Just a year ago my husband and I were deciding where to live in London. We knew we wanted to be in the city. Our children had been accepted to The American School in London located in St. John’s Wood. We had been to London numerous times and felt that we wanted to look in both Marylebone and St. John’s Wood. It helps to study a map of London and start learning the various neighborhoods and postcodes before you come on a house-hunting trip. This helps focus your search.
If you have children, you’ll need to know what postcode or neighborhood their school is in. (See my posting on London Postcodes)
Then you’ll need to confirm if the school offers a bus service or find out what your public transportation options are. There’s always the option of driving or hiring a private car service.
Examples of neighborhoods where expats live include but are not limited to:
- St. John’s Wood NW8
- Maida Vale W9
- Hampstead NW3
- Swiss Cottage NW3
- West Hampstead NW6
- Knightsbridge SW7, SW1X
- Kensington W8, SW3
- South Kensington SW7
- Chelsea SW3
- Mayfair W1
- Marylebone W1
- Holland Park W11
- Nottinghill W11
Factors Influencing your decision
Your budget and willingness to give up space are critical factors in determining your location. You get more space for your money in places like Hampstead, Swiss Cottage and West Hampstead. These neighborhoods are north of the city. For example, my friend is less than 10 minutes by car to The American School in London (ASL) from West Hampstead. Public transportation will take you about 15 to 40 minutes to ASL from some of these further locations. Some families want to be more centrally located and choose neighborhoods like Mayfair or Marylebone.
Some folks want to be near one of the city’s beautiful parks like Regents Park, St. James Park, Green Park , Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Holland Park, Primrose Hill, or Hampstead Heath. Proximity to public transportation can also influence your decision as well. Others pick particular neighborhoods simply because that’s what they like.
There is a high concentration of Americans in St. John’s Wood because The American School in London is located there. Many families prefer to be close to the school. However, keep in mind that a walk to school can range from 1 to 15 minutes depending on where you are in St. John’s Wood. The South Bank International School has campuses in Hampstead and Kensington for the Lower Schools and in Westminster for the Middle School and High School. Some families choose to enter their children into the British School System. These are decisions that may influence where you live.
Something to keep in mind when calculating commuting distances is traffic. London like all major cities has its share of traffic jams. If you live in Kensington or Knightsbridge, which is very popular with expats, it is typically a 15-minute car ride without traffic to ASL. I have friends who live there and their child’s school bus ride from ASL in the afternoons can take upwards of 45 – 50 minutes. Another factor influencing your decision may be proximity to your children’s friends’ homes. And let’s not forget the dog. Do you need a patch of grass in the back or are you willing to walk the dog all the time.
You’ll need to decide whether you want: a flat (apartment), a maisonette (a cross between a flat and a semi-detached house), a terraced house or townhouse (4 to 5-storey row homes, some with their own garages), a mews house (converted stables), a semi-detached home, or a detached home.
In many cases you’ll be working with a relocation consultant that will help you sort through all of this. Availability of inventory will also influence your decision. If you are planning a summer move it makes sense to come in the April/May time frame. Remember, not only are you competing for properties with families that are moving over but also with families that are already living here and need to change their housing. On some occasions, families have to live in temporary housing because they are unable to find something ideal.
It helps to speak to other families living in London. The schools can put you in touch with support families. I was able to speak to families living in both St. John’s Wood and Hampstead and this really helped with our decision. We looked at housing in Marylebone and St. John’s Wood. Marylebone is a wonderful neighborhood closer to the heart of the city with a great high street. A high street is the main street in a neighborhood for shopping. Keep in mind that London is made up of neighborhoods which hundreds of years ago were separate villages with their own high streets. Today they all blend into one city.
Some parts of Marylebone border with Regents Park. It offers wonderful shops and restaurants. We chose to live in St. John’s Wood and be near our children’s school. My 14-year old son visits with friends after school or on weekends and most of his friends live in the neighborhood. I still escort my 12-year old daughter to and from friends’ houses. She has a few friends in our neighborhood but many live in other locations. We take buses, underground, or taxis to get her back and forth. St. John’s Wood is still very centrally located. We can easily hop on a bus and be at Oxford Street in 20 minutes. We brought our dog over from the states and we chose a house that has a small back yard for the dog. We selected a lovely 4-storey terraced house/townhouse. We lucked out because our house has a generous sized kitchen and an American style side-by-side refrigerator. It also has its own laundry room.
Many homes in London and other European cities come with small refrigerators and washing machines located in the kitchen. Although, some places come furnished ours did not. We ended up renting furniture here.
Also, beware of being gazumped. This is the expression for when you may have signed contracts with a potential landlord, but they continue to list the house and end up accepting a higher offer. I know of cases where families have been ready to move and they have lost the property the night before the move. In another case, a friend went through two consecutive cases of being gazumped. I suppose in the end it is better that you don’t end up with a unscrupulous landlord, but the stress of the whole experience is exhausting.
Armed with your house & family requirements and of course with a healthy dosage of flexibility you too will be able to find a suitable house in London and turn it into a lovely home.
If you want to get a jump start on looking for housing, we found the following website very useful:
The following three websites describe neighborhoods in London: