What I Rent: Billie, £800 a month for a one-bedroom flat in Walthamstow

Is it possible to live alone in London?

It’s tricky, absolutely. Affordable flats are few and far between, and you’ll have to search to find one that also has decent transport links and isn’t a teeny-tiny cramped studio.

But it is possible – even if people keep telling you flatshares are your only option.

In our weekly series What I Rent, we take an honest look at how people are renting right now, from what they pay to the issues they face.

This week we’re nosing around the flat rented by Bille Dee Gianfrancesco, who you might recognise from one of our other series, Mixed Up.

Billie lives alone in a one-bedroom flat in Walthamstow, along with her emotional support cat.

Hey, Billie! How much do you pay to live here?

I pay £800 a month for rent, and about £99 a month in council tax, around £52 a month in gas and electricity, and £18 for wifi, totalling around £170 for bills per month.

I think I have an excellent deal. I don’t know anyone else living in London with a one bed flat to themselves for this price, I’m very fortunate.

What do you get for what you pay?

I have one bedroom with an ensuite bathroom with a toilet, bath and shower. I have a reasonably sized kitchen, a separate toilet, a large lounge room and some good hallway space and staircase as well.

How did you find the flat?

My boyfriend broke up with me and I was living with him at his place in Kent, so I had to move out fairly sharpish.

I went on Rightmove, set my budget at £850 per month and drew a search radius around the areas of London I wanted to live in, which was basically anywhere within zone 4 or below.

I viewed a couple of tiny, very out-of-the-way studio flats and was feeling pretty hopeless when I spotted my flat.

The pictures weren’t great and the price had been reduced, so I wondered what the catch was. When I arrived to view it, there were loads of other people looking around, so I offered the estate agent £10 a month more to secure it – and the landlord accepted my offer.

I moved there in October 2017, so I’ve been here about a year and 8 months.

Do you like the area? 

My flat is on Wood, a four minute walk from the overground station which goes to Liverpool Street in about 20 mins. I’m also a 15 minute walk from Walthamstow Central which is on the Victoria line and has 24 hour tubes on the weekends, and a 10 minute walk from the gorgeous boating lake at Epping Forest.

The transport links are superb and I love the little community where I live. It feels very safe. It feels like a little village really, I’ve made friends with many of the shopkeepers, restaurant owners and hairdressers on my street which is really lovely.

I love the fact that I’m a short walk away from Walthamstow Village, full of its quaint little restaurants and shops, and one stop on the overground away from the bustle of Walthamstow itself, which has lost going on.

In the summer I spend a lot of time hanging out near the boating lake in Epping Forest, just a ten minute walk away.

Sometimes London can feel quite overwhelming, so I’m incredibly fortunate to be in such close proximity to the most beautiful nature with its geese and terrapins and all sorts of gorgeous wildlife.

And what about the flat? Are you happy with it?

I have never been happier in terms of where I live. My flat is perfect for me.

I adore my flat because it is so quirky and spacious, and I don’t really have any neighbours so I can be pretty loud without having to worry (I write and make music on the weekends and love a little dance).

It also came unfurnished which allowed me to decorate it to my own taste and with my own things.

How did you make the flat feel like home?

When my parents divorced and moved abroad, they left a lot of furniture behind from my family home. So I picked my favourite, most nostalgic pieces to decorate my flat with, including the rocking chair that my mother breast fed me in, and a giant mirror which I used to sit in front of for hours dreaming in my youth, like Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets.

I’m obsessed with plants, so I have as many as possible and a lot of them I have grown from cuttings and nurtured for years… They really make the space feel fresh and calming.

Do you feel like you have enough space?

Even though I’m very lucky to have so much space, and I have much more space than anyone else I know, it still isn’t enough!

My parents divorced, left the country and sold the family home a few years ago, so I don’t have anywhere else to keep my things – stuff like my old school reports and certificates and toys which I’d like to keep for sentimental value.

I’ve got some of these belongings in a storage container but I need to pull my finger out and get some clever storage put in so that I can fit the rest of my stuff in the flat.

What’s it like living alone?

I hated it at first as I’d never lived alone before – but now I can’t imagine ever having to live with other people again, until I get married or whatever.

I love having my own space to sing, dance, play loud music, cry, burn incense and leave the washing up for a few days if I want to without all the passive-aggressiveness of other people’s hygiene standards.

I struggle with my mental health and being by myself I have learned to put myself and my needs first, and practice unapologetic self love and self care, in a way I couldn’t do when having to consider other people I live with.

You have a cat! Was it easy to find somewhere that would allow one?

No… Most places don’t. I don’t make people aware that I have a cat when I’m looking as I feel that gets you immediately written off as a tenant.

But I’ll do a full professional carpet clean and deep clean and repainting when I have to move out.

My cat is an emotional support animal so we have some additional rights which makes it difficult for landlords to evict us. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t live with my cat.

Are there any issues with the house you have to put up with?

The place is not very energy efficient, it gets so cold in the winter as there’s no double glazing and the heat just escapes.

I have to use an electric heater which pushes my bills up a lot, and I’m always wrapped up in jumpers and blankets… But I still feel like I’ve got a bargain.

There have been a couple of stabbings and shootings a few metres from my doorstep which is scary, but I’ve never actually witnessed any crime and I feel very safe in my community.

Do you have plans to move again?

I hope I don’t have to move again. I think I will live here until I buy my own place (although, that is just a dream at this stage).

This is the eighth place I’ve lived in the last 10 years, and I hate moving, so I’m keen to hang on to this beaut for as long as I possibly can.

Have you considered buying a place?

I’ve considered it, sure, but it’s just not a practical possibility for me at the moment. I’m still paying off debts and I won’t be in a position to save for a mortgage for at least a couple more years, so it’s not something I waste too much of my energy thinking about. Although, I do dream.

Shall we have a look around?

What I Rent is a weekly series that’s out every Tuesday at 10am. Check back next week to have a nose around another rented property in London.

How to get involved in What I Rent

What I Rent is Metro.co.uk’s weekly series that takes you inside the places in London people are renting, to give us all a better sense of what’s normal and how much we should be paying.

If you fancy taking part, please email [email protected]

You’ll need to have pictures taken of your kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom, plus a few photos of you in your room. Make sure you get permission for your housemates!

You’ll also need to be okay with sharing how much you’re paying for rent, as that’s pretty important.

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