In this week’s What I Rent, we’re up in Manchester to nose around the flat shared by Cara and Nat, a pair of best friends turned housemates.

Cara Simm, a 23-year-old charity worker, spent two years living with her family after graduating, but when lockdown hit she realised she needed to move out.

She found a place with her mate Nat and they’ve been able to make the flat feel like home in just a few months.

We chatted with Cara about how she made the space her own.

Hi, Cara! How much do you pay to live here?

We pay £975 for rent and roughly £220 for bills each month, directly split between me and Nat (so roughly £600 each, all in).

Council tax is the killer for us at £166 per month.

And what do you get for what you pay?

We have one large room that features an open plan living room, dining area and kitchen, as well as two bedrooms and two bathrooms (one en-suite and one main). We also have a well sized pantry and smaller utilities cupboard.

Do you feel like you have a good deal?

For the size, spec and area, I think so. During lockdown, there were no house viewings, so we had only seen videos of our apartment – it was a gamble, but it exceeded expectations.

I know that it is still a lot of money, and we could definitely have got cheaper by moving further out, but we have the convenience of the city centre and access to green spaces nearby so I feel very lucky to have this place.

How did you find the flat?

Hours and hours of endless searching on Zoopla and Rightmove, so much so that it became a part of my morning routine!

I would always adjust the search criteria slightly to make sure that we were getting the best deal. The more you look, the more you get a feel for the standard price and space in your preferred area.

After a few failed attempts of requesting other properties, we managed to get this apartment, just hours after being listed.

What’s it like living with Nat?

I live here with one of my best friends, Nat. Over lockdown, having someone for company who is also supportive of my interior plans helped massively – Nat’s quite used to coming home from work and being roped into a random DIY project.

Do you like the area?

The apartment is just outside Manchester City Centre in New Islington.

I love the area, particularly the Marina. I am a short walk or an even shorter tram ride away from Piccadilly Gardens, which is ideal.

Do you feel like you have enough space?

This is a tricky one because I know that we have a spacious apartment, particularly for only two of us living here.

I think we would struggle without the pantry, which is one of those doors that by opening you risk being crushed by piles of old things that you keep ‘just in case’.

So, the answer should be yes. However, with my interior desires and hoarder tendencies, I could probably always do with more space.

How have you made the flat feel like home?

As a self-proclaimed maximalist (or borderline hoarder), I had accumulated far too many belongings – or ‘tat’, as my Dad would say – and so even after about one week of living here it already felt like home.

I really believe that renting should not mean that you can’t put your own stamp on things, without damaging anything.

Since moving, I have discovered a newfound hobby in DIY: having pieces in your place that you have painted or upcycled instantly makes it feel like your own. If DIY isn’t your thing, then plants and prints never fail!

Have you found it difficult to decorate when renting?

I can’t change any of the main features of the place like the wall colour or furniture, so I have had to discover renter-friendly ways to change things up. It is home for as long as you are living there, so make it your own!

For example, to create feature walls in a completely reversible and affordable way, I have used self-adhesive vinyl. This only cost me £38 for my bedroom wall from Dunelm Mill and £19 for my kitchen splashback from JesRoseVinyl.

To add character to large white spaces, we have created a renter-friendly gallery wall featuring lots of bold colours and small businesses. I have a blog post on budget and renter-friendly ways to change up your interiors.

I prefer to keep my DIYs and upcycles to the apartment cheap, then splash out on items that I know I can take to my next place, like kitchenware, vases, or pictures.

Everything that we do to the place is completely reversible, so we haven’t actually spoken to our landlord about whether it is okay in the first place – but now I am starting to think that we should…

Are there any issues with the flat you have to deal with?

Leaks, broken appliances, and trespassers in the building. Nothing too major though, and I will say that any issues we have are dealt with promptly.

I had also never considered how hot it would get in a top floor apartment. I am working from home so all Zoom meetings are paired with a SULA (sweaty upper lip area) on a sunny day!

Do you have plans to move again any time soon?

It depends on my circumstances next year; if I plan to continue renting and the cost stays the same, then I would love to stay here for another year.

And do you want to own a place or are you happy renting?

I do, and before moving into this apartment I actually had a reservation fee on a new build property in Manchester. Understandably, it had severe delays due to Covid-19, which meant that I began renting for the year instead.

I am a true believer that nothing ever goes wrong – since moving into the flat I have realised that my house desires have completely changed and I am glad that the previous house didn’t end up happening for me.

I now want a much older property with character and more scope to renovate. The idea of painting mural walls and picking all of my own furniture (hello, forest green velvet sofa) really excites me… I would love to have either my own place, or a really understanding landlord!

What I Rent is a weekly series that’s out every Tuesday at 10am.

Check back next week to have another nose around a rented property.

How to get involved in What I Rent

What I Rent is’s weekly series that takes you inside the places 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 take pictures of your kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom, plus a few photos of you in your bedroom or living area.

Make sure you get permission from your housemates! You’ll also need to be okay with sharing how much you’re paying for rent, as that’s pretty important.

We’re not just after the prettiest places out there, by the way. We want the reality of renting, so if you’re currently renting a place you hate, we’d love to see that too (and sympathise greatly!).

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