So to remind you – I narrowed down my neighborhood to Holland Park, Notting Hill and Kensington. The key aspects I was looking for was close to parks for the dogs, close to fun on weekends, and manageable commute to work.
Before looking at actual flats, I spent a fair bit of time looking at flats online. There are a few good sites – rightmove.co.uk has great pictures and is fairly easy to use, and Foxtons is one of the larger agencies with lots of listings. What I used most though was an app called Zoopla.
The app has the standard search parameters along with a text box so I could put in specifics – but I quickly learned there were a few tricks… “garden” means backyard and a “mews” house is one of the small homes down a side street. “Communal gardens” were tricky, as there are lots of rules with them even if you have access, a common one being no dogs allowed, and very likely no dogs allowed off-leash. “Reception” rooms are basically living rooms, and “en suite” meant a private bathroom.
The company does a great job in helping you relocate, and they hooked me up with a guide named Erryl Tudor. Erryl is a nice Australian gent, and he and his wife wrote a book on moving to London, so I was in pretty good hands. The best thing about Erryl was that he was paid on a day rate basis, and his only job was to set up the appointments, take me to them and advise me – he had no financial interest in any of it, which made him a great resource. I had three days with Erryl set aside, and he would pull together the viewings based on my criteria.
I had done some research on my own, but the challenge I had was that the pet policies were not searchable on line, so many of the places I liked in the end were not going to work. The one set of homes I was interested in were a few on a particular street in Holland Park – Hippodrome Mews. There were a few of these mews homes that had been sitting available on line – and I took a walk down the block in my earlier exploration and had a good vibe about it. A few of these allowed pets, so they were added to the list of homes we looked at.
On the first day, we started off nice and early in Notting Hill and headed out to see our first flat – up on the third floor of an older building. This wasnt going to work – while the dogs are in good shape now, in a few years they might not be able to take stairs as easily. We had a few in Bayswater, which I wasn’t really that interested in.. and we saw an amazing flat on Holland Park Ave, a few doors down from the Ukranian Embassy, and down the block from where Richard Branson bought two houses and combined them into one stellar mansion. This flat was fairly spectacular – on the high end of my price range, and not quite enough space for the dogs.. but if it was just me this would have been an amazing place, with a very posh address.
We also checked out a few mews homes in Notting Hill. Lurot Brand is a real estate agency which specializes in mews homes, and one of their brokers took us to several in Notting Hill and Kensington Gardens. Mews homes are interesting in that they are converted carriage houses. The mews homes are generally around on the backs of the grand mansion blocks or row houses. Each mews usually has two to three floors, a roof deck or terrace, and some have garages or extra storage. Given the combo of outdoor space and overall size, I was quickly gravitating to this type of home.
Towards the end of the day, we saw the first of the Hippodrome Mews homes – this was a three level home, with the kitchen and reception area on the bottom floor, and the garage converted into a storage area. The two bedrooms were on the second floor, with a dressing room in lieu of actual closets – this was another facet to get used to, no closet space, everyone uses wardrobes to store clothing (and few go to Narnia unfortunately). The top floor had a terrace, with a view of the tree-tops of the park across the street. I got a good vibe off of this place, and there were two more on this street that were available which we would view the following day.
On the second day, we continued to look at places throughout Notting Hill and Kensington – one was a block north of Kensington Gardens, with a grand room – but no outdoor space. Another had not one but two Murphy beds in the same room – very strange. We also got into see the other Hippodrome Mews homes – one had a full garage, and the other fronted the Main Street and the interior street, but both also looked out across into the other mews – a strange lack of privacy.
On both days we had lunch at Daylesford Organic Cafe which brings in (virtually) all of its produce and meat from its farm out in the country. They have a great lunch special of three salads, with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and meats.
Erryl continued to take me to a variety of flats, including one actually on the famous Portobello Road, home of the open air market and yearly carnival. This one was a second floor walk-up with a roof terrace and two large bedrooms – set over a corner tea/hookah joint. If I was 25, dog-less and straight, this would have been a killer pad – being none of those things, it didn’t work.
Having seen about 30 places as the second day was drawing to a close, we made a return trip to the first Hippodrome Mews, measuring tape in hand. The floors were connected by a small circular staircase, and in order to get my California King bed into the home, we would need to go through the second story window – with a bit of a squeeze, it would fit. It seems that as doorways and stairwells are narrow in London, all sorts of moving techniques are common place here – from cranes, to pulleys to conveyor belts through open windows.
At the end of the visit, we prepared an offer in the car around the block, and by the time I got back to my office Erryl sent it to the landlord. After some back and forth about some needed repairs, we had a deal. I didn’t even set out on the third day I had with Erryl, as we had secured the new place. In the beginning of January, the London Levine pack will have a new place to call home – Hippodrome Mews, Holland Park, London. When will we throw the housewarming party?