Sunday, 24 May 2015

Happy House Hunting

I’ve been looking at houses for the last four years.  Yes, really.  Nearly two years ago we actually did up sticks and move, but it was – for wont of a better way of describing it – a temporary move.  The house we currently live in was bought for many reasons – downsizing, convenience, wanting everything brand new so a bucket of money didn’t need throwing at the place – all this and more.  But the fact remains it is a temporary house.  When our youngest leaves the nest, it will be time to think about the ultimate move.  Now that Eleanor is on the threshold of going to drama school and getting digs, the ultimate move is starting to become a real possibility.
          However, as my husband wants an apartment and I want a house, we’re already off to a slightly difficult start.  Compromises are needed. I’m up for an apartment if it’s large, light and airy and on the ground floor, so I don’t feel like I’m imprisoned in some sort of ivory tower.  Then there is the location – it has to combine ‘Escape to the Country’ with an easy(ish) commute.  Prices in the South currently seem to range from ridiculous to outrageous.  What has happened to the property market in the last two years?  When we left our large five-bedroomed detached in 2013, we almost had to give the wretched thing away.  And yet now I’m ringing up estate agents to make a viewing appointment on something mediocre with an exorbitant price tag only to be told, ‘It’s just been sold.  Full market price too.’
          Last weekend we viewed properties in Speldhurst, Tunbridge Wells and Penshurst.  The Speldhurst property sported a gorgeous sun room that overlooked ten acres of arable land under a cornflower-blue sky.  Unfortunately the rest of the place wasn’t so gorgeous.  It was a ‘project’.  The last time we undertook a project I lost a stone in weight, lived in mess for six months, had to chastise workmen who wanted exorbitant sums of money - in cash if you please - and then chuffed off at half past three saying their day’s work was done.  I vowed never again to undertake a project.  So we took our leave of the Speldhurst property and went to Tunbridge Wells where some game souls had bought a project and done it up themselves.  The brochure sported shiny bang-up-to-trend photographs.  But the difference between Joe Bloggs doing up his property and a proper building firm doing it comes down to quality.  As we let ourselves into the beautiful grand entrance with its ceramic tiled floor, my stockinged feet instantly turned to blocks of ice.  Underfloor heating is usual in finishes such as this.  But not for Joe Bloggs.  Apparently that would have been too expensive, even though the price tag begged to differ.  Never mind.
          ‘Be careful on your left.  The balustrade spindles need fixing,’ said Joe Bloggs.  Actually, I’m going to rename Mr Bloggs Mr Cowboy.
          We pushed open a bathroom door which scraped and stuck half way.
          ‘Just a bit of snagging,’ said Mr Cowboy.
          As we progressed through the house, the snagging list grew, grew, and grew a bit more.  So we moved on to property number three in Penshurst.  Unfortunately the property went under offer before we had even arrived.  Frustrated, we took ourselves off to my sister who lives in the area.  Once ensconced on her sofa, my husband literally drowned his sorrows in a vast G & T (he finds house hunting traumatic at the best of times) and I fed the crisis by raiding my sister’s fridge.  It was at this point I had a brilliant idea.
          ‘I’ve just realised something!’ I beamed at my husband and sister.  ‘Last year we viewed a beautiful property not a million miles from here, but the elderly lady took it off the market before we could make an offer.  Do you remember?  She had a nasty fall and broke her leg.  Let’s go and knock on her door and see if she’s ready to put the place up for sale again!’
          ‘Brilliant idea,’ said Mr V.
          So off we set.  Upon arrival, Mr V refused to get out of the car on the grounds that I’m apparently ‘much better at this sort of thing’ and that his insistence on staying put in the car was absolutely nothing to do with listening to a football match on the radio.
          One minute later I was standing in a beautiful private courtyard with the house of my dreams, my ultimate move, directly in front of me.  To the rear was open countryside stretching as far as the eye could see.  And just five minutes away was the A21 which connected to the M25 straight into London.  The elusive ‘List of Requirements’ hovered in my peripheral vision and I mentally ticked them off one by one!  Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door.  It was answered by a pleasant looking man.
          For a moment I floundered.  Who was he?  Ah, he must be the vendor’s son.
          ‘Hello!’ I beamed chummily.  ‘I do hope you don’t mind my knocking, but my husband and I viewed this property last year before your mother broke her leg.  We just wondered if she’d be remarketing soon?’
          The man put his hands together and gave a sad smile.
          ‘I’m so sorry.  I do hope you haven’t had a wasted journey, but I’m the new owner of this house.  I viewed this property last year too and, like you, had the same idea of approaching the vendor.  Except I approached her three months ago.  I moved in yesterday.’
          ‘Oh, lucky you!’ I gasped, feeling as though I’d just been punched in the solar plexis.
          ‘I know!’ trilled the man.  ‘I can’t believe my luck.  It’s so lovely here.  All this countryside.  And the birds singing.  And the garden is heaven.  And the neighbours are wonderful.  I’m just so happy.’
          ‘Marvellous!’ I responded, resisting the temptation to beat my chest and wail.
          ‘Best thing I ever did.  I felt very sorry for the old girl of course.  No fun breaking your leg in umpteen places and taking months and months to heal.  But the timing was perfect.  I just snuck in there, made my offer, and bingo!  Here I am!’
           ‘Yes, here you are.  Fabulous!  Well, I hope you’ll be very happy.’  I tried desperately hard to mean it and not wish him and his house a terrible case of rising damp and a plague of woodworm…if you can get such a thing.
          I drooped back to the car.
          ‘Well?’ asked Mr V, turning the radio volume down.
          ‘It was sold last Christmas.’
          ‘I’m devastated.’
          ‘Well on the plus side I’ve got a small piece of good news.’
          I turned to my husband hopefully.  ‘What?’
          ‘Arsenal didn’t completely thrash Manchester United.  It was a draw.’
          Does any other woman out there ever get the odd fleeting moment where they could happily bash their husband over the head with their handbag?  Which reminds me.
          A husband and wife spent all day house-hunting.  The final property they viewed was full of mirrors.  The husband turned to his wife and said, ‘I can see myself living here…’


  1. House hunting can be quite complicated, especially if two people are looking for different things. But that can also lead to a check and balance and some added perspective. In any case, you are right to look at your options thoroughly. You wouldn't really want to step into this whole thing blind, and simply going with the easiest sale and the most attention-grabbing pitch. You have to look at the house thoroughly. Anyway, it was an absolute delight to read your blog! Cheers!

    Benny Daniel @ Finlay Brewer

  2. Sound advice! And thank you for the last sentence - much appreciated!

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  4. House-hunting is a really tough job, mainly because you consider a lot of factors before you even get started. It's not enough to have a good image of a house. That said, the Speldhurst property is full of potential. And a sun room is always welcome. But if it leaves you with too much work, then you might as well go with somewhere else.

    Vincent West @ Emily Cassolato

  5. Spending an entire day with the spouse looking for a home is a challenge. You both want different things, and it seems like no house has everything that you want. However, think about the time that you get to spend together looking for the perfect house that will be a home for the family.