers.
At one viewing, the landlord explained that someone had recently tried to kick down the door, even though it was directly opposite the police station. Next, he showed me the kitchen. There was no oven, cooker, or hob of any description, and when I wondered why, he pointed grumpily at the ancient microwave. It was also filthy. The bathroom stank (can you guess what lurked in the toilet?) The tiny lounge was crammed with an enormous cracked grey vinyl sofa, perilously close to the gas fire. It was hard not to express my dismay by screaming. I didn’t move in.
Some owners just don’t have a clue. I was once shown a room so dirty, you’d need a tetanus jab. The mattress’s previous incumbent was obviously a busy, active, fun-loving type of guy. ‘Yeah, I know…’ the landlord ruefully explained. ‘…art students.’
I’ve also seen the other side. I was showing the vacant room in a shared flat, and watched with amusement as a very proper gentleman/prospective co-tenant ran his finger over some imaginary dust on the mantelpiece. His first question was about the cleaning rota. His shoes sparkled and shone on a rainy day. He would never have fitted in. Some flats actually have proper interview panels, where people are sized-up like potential marriage partners rather than transient flatmates.
Tenants are allowed very little time to inspect their future home. Ask for a repeat showing, and you’re treated like a burglar casing the joint. After living in Dovecot Towers, I have some pertinent queries about crime levels, door locks, etc. Since I am practically asked for my DNA to check on the database, I think I’m entitled. So why then do agents glare at me, huff and puff and sigh? And why, when I’m polite and reasonable, do they evade my questions? With so many empty flats, you wouldn't think they'd still be so prickly.