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I tell you what, folks: if you are negotiating for something, you want to have James Stewart on your side. The man drives a hard bargain! (If you are negotiating a handbag purchase in Vietnam, you want to have Sarah Sahr on your side, but that’s another story entirely…) Despite the fact that Foxtons (estate agents) were incredibly annoying and frustrating to deal with, we have ourselves a flat in London.

We arrived in the UK on Friday, the 3rd of August, and by Monday the 6th we were in London looking at flats. We looked at four flats on Monday and another six on Wednesday, four of them with an agent from Foxtons. A couple of them really appealed to us, but only one had the ideal location going for it, and in addition it was £15 per week cheaper. So on Thursday afternoon, we went in to Foxtons office and put in an offer for £5 per week under the asking price. Our offer was accepted, and on Friday afternoon, we signed the contract and agreed to Monday as move-in day. Oh, if only it were as straightforward as that…

We had heard from a number of our friends that Foxtons can really be a pain to deal with. They give the appearance of being service-oriented, but when it comes down to it, their underlying agenda seems to be to get as much money out of you as possible and to make your life difficult in the interest of… well… we’re not even really sure in the interest of what. They wanted both James and I to submit an employer reference, a former landlord reference, and a bank reference along with a deposit for the equivalent of six weeks rent and the first month rent up front. James went back to them and said that landlord reference requirement was ridiculous given that we’ve been homeowners for the last three years, and the work references would be difficult to obtain since he’s self-employed and my former employer is the U.S. And bank reference? Really? What the heck? So they said we could forego those with a guarator letter (which James’ father was happy to sign), three months of bank statements, and six months rent paid up front. (!!) James said, six months seems a little much, how about four? Which they then accepted. (Note that all of James’ interaction has been with a Foxtons agent who supposedly is bringing our proposals to the landlord, but we’re not really sure how much of it actually went back to him and how much was just made up by Foxtons.) However, when James asked how much money we needed to bring to the contract signing (deposit + rent up front + Foxton’s fees), he realized that when they agreed to four months rent in advance, what they meant was four months + the one month that’s regularly part of the contract. In other words, we were really paying five months up front. Grrr.

That wasn’t the worst part of it, though. All along throughout our interactions with Foxtons we expressed our desire to have a six-month break clause in the contract given that we are hoping to buy a place soon. The way the housing market is going here, each month that goes by means that we’re going to be paying more when we come to buy. Ergo, we don’t want to be stuck in a twelve-month rental contract. So we wrote the six-month break clause into our offer for the flat, and since we didn’t hear any objection via Foxton’s, we expected that to be written into the contract. Au contrare! Apparently Foxtons was just ignoring that bit and hoping we wouldn’t notice it wasn’t in the contract. In the end, the landlord agreed on a nine-month break clause, but still. That was totally sucky and deceitful of Foxtons. We’re not impressed. It would be lovely if we could just say that when we come to buy a place we’re not going to look at Foxtons properties at all, but alas, they have quite a few properties in the area, and they actually have one of the better websites for looking at properties. But if it comes down to two places that we really like and one of them is represented by Foxtons, that would be enough to push us to the other one.

Despite the ickyness of that process, we’re really delighted that we found such a great place in just a few days. We’re eager to get settled and start our life in London. Now we just need the rest of our belongings to actually put into our new flat. As far as we know, it’s all still in customs limbo. With any luck we’ll have it before Greenbelt (which starts on the 24th) but we’re not holding our breath. Watch this space for updates…

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