What is it? One of the rare “nice ones” we get that serves to add context to the rental market as a whole: Here is what you could afford if you were on an annual salary of over £100k, for some reason choosing to rent solo instead of buy, and for some reason choosing to rent solo here. This is it, this is what it would look like.
Where is it? Arguably the Number #1 charity shop destination in the entire city: Notting Hill.
What is there to do locally? Every time I’ve been to Notting Hill it seems the only actual thing to do there is watch girls in big coats looking at their feet while posing for photos outside pastel-coloured buildings or clatter hard into tourists with children walking through the streets who stop abruptly whenever they see a Paddington doll or a Paddington toy or a plastic figurine of Paddington, which is once every metre-and-a-half or so. Again: I go there to see if any extremely robustly built rich guys have recently thrown any decent brand-name winter jackets out by donating them to Oxfam then leave. There is nothing for me to linger for in Notting Hill.
Alright, how much are they asking? £3,142 a month, or £725 per week, which I am going to break down thusly: the old rule of thumb, invented by boomers and never updated for modern standards of financial literary and property market realism, dictates that you should spend a maximum of 30 percent of your monthly income on rent (I have never got the percentage figure this low ever in my life, and neither have you). The rule thinks that, including utilities, you should only spend a maximum of 35 percent. I am obviously not going to dwell on how unworkable that received wisdom actually is, but in brief: It isn’t very fucking workable.
Regardless, for a monthly spend of £3,142, your monthly take-home would have to be just north of ten grand, and your annual salary would have to sit around £125,000. As an imagination game, I would like you to envision the steps you would have to take to get your salary up to £125,000, post-tax.
Perhaps you have to switch jobs, and then again six months later, and then again six months after that. You need to pull off some drastic double-promotion or something. I think I personally would have to switch careers entirely and spend three years retraining as something actually useful to society. But regardless: In this scenario, by backstabbing and bootlicking, you have got your salary up to £125,000.
You do not have to actively worry about your finances in the way you’ve had to do every day of your life up until now any more, and it’s nice. Your tastes have changed a little. You don’t balk at the price of Neck Oil. When you’re booking a holiday, you actually pay a little bit more for flights that don’t take off at four in the morning. You have paid a lot of money for a really, really nice pair of shoes. This is who you are now, the £125k Person. You feel good. You look good. You’re thriving, socially and mentally and physically.
Maybe it’s time to move out of the flatshare in east with the mouse that outwitted all four of you so many times that it begrudgingly just became “your pet mouse”. Perhaps it is time to move on from the creaking place with mould behind the radiators from years and years and years of people drying their socks there over winter. This house you’re in, it smells, sorry. It smells of: sand, vinegar, stale cereal. A housemate, who has since both moved out and deleted Facebook in a way where you are slightly scared they might have died, cooked a big pot of lentils in the kitchen in August 2020 and the lentil smell is still, somehow, in the air, hard-baked into the foundations of the house. It is time for you, the £125k Person, to stop smelling of lentils. It is time for you to strike out on your own.
This is the imagination scenario we are going with.
Now, if my version of a reasonable amount to spend on rent every month is “three grand, and then a bit”, my expectations have now become absurd. I want a pool table in the house, for starters. Whenever I play scenarios in my head when I am wealthy, this is the absolute end-game of wealth for me: not driving a sports car into a swimming pool, not pioneering space travel, not throwing an extravagant wedding where Drake performs and not flying in a private jet. The outer reaches of my imagination begin and end with: It would be good to have a room big enough to have a proper pool table in it. If I’m spending three grand a month on rent, the flat needs to be exactly as nice if not nicer than Don Draper’s was in his Zou Bisou Bisou era.
It does not need to be: this. It does absolutely not need to be: this.
We should obviously confront the fact that, vibe-wise, the place is really nice. Bay windows are unfuckable with, that’s a nice un-laminate wood floor, the shade of white on the walls is a tasteful off-white rather than a landlord apple-white, the ambient lighting is warm and perfect, the accent green in the kitchen is nice, the mirror is nice. If I walked into this flat I would say the following word, out loud, with my mouth: “Nice.”
That said, it’s a mezzanine bed above a small built-in shower cubicle/toilet/wardrobe that’s been crammed into what was once someone’s nice-if-small front room. You have to tiptoe up to bed via a set of shelves that sort of functions as a ladder, and you have to pay three grand a month for the honour of (tastefully!) sleeping about three feet away from your (tasteful!) kitchen. Beneath you there’s a (tasteful!) green sofa with a TV mounted at a completely fucking unwatchable angle on the side of your shower/wardrobe/bed unit.
Around the rest of your flat there is… nothing. You do not have an oven. Your microwave is mounted into your shoe rack. Your kitchen sink is a beautiful countertop basin that I suspect has been installed at that height due to restrictions of water access rather than for pure aesthetic intention. I do not see a washing machine at all. The entire footprint of this flat is 259 square foot, and I’m not saying that’s tiny but it’s not big and it’s really not three grand a month big. So this does rather start to beg the question: How much money do you have to earn in London to rent a place that is actually good? How is £125,000 a year not enough to have an oven, a separate bedroom, and a way of washing your clothes?
All academic, this, anyway. You can’t afford it and neither can I. Is that good? Doesn’t feel good. Just exploring this feeling, now, actually. Just absorbing it into my body and interrogating it with my psyche. Just closing my eyes and really holding on to this feeling. I cannot afford to sleep on a shelf above my kitchen in Notting Hill because the kitchen I am sleeping over has been too tastefully decorated.
I am starting to wonder what, then, I will be able to rent, when kitchen sleep shelves become unaffordable. What’s… what’s worse than a kitchen sleep shelf? What new horrors do landlords have that await us? I am flying through the clouds and I am very peaceful. I am whistling over moors and through the air. I am travelling at four hundred miles an hour and I am calm. My body hits the city like a missile. The End.
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